The leader of President Barack Obama's former church in Chicago has come out against statements by other African-American clergy who condemned the president's endorsement last week of same-sex marriage.
The Rev. Otis Moss III, the senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, read a letter to his congregation on Sunday defending Obama and the quest for marriage equality.
"November is incredibly important to our community," Moss said, reminding worshipers that he was encouraging them to engage in public debate, not telling them how to vote.
"The question I believe we should pose to our congregations is, 'Should all Americans have the same civil rights?'" Moss read from his letter. "… There is difference between rights and rites. We should never misconstrue rights designed to protect diverse individuals in a pluralistic society versus religious rites designed by faith communities to communicate a theological or doctrinal perspective."
Earlier this week, the Tennessee-based Coalition of African American Pastors blasted the president's declaration of support for marriage equality.
The Rev. William Owens, civil rights leader and president of the coalition, said he was appalled by activists who compare the fight for gay rights to the civil rights era.
"For activists, politicians and now the highest office in the nation to link sexual behavior God calls sin to the righteous cause Martin Luther King gave his life for is abominable in and of itself," the coalition said in a statement. "There is no civil right to do what God calls wrong."
Many black clergy have chastised the president for citing scripture and the Golden Rule to justify his support for marriage equality.
In its statement, the coalition defined marriage as the union between one man and one woman "created and ordained by God."
"We cannot and will not remain silent while marriage, the most fundamental institution in our and any nation, is undermined by our own President while using Christian language and relating it to civil rights," the pastors said in a statement.
But Moss – who succeeded the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright as the leader of Trinity -- scoffed at the suggestion that same-sex marriage or the president's endorsement has weakened the sacrament of marriage, pointing to a number of other factors instead.
"The institution of marriage is not under attack as a result of the President's words. Marriage was under attack years ago by men who viewed women as property and children as trophies of sexual prowess," he said, drawing applause from the audience. "Marriage is under attack by low wages, high incarceration, unfair tax policy, unemployment, and lack of education."
He also reiterated in the letter that that Emmett Till and four little girls in Birmingham didn't die so clergy could get their Sunday morning sound bites. They died because someone made doctrine more of a priority than love, he said.
He cautioned the pastors against misplacing blame and making the LGBT community out to be the enemy.
"Gay and lesbian citizens did not cause the economic crash, foreclosures, and attack upon health care," Moss said. "Poor underfunded schools were not created because people desire equal protection under the law. We have much work to do as a community, and to claim the President of the United States must hold your theological position is absurd. He is President of the United States of America not the President of the Baptist convention or Bishop of the Sanctified or Holiness Church. He is called to protect the rights of Jew and Gentile, male and female, young and old, Gay and straight, black and white, Atheist and Agnostic."
A video of Moss talking about Obama's statement is available on YouTube: http://youtu.be/k7Ktjqf9Vi4.