The Rev. John K. Jenkins Jr., pastor of the First Baptist Church of Glenarden, told his congregation on Sunday that he was “deeply, deeply troubled” by President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage, calling it a “strike at the core foundation” of society. “I hate to bring it up on Mother’s Day,” Jenkins said, “but two men can’t be a mother. . . . It’s not healthy for children, and it is not God’s design.”
The Rev. Delman Coates, pastor of Mount Ennon Baptist Church just a few miles away in Clinton, called Obama’s words a “bold and courageous stance in support of civil marriage protection for gays and lesbians.” Coates, one of a group of African American ministers asked by the White House to promote its position, said in an e-mail Friday that the president’s stance “underscores the fundamental difference between the State and the role of the Church.”
Across the Washington region, church leaders and worshipers were still trying to absorb Obama’s unexpected announcement during an ABC interview Wednesday that he now thinks same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. Churchgoers from various denominations responded in ways as different as the political, cultural and ethnic diversity that increasingly defines the region and its beliefs.
It was unclear how Obama’s stance on same-sex marriage will affect his reelection prospects among area churchgoers who supported his first bid for president. Most voters have indicated in polls that they are chiefly concerned about economic issues.
In Maryland, some pastors who oppose same-sex marriage said the president’s action has energized their efforts to force a public vote on the same-sex marriage bill approved by the state legislature in February and signed into law by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) in March. Several held prayer rallies and began collecting petition signatures. In Virginia, where voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum in 2006 affirming marriage as the union between a man and a woman, officials of the state Catholic Conference said they were disappointed by Obama’s announcement.
“It is important for people to recognize that marriage had a designation and a purpose long before any nations or laws were established,” said Jeff Caruso, a spokesman for the conference in Richmond. “The proper role of government is not to define the institution of marriage, but to preserve and protect it.”
But some priests, especially those in more liberal and diverse parishes, took a different position. At St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Arlington County, the Rev. Clement Aapengnu delivered a Mother’s Day sermon that focused on the inclusiveness of love and the importance of tolerance.
In an interview afterward, he suggested that marriage is a “human phenomenon” rather than a religious one. “Who has the authority to define what marriage is?” he asked. “We in the church must respect its traditions. But marriage is a gift and a covenant of love that should be respected.”
Aapengnu said Obama must act as “president of all Americans, not just of Catholics. The beauty of America is that it is a melting pot.”