October 26th, 2007
04:20 PM ET
15 years ago

Gospel concert controversy tests Obama's message

Obama spoke at an evangelical church in Greenville, South Carolina earlier this month.

COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CNN) - Sen. Barack Obama's campaign is kicking off a series of Gospel concerts in Charleston tonight, meant to boost Obama's support among black voters in South Carolina. But what started as a local outreach project that would otherwise fly under the national radar has turned into a major headache for the Obama campaign.

The controversy also highlights the fact that Obama's desire to unite disparate voting blocs - especially religious voters - under his umbrella of "change" is not without some serious pitfalls for a Democratic presidential candidate.

When the campaign announced the lineups for the three-city "Embrace the Change!" Gospel tour last week, one name stood out to gay bloggers: Donnie McClurkin. The Grammy-award winning singer/preacher is on record as saying homosexuality is a choice, and that he himself was "once involved with those desires and those thoughts," but was able to get past them through prayer. To say the least, neither of those arguments are very popular in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

John Aravosis, a prominent gay blogger and co-founder of the web site AmericaBlog, led the charge against the Obama campaign, writing that the Illinois Democrat was "sucking up to anti-gay bigots" and "giving them a stage."

Once the story bubbled up into the mainstream media, the Obama campaign was taken by surprise. In competing to win over African-American voters in South Carolina against Sen. Hillary Clinton, Obama's efforts in the Palmetto State have been overwhelmingly targeted at African-American churchgoers.

The campaign here has vigorously promoted the candidate's faith, launching an effort in late September called "40 Days of Faith and Family," which used Bible study groups to tap into the black electorate. They have run three radio ads, one of which called Obama a “Christian family man,” all distributed on Gospel stations across the state.

Earlier this month, Obama appeared and spoke at an evangelical church in the traditionally conservative city of Greenville, where he demonstrated a casual familiarity with Christian vocabulary, telling the crowd to much applause that, "I am confident that we can create a Kingdom right here on Earth."

After that appearance, the Obama campaign told CNN that Republicans no longer had a choke hold on issues of faith and values.

"I think that what you're seeing is a breaking down of the sharp divisions that existed maybe during the '90s," Obama said. "At least in politics, the perception was that the Democrats were fearful of talking about faith, and on the other hand you had the Republicans who had a particular brand of faith that oftentimes seemed intolerant or pushed people away."

But on Tuesday, Obama was forced to confront the uncomfortable truth that some Christians and gays are a little more than just strange bedfellows, especially among blacks.

Obama issued a statement saying, "I strongly disagree with Reverend McClurkin's views and will continue to fight for these rights as president of the United States," but he argued that it is important to confront homophobia in the African-American religious community.

A September poll of African-Americans in South Carolina by Winthrop University and ETV showed that 62 percent of those surveyed said that "sex between two adults of the same sex" is "strongly unacceptable."

Obama held a conference call Wednesday with Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, and announced that Rev. Andy Sidden, an openly gay South Carolina pastor, will appear at the same event as McClurkin on Sunday in Columbia.

Solmonese was not completely assuaged.

"I spoke with Sen. Barack Obama today and expressed to him our community's disappointment for his decision to continue to remain associated with Rev. McClurkin, an anti-gay preacher who states the need to 'break the curse of homosexuality,'" he said in a statement. "There is no gospel in Donnie McClurkin's message for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and their allies. That's a message that certainly doesn’t belong on any Presidential candidate's stage."

The State newspaper in Columbia also reported Friday that Obama organized a conference call Thursday night with gay and lesbian leaders. After the call, the South Carolina Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement announced they will hold a protest vigil outside Sunday's concert here.

Privately, Obama aides say they believe Obama is a candidate of real, transformational change, and that uproars like the McClurkin controversy are necessary speed bumps on the road to bringing people with opposing viewpoints together to air their differences.

Will Obama's refusal to kick McClurkin off the concert bill hurt him? Like many political squabbles, despite the national story, it depends how much the controversy resonates with voters in those crucial early states: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

And in South Carolina, where African-Americans make up about half of Democratic primary-goers, voters might not have that much of a problem with McClurkin at all.

- CNN South Carolina Producer Peter Hamby

soundoff (171 Responses)

    The Clinton's have abandoned the Left of the Democratic Party, gone Pro-War. Thier position is "Im The One that can beat Hillary, I'm The One that can beat Rudy." Both are Blank Check writers of Bush. The Media has placed the Queens Crown on Hillary.
    Very Respectfully,
    D. L. Graham
    El Cajon, San Diego, CT. CA.

    October 26, 2007 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  2. sharon alexandria, va

    Why can't Obama stick to his guns! "Homosexuality is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!"

    October 26, 2007 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  3. A. Thomas, New York, NY

    Experience is overated....

    Posted By Ren, Orlando,Fl : October 26, 2007 2:21 pm

    I guess you try to find an excuse for obama that his inexperience is of little concern to the american voters.

    If you beleive in that reasoning, you should ask your teenagers to make all household decisions. As Mark Twain once said, good judgement comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgement. In other words, without experience, obama will render bad judgement to be a president.

    Obama has run a worse election campaign than hillary because obama has had no prior experience. Hillary and Bill ran this presidential election twice and they won them all, and that explains that their more effiicent (least $ spent on $ raised) and effective (higher poll standings)than obama.

    October 26, 2007 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  4. anon, ottawa, OH

    Barrack Obama is a closet muslim, as Larry Craig is a closet gay!

    October 26, 2007 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  5. Ron, TX

    I think it's absurd that it's causing so much controvery. McClurkin isn't "anti-gay" or a "hate-monger". He just believes being gay is a choice. Sure, this isn't a popular view, but GUESS WHAT? You have to invite your enemy to dinner before you can have them sit down at the table. And then you have to have your enemies sit down at the table, before you can try and change their minds.

    Certain gay groups need to get their priorities straight (no pun intended). You cannot insist on being at WAR with anyone who doesn't believe what you believe. You must TALK to your opponents to ever hope to change their minds. It's NOT us against them! We need a President who has this unique ability to accept people he disagrees with. A leader and a uniter doesn't cast away those with different opinions. They listen to them, and they talk to them, and eventually, they hope that those with different opinions may change their minds.

    Bravo, Barack. Bravo.

    October 26, 2007 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  6. Anonymous

    Actually many scientific studies have proven that homosexuality isnt a choice. Sexual orientaion is determined in the womb. Besides! Why the hell would someone "choose" to be gay in such a homophobic country like the US? Also not all gays are "bigoted against anyone who isnt gay"

    Gays come from all sorts of family backrounds.

    October 26, 2007 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  7. A-Dot, Baltimore

    First post ever, but had to comment.

    Our nation is divided by so many different factions, so when someone actually risks their reputation when seeking to bring disparate groups together, in my view, this should be celebrated. Whether gays accept this or not, there are many people in this country, both black and white, that think that sexuality is a choice and this is 2007.

    In discussion of these concerts I also wish that we could take race out of it – as I said there are plenty of people of all races that hold this view – for proof visit Anytown, USA in the interior of this country. Deeply held views take time to change and often quickens when one has an opportunity to learn more about the thing or person of which they were fearful. Rev. McClurkin does not hate gay people or think they are less human than him. He apparently has no problem socializing with them either as witnessed by him staying on the program when Rev. Andy Sidden was added. He just believes that with prayer all things can change.

    To deny Rev. McClurkin an active role in Obama's campaign because of that would be akin to denying all Christians who believe the same a role in the campaign or in Democratic politics. And let me guarantee you, all the Democratic candidates have folks on their staffs and in their organizations that are gay and others who hold McClurkin's belief.

    October 26, 2007 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  8. David, Richmond, VA

    Donnie McClurkin is not anti-"gay", he is anti-"sin". This man is a gospel singer, of course he is going to speak against sin, this is what Jesus died for to save man from sin. As a christian myself it is at the core that you have an intolerance for sin, not the person, but the sin in their life. Understand that no Christian should hate the gay person themself, but they should hate the sin that they commit. Yes, it is true that homosexuals are born that way, we are all born into a sinful flesh as a result of Adam's first sin, but it is Jesus that delivered on from that. If Obama does call himself a Christian, believe me politics is not the best profession choose. With politics it will always be necessary to compromise, as a Christian there is no compromise, you must remain steadfast to your beliefs.

    October 26, 2007 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  9. Robert, Cleveland, OH

    How about split religion and government. Presidential candidate doing gospel tour and attending several churh services the same day! We had one president who was getting advices from the prayer and bunch of crooks such Farrell and others; one is more than enough for this country.
    And speakin god Edwards: "John Edwards says if he's elected president, he'll institute a New Deal-like suite of programs to fight poverty and stem growing wealth disparity. To do it, he said, he'll ask many Americans to make sacrifices, like paying higher taxes"


    October 26, 2007 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  10. Dan, TX

    This is a Clinton hack job. Obama, a known strong supporter of gay rights, has someone that gays distrust as a supporter! WHY would McClurkin support OBAMA? Shouldn't McClurking denounce Obama and hate Obama if McClurkin is anti-gay, knowing that Obama is so pro-gay rights?

    This doesn't add up, it makes no sense. The LGBT is acting intolerant and uni-dementional and making look like McClurkin the open-minded caring person here. A few hypervigilent members of the LGBT community are turning his into a disaster for the LGBT agenda.

    Obama is displaying very strong leadership here that reflects his experience in minority issues. The last thing either community needs is to expend energy fighting each other year after year. Let's get it all out on the table boys and girls. Do gays tolerate other people's religious views that say that the gay lifestyle is not appropriate? Do the religious tolerate the views of those who call their religion false? Disagree, argue, debate, but in the end, I hope we find that we are all human. And the human spirit trumps all this other stuff.

    October 26, 2007 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  11. Ace, Grand Rapids, MI

    Actually many scientific studies have proven that same sex attraction isnt a choice nor aquired from your surroundings. Sexual orientaion is determined in the womb. Plus GLBT people come from all sorts of family background. Do you think Alan Keyes or Phyllis Schlafly would have gay kids if your theories were correct!?

    October 26, 2007 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  12. Bobby Johnson

    everybody has there opion, about what they belivie, but that seem to be a problem with the gay community only what they think counts, why are you on the offense about what others think or maybe its true what Donnie McClurkin stated

    October 26, 2007 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  13. Toni, Seattle, WA.

    I glad Sen. Barack is keeping Donnie in the concert, we waste so much time on little things in this world. Who cares if he was gay, and being gay is NOT anything you're born with. People are going to complain either way you chose so have your concert you already have my vote!!!

    October 26, 2007 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  14. Crystal, West Point GA

    Yes homosexuality is a sin. However, we are also taught to love everyone. Showing love to those that are hurt, broken, living inappropriately, etc will win people over to Jesus. So, the solution is to kick Mclurkin off of the concert bill? That would show a lack of faith on behalf of Obama.

    October 26, 2007 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  15. Brandi, Lincoln, NE

    Donnie McClurkin's views are not the same as Barack Obama's. The reason McClurkin is at this concert is because he is a gospel singer, a popular gospel singer. If you are going to hold a huge concert, you need to have big names. To be honest, I really don't think this is a big issue...I'm not saying it isn't an issue, just not a big one in mainstream America and not in the African-American community. I think most people would be surprise on how many African-Americans feel about homosexuality...it's not welcoming. One of the MANY things Barack is going to have to do is show that he can be an African-American, Christian, Equal right-supporting man. He can do it, what people have to realize is that everything is not black and white, there is always a gray.

    October 26, 2007 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  16. Mark David, Dallas, TX

    I grew up a son of an evangelical pastor in the midwest. I found it impossible to stay married and live in the closet. No amount of prayer made me heterosexual. I came to the place where I believed that God didn't love me enough to fix my "problem" or I didn't have a problem. I have been out since 1992.

    October 26, 2007 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  17. R. L. Reedy

    Obama isn't electable..no way..no how. Ditto HIllary. Actually, the democrats look pretty weak.
    I am an independent and have predicted every election correctly since the Nixon victory and I am telling you the guy can hang it UP!

    October 26, 2007 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  18. Antonio, Atlanta, Ga

    I am proud to see at least one elected official with some intergrity. Most politicians will say anything to get elected. Obama, on the other hand, has not given into the special interest groups, including black folks. Rangel and his kind want someone to pander to them and kiss their butts. None of these people have done anything for black folks except get elected. Obama has talked to black folks about taking responsibility for themselves and that they can't allow perceived or actual racism to prevent them from succeeding. No other candidate will say that to a black audience. He has also challenged the black church about its homophobia. No other candidate has done that. Yet, people are trying to villify him for having McClurkin sing, not preach or espouse personal views.

    In a democracy, we benefit from listening to other views. One of the problems of the last seven years is that Bush has surrounded himself with folks whose views don't differ from his. We have seen the results of that sort of thinking. Moreover, it is the group think on the Republican side that has led to the gay marriage amendment to the Constitution. If you oppose such sort of thinking on one side, you need to oppose when done by members of your own party. In the end, this is much ado about nothing.

    October 26, 2007 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  19. Sheila, Houston Texas

    Why should he has to answer to this at all there are to many blacks in south carolina to be catch up in this type of fight now. He needs that black vote if he tells the gospel singer that most blacks loves to listen not to come on stage he will loses black votes not just in south carolina but all over the united states if he makes it to the general.

    October 26, 2007 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  20. Timothy - Brooklyn, NY

    The Grammy-award winning singer/preacher is on record as saying homosexuality is a choice, and that he himself was "once involved with those desires and those thoughts," but was able to get past them through prayer.

    Sorry, Mr. McClurkin, but the only thing that is a "choice" about homosexuality is yours to repress it. May God help you in your struggle, and help you live happily into who He made you to be. God doesn't make mistakes.

    October 26, 2007 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  21. Matthew, Fort Worth, Texas

    laura...you say qualifications?? where has that gotten us?? dubya had your so called experience and look where we are now...falling into a recession from over spending and under taxation of corporations, a war that had no plan to start with, and millions of americans suffering from little health care and assistance.

    October 26, 2007 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  22. Althea

    The bible clearly states that sex between two men or two women is a sin. Gays and Lesbians try to rewrite the bible to fit their life style. Christians are persecuted by these people for their beliefs. Society seems to bend over backwards to placate gays and lesbians. When a Christian stands up for what they believe in they are treated as the bad guy. We are supposed to change our beliefs to make them (gays and lesbians) feel good about the fact that they are living in sin. It is just sad that Mr. Obama won't stand up to these people and let them know that they are wrong...all for the hopes of getting votes.

    October 26, 2007 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  23. Bob, Philadelphia, PA

    Where to begin. I think that Obama is correct in calling all sides together – nothing is gained by "preaching to the chior" so to speak. Now, to address some of these other moronic comments: there is genetic proof that sexual orientation is genetic; the bible also states that it is okay to sell your daughter or to kill you neighbor if he wrongs you (so I guess we'll see many "Christians" putting their daughters on ebay); McClurkin is about as straight as Senator Craig – he just likes to have sex with men; and finally, there is no such thing as a former homosexual – simply a sad individual who can't accept himself as the person God intended him to be.

    October 26, 2007 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  24. Tommy Williams , Bozeman Montana

    They're campaign should be okay, I'm not ant-gay because my sister is gay. I just want to say that being gay is a choice! I've done enough research and that is the educated decision I conclude. Go Dems!

    October 26, 2007 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  25. Neil in Philly

    How ironic, I believe religion is a choice, although I was once involved with religious desires and thoughts. Thankfully common sense purged me of my ignorance and now I am a much happier person without religion.

    October 26, 2007 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
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