Texas Gov. Rick Perry remained mum after sharing the podium at two get-out-the-vote rallies with a black Southern Baptist preacher who wondered if God sent Hurricane Katrina "to purify our nation."
"I'm raising the question," Dwight McKissic, senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, said last week at meetings of the Texas Restoration Project, according to the Austin American-Statesman. "At some point, God will hold us accountable for our sins."
"They have devil worship. They advertise 'SinCity' tours. They celebrate Southern decadence. Girls go wild in New Orleans," said McKissic, a founder of the "Not on My Watch" coalition against gay marriage. "Sometimes God does not speak through natural phenomena. This may have nothing to do with God being offended by homosexuality. But possibly it does."
Perry, a Republican who is seeking re-election next year, didn't object to McKissic's comments at Thursday's gatherings in Houston and San Antonio.
"The governor does not agree with that," gubernatorial spokesman Robert Black told the Austin newspaper on Friday. "But far be it for the governor to try to divine the will of the Almighty. Americans of all faiths need to come together at this point in time to help the victims of this tragedy."
But a moderate Baptist ethicist said Perry should clearly distance himself from McKissic's remarks. "If the governor disagrees, why doesn't he say so?" said Robert Parham of the BaptistCenter for Ethics in Nashville, Tenn. "Let his yes be yes and his no be no," Parham said, quoting words of Jesus in Matthew .
The Houston and San Antonio gatherings were the last of six rallies aimed at enlisting 1,000 "Patriot Pastors" and registering 300,000 new "values voters" to elect like-minded politicians and support a statewide referendum Nov. 8 on a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
McKissic, who started the 3,000-member Cornerstone Baptist Church with nine adults and 15 children in 1983, was one of three founders of the "Not on My Watch" coalition to galvanize African-American churches against same-sex marriage.
"At the dawn of this new millennium, the church of the living God cannot allow the gay rights movement to hitch itself to the civil rights movement without first putting up a fight," he said at a June 2004 rally on the steps of Arlington City Hall covered by the Southern Baptist Texan.
McKissic said comparing the gay rights movement with the struggle for civil rights by blacks is "insulting, offensive and racist."
"To compare civil rights with gay rights is to compare my skin with their sin," McKissic said.
He preached a similar message last October at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
"When homosexuals have spent over 200 years in slavery, when homosexuals have been legally defined as three-fifths human, when homosexuals have been denied the right to vote and own property because they are homosexuals, then we can begin a discussion of parallels [between the civil rights and gay rights movements]," McKissic said, according to Baptist Press.
McKissic is a former Southern Baptists of Texas Convention pastor's conference president and is scheduled to speak at this year's Oct. 23-24 gathering alongside Southern Baptist Convention leaders Jimmy Draper and Jack Graham.
Last month his "Not on My Watch" coalition laid out a 10-point "Christian Family Manifesto," including, "Love, mercy and grace to homosexuals while supporting passage of a federal amendment protecting marriage and related state legislation."
Perry has attended several closed-door meetings with religious leaders aimed at mobilizing people of faith.
One e-mail from Perry invited "pro-family Christian friends" to an event at a nondenominational church, according to a Dallas Morning News report in June.
In a luncheon address to the pastors at an earlier gathering in Austin, Perry praised the Texas Restoration Project for getting Christian voters involved in politics and thanked "each one of you who prays for me and my family in Jesus' name."
Describing himself as an ally on abortion, prayer in school and gay marriage, the governor questioned, "If we can talk so openly about the spiritual battle we confront from the Sunday pulpit, why can't we also talk about it in the public square?" according to a copy of prepared remarks obtained by the Dallas newspaper.
Other speakers at the June rally included David Barton, vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party and founder of WallBuilders, which has challenged the separation of religious and public life.
Organizers claim the pastors' meetings are non-partisan, but critics view them as campaign events to help the governor win re-election.