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. Terrence

    Hey Everyone, all this talk back and forth about who would be the best presidential candidate and most able to perform on the world stage, etc. is truly tired and worthless speculation. In case none of you have noticed, the current group in the White House are not only totally incompetent, they are also evil and have done more to sink our great republic than any succeeding chief executive will ever be able to put right. At this point, a miniature Poodle could handle the office more effectively than the redneck trailor trash rich guys who control it now. Just vote for someone and stop worrying.

    October 26, 2007 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  2. Paulette Tansey, San Diego, Ca.

    Obama is losing my interest by this pandering to religion. Haven't we had enough of religion in politics?! Is he getting desperate? I want a president to be focused on issues. Separation of church and state, remember?

    October 26, 2007 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  3. American Gothic Philadelphia, PA

    Daniel, you seem to like linking us to all of these "stunning" poll results-

    how about this one from October of 1999?


    It shows George W Bush leading Al Gore by 19 percentage points. Al Gore eventually won the general popular vote.

    October 26, 2007 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  4. Grace

    all of you so-called Gay people and supporters writing on this site that you will not vote for Obama but Hillary don't seem to mind that she celebrated her endorsement by a gay bashing minister who called gays Thieves.

    Be honest you were voting for her ...as a matter of fact you guys anyway are behind the controversy

    October 26, 2007 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  5. Elsa, Houston, Texas


    October 26, 2007 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  6. Larry B. Orlando Florida

    Some people are still having a problem understanding why this is an insult to gay people. This so called "recovered" gay gospel singer sings about homosexuality being a sin and needs to be overcome. The bible is so full of other sins but the one that seems to get so much attention is the Gay issue. It is so obvious that these people are just using the bible to hide behind their own hideous prejudices. Many of the most opposed to gay people are questioning their own sexuality and see something in them that they hate so they project it out on the ones that have had the courage to be who they are and not hide in the closet. We have seen this play out over and over again in the political arena.

    The US Government also quoted the bible for years to justify slavery. Could you imagine if that was still being done today? However, Gay people are expected to accept ignorant people singing about them sinning for simply being who they are. Gay people can't change their orientation any easier than a black person can change their skin color. What I find interesting is some heterosexuals attempt to tell gay people that they can change. Who says anybody has to change or wants to change if this is truly the "land of the free" as the bible thumping fundamentalist like to brag it is. If that is the case then everyone should have the option of choosing the Gay lifestyle if that is what they want.

    However, if they insist that one can change their sexual orientation then that means these bible thumping fundamentalist could easily change to be Gay. One day science will prove without a doubt that being Gay is genetic but there will always be narrow minded people that will discriminate against Gay people. We know that having black skin is genetic but it doesn't stop people from discriminating against them.

    October 26, 2007 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  7. Dan, Washington, DC

    To all of the anti-gay religious bigots - Please do not misunderstand. Gay people LOVE you. And it is because of that love that we have the obligation to point out how your discrimination against God's gay children goes against His Word. It would be impossible for me to reconcile allowing you to continue down your distructive path with my own Christian upbringing. At the end of days, God wants us to walk through the gates together.

    October 26, 2007 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  8. Jay, Portland OR

    As I understand it he was asked to attend a religous event - a gospel concert - not anything to do with policy, plus censoring someone for their opinions smacks of McCarthyism and is unAmerican. I am gay and so long as Obama is not in advocacy of homophobic policy I don't especially care who he invites where.

    October 26, 2007 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  9. Lile- Jonesboro, AR

    After reading many of the unresearched, unconvicted, overly convicted, uncompromising, and closeminded comments on this page, I am extremely disheartened.

    This is an example of what the voting pool consists of, so i am afraid that whatever the result, the complete idiots will have won.

    And incidentally, I am heterosexual and i choose to be this way, even though both my parents were gay.

    October 26, 2007 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  10. Erik L. San Diego, CA

    1. Anyone that writes a comment about a candidate other than Mr. Obabma is clearly on the wrong post and did not read the article this is supposed to be a comment on.
    2. There are NO scientific studies that PROVE that gayness is not a choice – but why should that matter anyway? I don't go around trying to make my heterosexuality an issue, why is anyone's homosexuality, support of it or non-support of it an issue?
    3. Barak, in trying to bring people of disparate viewpoints together, is following in the footsteps of the greatest men and women the world has ever known: Ghandi was reviled for wanting to unite Hindu and Muslim, Mother Teresa didn't refuse to care for anyone based on their caste, religion etc. and Jesus taught us to Love one another – NO MATTER WHAT
    4. Life shouldn't be about race, sexual orientation or politics, it's about humanity living together in mutual respect and tolerance – let's all try that and see what happens...

    October 26, 2007 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  11. Dan, TX

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

    October 26, 2007 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  12. Chris Walker, Salt Lake City, UT

    Ya totally!! White, traditional politicians are the only way to go! I'm so glad we keep electing people like Bush and Reagan who have managed budgets before! At least they have experience funneling funds into their friends' businesses. And Bush was obviously elected for his abilities, not his every-man charisma and rehearsed speech-slips.

    Politicians primarily care about the people that paid for their office. Today anyone that becomes president essentially disqualifies themself from having the qualities we all desire in a leader. We DO need change, maybe not from Obama, but maybe so. But then again this is a democracy and most people like you prefer United Stagnation under god.

    Just wondering, does anyone still believe Bush to be an fundamentally honest person? I'm amazed that even now, in Bush's 'I don't care what you think unless you can encarcerate me' years, that people still think he's honest. Read the news much?

    October 26, 2007 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  13. pl. at the UN for a while.

    Shame on me, but I am posting again.
    Someone above stated that Obama is a Muslim in the closet. I disagree...he is clearly out of the closet.
    By his religious standards he has married rather young.
    It is not uncommon for Muslim men to marry closer to forty...to girls of fourteen.
    And for "Westerners": are you aware of the issue of the "boys"? and their place in society?
    You don't know. I see. Well, boys, mostly pubescent of course, get their sphyncters blown up and their colons stretched to the braking point. Pssst, with the blessing of the families; Ouch.
    That does not count as gay, even the Prez of Iran will tell you so.
    Being gay is departing from normative behaviour. These "boys", on the contrary, fulfill normative behaviour, and all wrongs get righted.

    October 26, 2007 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  14. Dave, Ks KS

    Obama wants Obama's America – He's putting on a horse and pony show is all. Now he's playing for the superstitous crowd. Obama- Osama – all the same.

    October 26, 2007 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  15. Neill C., Montgomery, Al

    Wow, and I thought liberals and Democrats wanted separation of church and state. I guess only if it is a Republican.

    October 26, 2007 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  16. Bob London, UK

    Christians what a joke. These people today that call themselves Christian are nothing but Nazi's. History keeps repeating itself and no one seems to care. Remeber Hitler. God Forgive America as they are using your name in vain.

    October 26, 2007 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  17. Mark R. Fort Lauderdale FL

    McClurkin has no place in your campaign senator. This is yet another sign of your hypocrisy. You are turning out to be quite a disappointment; just another politician trying to have it both ways.

    October 26, 2007 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  18. jane,ks,mo

    Ya ticker, We know you could have put more better stuff like this. How about this, Obama touted 10k people in boston commons on tuesday!

    October 26, 2007 06:31 pm at 6:31 pm |
  19. Marque

    CNN is Hillary's mouthpiece. CNN is Hillary's campaign partner. CNN is no news outlet for the independent minded voters. CNN's new name is Hillary News Network ie HNN. So HNN has no good news for Obama, Edward, Kucinich, Dodd, and Biden. Good for you HNN.

    October 26, 2007 06:31 pm at 6:31 pm |
  20. Paul, Dearborn MI

    This COUNTRY Needs to REPENT. We are on the eve of Judgment. The faithful MUST take action now.


    October 26, 2007 06:51 pm at 6:51 pm |
  21. james,nyc,ny

    I am an African American and I am gonna vote for Obama no matter what other African Americans think or do!

    October 26, 2007 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  22. doc75, Lees Summit, MO

    It's a shame that we can't agree to disagree on this subject. Calling African-American Christians bigots is appalling. Can't people just disagree without name calling? Why is it necessary for verbal bludgeoning? It seems the intent of the name calling to force African-American Christians to say, "Well, I believe that the Bible is true, but I don't want to be called a bigot so I won't tell people what God says about homosexuality." And therefore they are now forced into a closet. Good grief. Fine, let gays get married and let Christians believe it's immoral. There are far, far more important things in life than this.

    October 26, 2007 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  23. donna

    If you want to understand what this is sham of a controversy is really all about please check out these links:

    Liberal Bloggers, Donnie McClurkin, and Barack Obama’s “Rick Warren Moment”


    and this:

    Hillary Clinton Campaign Pushed Donnie McClurkin/Obama Controversy


    October 26, 2007 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  24. reading between the lines

    I trust Senator Obama's judgment.

    One may not agree with everything this man does (believe it or not) but trust is the crucial key.

    October 26, 2007 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  25. donnie

    this crap should not be in a Presidential Campaign,Bigot is a bigot,Obama engaging,hes not truthful in what he believes in,,and this shows it truly.this speaks for the people who are gay there jumping ship to Hillary.

    October 26, 2007 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
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