Special to South Florida Times
The Rev. Willie Simms felt conflicted when President Barack Obama announced his support of same-sex unions last week.
“My first thought was that I have lived long enough to see an African American as president of the United States but I was highly disappointed that he took this position,” said Simms, a pastor for 35 years. “The Bible says that a man lying down with a man is an abomination, which is 100 times worse than a sin,” Simms said, referring to Leviticus 18: 22-23. “I felt I could no longer support him.”
Then Simms changed his mind.
“I looked at my options,” said Simms, an associate pastor at Peaceful Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Miami. “I could never vote for Mitt Romney. So I decided simply not to vote.”
But Simms’ thoughts continued to evolve.
“My phone was ringing off the hook from hundreds of pastors from all over this country. One pastor I highly respect said, ‘Obama is a president, not a pastor.’ Another said, ‘As African Americans, we cannot throw out the good he has done for this one position that we do not agree on.’
“So my final position is that I will vote for Obama and encourage everyone I know,” said Simms, who also serves as chairman of the Political Action Committee of the Baptist Ministers Council for Greater Miami. The group has about 5,000 members representing 300 churches.
Simms, 63, is a Miami native who has lived in Miramar for the past 12 years. A former director of the Miami-Dade Community Relations Board, Simms was involved in diffusing any racially based uprising throughout the county. Now he is intervening with other pastors and Christians confused or upset about Obama’s remarks.
“We will not dump him for his statement,” Simms said.
Two hours after his interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts, Obama led a conference call with a group of black pastors. Civil rights ministers the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson have announced their support for the president’s position. Jackson encouraged ministers to address the topic Sunday.
The Rev. Gregory Thompson did – and he came out in opposition to Obama’s announcement.
“Even as Christians, we have to stand on our convictions and not waver if it gives us political gains,” Thompson told his congregation at the 300-member New Harvest Baptist Church in North Miami during his Mother’s Day sermon. “I think we are too apologetic about our beliefs.”
“My personal response is that if he is going to be a Christian president then he should at least manifest Christian values,” said Thompson, also president of the African-American Council of Christian Clergy of Miami-Dade, an interdenominational body of pastors representing about 30 churches.
“I think he is supporting gay marriage because he is trying to get re-elected. It is disappointing morally but I can see why he did what he did,” Thompson said.
The Rev. O’Neal Dozier, pastor of the Worldwide Christian Center in Pompano Beach, also said the president was currying political support from the gay community, which he called inappropriate.
“The president went too far,” said Dozier, who supported former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania for the Republican presidential nomination; Santorum has dropped out of the race.
“In Genesis, God made Adam and Eve; he did not make Adam and Steve. And what is so appalling is to hear pastors say they will still support Barack Obama and still hold to their values,” Dozier said.
But, said the Rev. Anthony Sanders, no political candidate will be a perfect fit for all people.
“No matter who your candidate is, there will be times you will disagree with him,” said Sanders, pastor of Higher Vision Ministries, a non-denominational church in Hallandale Beach. “It would not take away my support from the president overall. I wouldn’t base my vote on one action.”
Sanders, who is also vice mayor of Hallandale Beach, said he faults the president for linking his support of gay marriage to scripture.
“There is no scripture that validates same-sex marriage,” Sanders said.
“The Bible is clear as to what marriage is,” said the Rev. Dr. Walter Richardson, who was pastor of Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church in South Dade for 26 years. “Marriage is defined in the New Testament and the Old Testament, beginning in Genesis, as the union of a man with a woman.
“Even Jews believe that and Muslims believe that,” said Richardson, current chairman of the Miami-Dade Community Relations Board.
Malik Mateen, an assistant to Imam Dr. Nasir Ahmad at the Al-Ansar mosque in Liberty City, shares that view. “My personal position is that it is clearly spelled out that God recognizes marriage between a man and a woman.”
The Qu’ran, the sacred book of Islam, makes reference to God who made man and then he made his mate, Eve, a female, Mateen said.
For Anna Price, though, the vision is one of diversity. “We don’t discriminate whether it’s related to gender or sexual preference,” said Price, executive pastor of the Universal Truth Center for Better Living, a non-denominational church in Miami Gardens. “We see people as spiritual beings. Choice is our greatest gift — the power to choose in whatever arena we are in.”
Photo: Barack Obama