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By Shantella Y. Sherman, Special to The Key Newsjournal
Black churchgoers continue to embrace President Obama as the nation’s leader, but largely oppose his support of same-sex marriage./ Courtesy Photo
The Rev. Wallace Charles Smith, senior minister at Shiloh Baptist Church in Northwest, like scores of other African-American clergy around the country, took to the pulpit on Mother’s Day to make his opposition to President Barack Obama’s support of same-sex marriage clear.
“We may disagree with our president on this one issue, but we will keep him lifted up in prayer. Pray for President Barack Obama,” Smith told his congregation on Sunday, May 13.
The Obamas attended services at Shiloh five weeks ago, and while the largely Black congregation continues to support the president, many echoed a passionate aversion to his support of homosexuality.
Obama announced Wednesday, May 11 that his views on gay marriage had evolved.
“I had hesitated on gay marriage, in part, because I thought civil unions would be sufficient. I was sensitive to the fact that – for a lot of people – the word marriage is something that provokes very powerful traditions and religious beliefs, but have concluded that for me personally, it is important to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama said.
The president also said that his daughters, Malia and Sasha, had friends whose parents were same-sex couples and that influenced his decision.
“It wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them and frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective,” Obama said.
But for some Black Christians, no matter their religious affiliation, there’s been no change of heart when it comes to gay marriage. For Ann Smith, a Baptist upbringing lends itself to seeing shades of grey, but not necessarily embracing them.
“I support gay civil unions but not gay marriage. I believe we are all God’s children, but, I do believe that marriage is sacred and not to be played with. I consider myself a liberal Christian and see a lot of shades of grey, but I think that our culture today is trying to push this idea that everything is ‘a right.’ Sometimes, there has to be a line in the sand, and this is one of them for me,” Smith said.
“Am I going to picket? No. Am I against President Obama’s stance? No – I understand it. Would I vote for gay marriage? No. Did I sign a petition at church last Sunday that marriage is between a man and woman? Yeah, I did,” Smith said.
Smith, 44, said that the president’s position is reminiscent of those with which a lot of Christians are faced when they recognize that many of their friends, family members, and people they care about are gay. Religious doctrine and Christian compassion however run counter to one another when dealing with homosexuality.
Those conflicting beliefs tore Terrence Hines and his family apart for decades. At 62, Hines has witnessed his own positions over homosexual unions spin out of control after learning that both his son, Terrence, Jr., and a beloved niece were gay.
“I was raised ‘old school’ and when my son was born I checked to see that he had all of his fingers and toes and then immediately prayed to God that he not turn out gay. I was a deacon at my church, I was a respected member of my [Dallas, Texas] community, and a gay person in the family could ruin all of that,” Hines said.
Despite keeping his sexuality away from his father for many years, Terrence Jr., eventually “came out”, creating a rift between Hines and his wife Cynthia.
“She wanted to have [my son] and his ‘friend’ come over for family gatherings. They wanted me to acknowledge them as a couple. I wouldn’t do it. He moved to California and it became a very lonely life. I had to choose between having my son on my terms or having him at all. Obama’s position is one that a lot of Black parents of gay and lesbian children have to face and I support him,” Hines said.
The Hines’ reunited eight years ago.
Kendrick Marshall, 28, who lives in Chicago and attends The Israel of God Church, said that Obama’s position could be political rather than religious.
“Well, I’m not going to lie. It was a little bit disappointing to hear President Obama, a professing Christian, say he supports same-sex marriage,” Marshall said.
“But I understand this stance might be politically motivated to secure votes. Nonetheless, voters will have to make their own decisions on such matters based on what they believe both religiously and politically.”