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)
  1. Petra, Vail, AZ

    According to a story today in the washington Post it was the Clinton campaign that pushed this non-issue.
    Let go, folks. If you have ever seen a Broadway musical, there are lots of gays and straights on the stage. Who cares?

    October 26, 2007 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  2. Richard, West Palm Beach, FL

    "Them gay atheists needs to go to the land of fire and brimstone, where they belong. I believe gays were sent by the Devil to test the piety of men. Every time you vote democrat, you lose a part of your soul to satan, and every time you say it is ok to be gay, you are just giving into the lies of demons."
    - - -
    One of the Ten Commandments says no one should work on Sundays. Exodus 31:15 says "Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death”.

    So why aren't you as adament about stopping Sunday NFL games and condemning the businesses that you use on Sundays? Can you come up with any other explanation other than HYPOCRISY?

    October 26, 2007 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  3. Joe, Lubbock TX

    J.R. is correct about racism in the gay community being well-documented. I've basically spent the last year of my life doing research on homophobia in the African-American community and racism in the gay community, and plan on eventually writing a dissertation on the topic. It is especially difficult for African-American males, who are the victims of discrimination within both minority groups. Many do not even identify as gay and are in heterosexual relationships, yet continue to have sex with men on "the DL", which puts both them and their heterosexual partners at risk for STD's.
    As a gay male, I do not agree with McClurkin's views, but I have certainly heard much more homophobic comments. I think Obama is doing the right thing by distancing himself from the comments but still allowing McClurkin to participate in the campaign.
    I honestly believe Obama wants both groups to unite and work together, and he had not lost my vote.

    October 26, 2007 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  4. Tim Duluth,MN

    We should be willing to concede some issues, and look at the large picture, and see how that helps us as opposed to focusing on one issue and having that make up our minds. It seems naive to do so and our narrow mindedness may be leading us away from the change we so desperately want.

    October 26, 2007 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  5. Ruthie

    Why is it they only feel to attack Obama and not Clinton on same-type issues? Why oh why? Can someone please find out and post it please? And I still can't see the controversy. I had no idea that someone saying they were gay and no longer gay was an insult to gays. This to me is hypersensitivity. Everybody has their own views, so what. This just shows me they want to bash Obama and that's the only reason they're making flap over this. I bet Hillary's behind this stir-up in some way.

    October 26, 2007 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  6. Jman VA

    Where's the protection for child molestor's that are born that way?

    October 26, 2007 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  7. Timothy - Brooklyn, NY

    To Robert in NC (big surprise to find out where you live after reading your post)- seems like if Obama is a "true Christian" by your definition then he also must make a clear stance against eating shellfish, pork, not to mention mixing fabrics and fibers (was that a silk tie with a wool suit he had on??), and let's just hope he avoids contact with menstruating women, as he is clearly directed to do by the bible.

    October 26, 2007 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  8. Joyce Francis, Jacksonville, FL

    There isn't a politician alive or dead, black or white, gay or straight, democrat or republican, that can appeal to every group in this country, be it smokers, liberals, democrats, blacks, immigrants, republicans, pro abortion or against abortion. One has to make up one's mind when running for public office that he is going to offend someone and just go for it - honesty works.

    October 26, 2007 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  9. RPM, Dallas, TX

    I don't understand how maintaining the belief that gayness is a choice is bigotry. Are people saying they don't have a choice? How preposterous is that assertion. I'm not dumbing down so that a small contingent can try to mainstream an obvious anamoly. If your DNA got wrapped around the axle, then lets hope evolution finishes its job and brings this malfunction to extinction. Leave Barack alone.

    October 26, 2007 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  10. Mo, Portland, ME

    Until now, I've had a hard time deciding between Obama and Hillary. This incident clears up all confusion. I'm 100% behind Hillary now!

    October 26, 2007 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  11. John - Huntsville, Alabama

    Being a gay man myself their is only one truth. Everyone is gay, they just choose to deny their true feelings. There is no God, so remove that fictional character from all serious governmental applications and let the idiots pretend to be accountable to a fictional higher being. Democrats are the only party that display true Human equality.
    High Taxes, Bigger Government that will look out for me , Socialistic Health care, Forced Benevolance through welfare, thats the best representation that we could ask for.
    Support your agencies for the TRUE advancement of these United States, ie...ACLU, NAACP, RAINBOW COALITION Etc...

    October 26, 2007 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  12. brendan NYC

    I think some of the bloggers have over-reacted in their criticism of Obama, implying or saying he supports homophobia. He does not. BUT on the other hand I think he deserves all the trouble he can get into here for playing up to the churches. They are intolerant almost by nature, and he was bound to run into at least this much controversy by either going along with their views or being obliged to disavow their views in public.
    By actively courting them,he is supporting and extending the very dangerous invasion by religion into our national politics. He is flirting with one of the most damaging and anti-democratic trends of the last several years. Has he learned nothing from what the wish to satisfy evangelicals has done to the Republican Party? (or, more exactly, has done to US and to America's great traditions through their instrument, the Republican Party?)
    if he wants to run as a man of principle as he says, he must cease this kind of pandering.

    October 26, 2007 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  13. Daniel, NY

    In other bad news for Obama, a new general election poll from New Jersey has him trailing Rudy, while Clinton does much better. Link.

    October 26, 2007 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  14. Patrick, St. Louis, MO

    Rodney in Texas,

    So Hillary Rodham Clinton's position on Walmart's board is executive expreience? If, as you suggest, Walmart's board has a significant say in Walmart's operations, then, I suppose it is fair to attribute Walmart's policies to Hillary–import cheap goods from abroad, require unpaid overtime from employees, discriminate against female employees, break unions, build large and environmentally unfriendly stores, squeeze suppliers until they fail, subcontract for illegal-immigrant janitors, etc.

    October 26, 2007 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  15. Tony, Tulsa, OK

    Dave,

    Um, you're talking about two different types of tolerance. What the LGBT community wants is to be recognized as full citizens, and no longer be harassed by bigots (especially self-hating gays–they populate the Republican party, don't you know), just like other minorities have fought for similar rights.

    That is not to be equated with tolerating bigoted people. The whole point of free speech is that, at some point, some speech wins and some loses. We're trying to use speech to convince the American people that gays deserve equal rights and respect as human beings. Ignorant, self-loathing hate from McClurkin is not just another idea to be considered. It's an idea we are actively fighting to destroy.

    October 26, 2007 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  16. Todd, Tampa, FL

    People actually care about this? Isn't there a war going on somewhere?

    October 26, 2007 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  17. GivePeaceAChance

    Jim Bob:
    Have you considered psychiatric help? Individuals do not choose their sexuality. It is biologically predetermined.

    Perhaps you'll be surprised when those gates of heaven don't swing wide open when you get there. Hate is not a trait that God will embrace.

    October 26, 2007 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  18. Eduardo, LA, CA

    Politics....disgusting! How does Obama expect to create a "kingdom" without keeping religion out of government?

    As to the black community where the term "Down Low" was created, there needs to be a change so that lies, disease, heartache, does not continue to grow by men, single and married, living a double life!

    As a gay, hispanic and Republican male,I am religious, conservative, have family vaules and above all believe in God.

    God Bless America!

    October 26, 2007 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  19. Lisa, San Diego, CA

    This IS the time and THIS is the place. Homosexuality isn't like a faucet; you can't turn it on or off. If Donnie thinks he can, more power to him...I think he's full of it. As for the Bible, the #1 best-selling piece of fiction of all-time, it's fable not fact, and very well shouldn't be considered the law of the land. As for you homophobes, well, there's just no cure for ignorance.

    October 26, 2007 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  20. Joanna, Seattle, WA

    The GLBT political community seeks to control and intimidate the Obama campaign, just like many other well organized special interest groups across the board. A successful presidential candidate should be able to connect and represent with Americans of all sorts – diversity in sexuality and religions. Obama should not be so heavily criticized for support from those with specific biblical interpretations. There should be both a freedom of sexual expression as well as a freedom of religious views. Why be so hateful when the singer is speaking out of his own experiences? I hope Obama does not overly pander to one group by ostracizing another.

    October 26, 2007 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  21. A Conservative Liberal/Liberal Conservative

    Rodney, Dallas TX:

    Hill served on the Wal-Mart board? Just another reason NOT to vote for her. What's Wal-Mart's record on gender equality & workers' rights? Hmmm. A little research on that topic should prove that serving on WalMart's board is hardly something to be proud of.

    October 26, 2007 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  22. chirs chis

    I didn't even read this story and I already know that this guy is messing up Hillary's chances of becomeing the president.

    http://www.golden-lamp.com

    October 26, 2007 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  23. Ian, Chicago, IL

    I'm sorry but what is the point of this story? When did everyone get so sensitive and when was is not ok to have an opinion. There are people out there that don't believe in homosexuality and guess what? That's fine! They have a right to their opinion as everyone in this country does and that's what make's our country the way it is. McClurkin's statements aren't hateful – he's not name calling and insulting.

    The role of the President is for someone that can negotiate and be able to meet with different groups and try and reach agreements while keeping the American peoples best interest at heart.

    This is the problem with the Democratic party and why we lose these elections. We CANNOT exclude people because they don't agree with one tiny issue we stand for.

    Obama's doing what he should and he's out trying to get votes and trying to encourage a group of people to see things his way and how he is going to change things in the future. I'm sorry but the only way we are going to get there is if we start tolerating eachother and understand there will always be a difference of opinion.

    October 26, 2007 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  24. pl. at the UN for a while.

    The LGBT community is overwhelmed by passion!? I personally know of many who are forced into a corner by society.
    The non-LGBT community is also overwhelmed by passion. Of a different kind? Maybe! Many are also forced into that behaviour for fear of shame.
    My personal approach is that an O is an O is an O. The more frequent the better.
    And what!?? Mr Barak Hussein Obama married at the age of 30 right out of virginity? Maybe.

    All the fuss about

    October 26, 2007 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  25. Corbett, Seattle WA

    It doesn't matter if homosexuality is a choice! As members of the civilized world it is our duty to have the maturity to be OK with it. If we can't deal with the possibility of somebody doing something in private then we are not living up to our end of the constitution.

    I honestly think that Obama is trying to get us to that point. If he is not then its back to Hillary.

    October 26, 2007 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
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