(Photo: REUTERS/Jason Reed)
The leader of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (PAW), a predominantly African-American denomination, says it is acceptable for Christians to support President Barack Obama in spite of the president's stance in support of same-sex marriage.
Presiding Bishop Charles H. Ellis III, the 54-year-old leader of PAW and senior pastor of Greater Grace Temple church in Detroit, Mich., told The Christian Post on Monday that the Bible speaks against same-sex relationships, yet it is still acceptable for Christians to support the president with their votes.
"I am diametrically opposed to his stance, but at the end of the day I kind of understand where he's coming from, because he is what I am not," said Ellis, who spoke to CP from the PAW 2012 International Summer Convention in New Orleans. "He is the president of the United States. I am the pastor of a church, and the leader of a religious organization. He put his hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the constitution of the United States, and I am thankful that ... he must be considerate of everyone's belief and everyone's concerns."
In May, Obama told ABC News anchor Robin Roberts that he had undergone an "evolution" in his views on same-sex marriage. During this evolution, he said, he took into consideration the opinions of friends and family, and thought about gay individuals who have served in the U.S. military but are unable to marry. He then told Roberts, "I've just concluded that, for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think that same-sex couples should be able to get married."
In a letter about Obama's announcement written by Ellis, which he read to his congregation on Mother's Day, the bishop says he immediately wanted to judge the president "and scold him for what I considered such reckless remarks."
After some consideration, however, Ellis determined that he can support the president, whom he emphasized made a "PERSONAL statement and not a LEGISLATIVE statement," and whom Ellis believes "must give ear to and be considerate to the causes and rights of us all."
"You can have those convictions, mine are going to be here," Ellis told CP. "Let's let him do his job, and then I do my job. We'll walk down the road, and we'll disagree on this, but at the same time I support him in all of the things I feel he is doing to our country in looking out for the least of these."
Generally speaking, Ellis said most PAW members likely vote Democrat. After reading his letter to his congregation, he said, he received a standing ovation because many of his congregants said they were "dumbfounded" and "disappointed" by the president's announcement, and Ellis' letter helped to "put things in perspective" for them.
No one Ellis spoke to said they would not vote for Obama in November because of his stance on gay marriage.
Bishop Samuel R. Moore, who leads the West Virginia and East Tennessee Council of the PAW, said he wasn't surprised by the president's announcement, but he was "disappointed" by it.
Unlike Ellis, however, Moore has spoken with some individuals who said they would not vote for the incumbent in the upcoming election because of his stance on gay marriage. Moore is uncertain, however, as to whether or not those people were Obama supporters in the first place, and most of the people in his own congregation have not switched sides.
"I don't look at one position and say, 'This is where I make my decision.' I try to look at what the candidate stands for overall, and the majority of what President Obama supports, it supports my thinking," said Moore.
Although he is against the idea of allowing gay marriage, Moore said it is vital that churches show love toward gay individuals because it is what Jesus would have done.
"I have people in my family who have lifestyles that oppose my Christian views ... I don't approve of their lifestyle, they know that, but they know that I still love them," said Moore. "By the same token, I'll never be able to reach people if I alienate them, and I think that was the message that Jesus had."
The official PAW statement on the president's announcement says that, while the denomination will welcome everyone into its churches, the church is "called to preach against every variation of sin as described in the Bible in hope that all people may be transformed into the knowledge of Jesus Christ."
While many PAW leaders remain supportive of Obama, other African-American pastors have indicated less enthusiasm for the president.
The Coalition of African-American Pastors have asked black Christians to withhold their support of Obama until he grants a meeting with them to discuss their concerns regarding his views on same-sex marriage.
"Many African Americans were once proud of our president but now many are ashamed of his actions," the Rev. Bill Owens, president of the CAAP, told CP earlier.