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Obama calls pastors to explain gay marriage support; black churches ‘conflicted’

Dylan Stableford, Yahoo News
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President Obama participates in an interview with ABC's Robin Roberts, May 9, 2012. (Pete Souza/The White Hous …

After making his historic remarks on same-sex unions last week, President Barack Obama led a conference call with black church pastors to explain his support for gay marriage, the New York Times reports. The call, which was held with "eight or so African-American ministers," occurred about two hours after the president's interview with ABC's Robin Roberts.

Obama explained to them that he struggled with the decision, pastors on the call told the paper, but several voiced their disapproval.

"They were wrestling with their ability to get over his theological position," the Rev. Delman Coates, a Maryland pastor who was on the call, told the Times.

The conference call was part of a quiet effort by the president to control potential political damage caused by his support of same-sex marriage.

According to the Times, Obama phoned "at least one [the Rev. Joel C. Hunter] of the five spiritual leaders he calls regularly for religious guidance, and his aides contacted other religious figures who have been supportive in the past."

Hunter, the pastor of a conservative megachurch, said he wasn't surprised Obama didn't ask him advice before the ABC interview because "I would have tried to talk him out of it."

At services on Sunday, black churches were conflicted about President Obama's support of gay marriage, according to USA Today:

Some churches were silent on the issue. At others, pastors spoke against the president's decision Wednesday—but kindly of the man himself. A few blasted the president and his decision. A minority spoke in favor of the decision and expressed understanding of the president's change of heart.

Bishop Timothy Clark, head of the First Church of God, a large African-American church with a television ministry in Columbus, Ohio, was perhaps most typical. He felt compelled to address the president's comments at a Wednesday evening service and again Sunday morning. He was responding to an outpouring of calls, e-mails and text messages from members of his congregation after the president's remarks.

What did he hear from churchgoers? "No church or group is monolithic. Some were powerfully agitated and disappointed. Others were curious. 'Why now? To what end?' Others were hurt. And others, to be honest, told me it's not an issue and they don't have a problem with it."

What did the bishop tell his congregation? He opposes gay marriage. It is not just a social issue, he said, but a religious one for those who follow the Bible. "The spiritual issue is ground in the word of God." That said, "I believe the statement the president made and his decision was made in good faith. I am sure because the president is a good man. I know his decision was made after much thought and consideration and, I'm sure, even prayer."

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