As President Barack Obama finds himself under fire from evangelical Christians and black church leaders around the country for endorsing same-sex marriage, the senior pastor at his former Chicago church has stepped up to defend him.
While many Christian leaders have expressed that their opposition to same-sex marriage comes from the belief that the Bible describes homosexuality as sin, the Rev. Otis Moss III of Trinity United Church of Christ has said that Obama, who is Christian, should not be held to any particular theology or denomination in his role as president.
"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 said while reading from a letter during a Sunday, May 14 church service.
"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."
President Obama, during his remarks affirming same-sex marriage, cited his faith as contributing to his decision to support such unions.
Moss, whose remarks were published online by Trinity United Church of Christ, went on to suggest that same-sex marriage was a civil rights issue.
"The question I believe we should pose to our congregations is, 'Should all Americans have the same civil rights?'" the pastor said. "There is a 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."
The Rev. Moss' views stand in contrast to the Coalition of African-American Pastors, who rallied in Memphis, Tenn., last week to speak out against President Obama's support of same-sex marriage. The pastors declared that they do not agree with suggestions that the homosexual community's desire to change the definition of marriage was on equal footing with the purpose of the civil rights movement.
"Same-sex marriage I think, it's an abomination before God. It's a sin before God," said the Rev. Robert Morris, acting minister of New Jerusalem Church of God in Christ. "I don't see how anyone can compare that with civil rights."
"The group of black clergy and civil rights leaders say it is time to turn the tide against the 'hijacking' of the civil rights movement," added the Rev. Bill Owens, the coalition's elder statesman and organizer and a veteran of the civil rights movement who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King. "A 50-year-old can only read about the struggles and protests of the civil rights era, but some of us who are older have the battle scars to prove it. And the rights we fought so hard to acquire did not include same-sex marriage."
"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 further declared in a statement. "There is no civil right to do what God calls wrong."
The Rev. Moss, who succeeded the Rev. Jeremiah Wright as leader of Trinity United Church of Christ, suggested that he believes marriage is under attack not from the gay community, but from a lack of government support and protection for underprivileged families.
"Marriage was under attack years ago by men who viewed women as property and children as trophies of sexual prowess," he said before the church. "Marriage is under attack by low wages, high incarceration, unfair tax policy, unemployment and lack of education."
"Gay and lesbian citizens did not cause the economic crash, foreclosures and attack upon health care," he continued. "Poor underfunded schools were not created because people desire equal protection under the law."
Moss also told the congregation that "November is incredibly important to our community," and that he was not telling them how to vote, but encouraging them to be active in their political life.