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. Michelle, Panama City, FL

    It is hard for a person running President of the United States to be themselves. I believe that Obama is doing what he "feels" will get him votes just like everyone else running, however he shouldn't compromise his faith.

    October 26, 2007 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  2. shannon

    Mr. Obama stands accused of trying to win the support of socially conservative evangelical Christian African-Americans, who make up half of the registered Democratic voters in the early voting state of South Carolina, at the expense of gays.

    Obama’s failed leadership skills are on full failure display.

    I have lost interest in Obama totally.
    this is no Politics of Hope,its for votes.Remember that gays at the voting booths.mine will go to Hillary all the way!!!

    October 26, 2007 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  3. blackforHillary

    Obama flops and flips and flops again. Now Obama is “Blaming the Staff” again. Earlier he said it was good outreach, now its back to vetting excuses, or is it still an outreach to bigots campaign strategy?

    The Advocate’s Kerry Eleveld has an exclusive Obama interview, in which he says gospel singer Donnie McClurkin was “not vetted as well as I would have liked to see,” but defends keeping him on the gospel tour.

    still reaching out to be a Bigot Obama
    on this kick with church and gospel gays.not very good judgement i'd say,desperate for votes hes losing,hes really losing it.why to extremes to go this route.this explains it totally.i dont want him in the white house.kinda of scary actually.

    October 26, 2007 09:47 pm at 9:47 pm |
  4. john

    a politician steered the wrong way,especially against the gays,and war hes wrong on his judgement he has none,Obama was against the war before Congress authorized the use of military force in Iraq in 2002, but said, "He voted over and over again to fund the war." He then continued, "If you really oppose something, do you fund it? He cannot square that. And he'll never be able to square it, and this is the difficulty he has with his candidacy."so quit bashing hillary ,you lost your votes to many, steering to gopsel, instead of the future..some hypocrite,bigot.and now he has lotts of donors giving money to him under 10 years old.lots of BS from him.your not god,think it went to his head all this president stuff.

    October 26, 2007 11:47 pm at 11:47 pm |
  5. karen, nj

    obama has a right to have anyone he wants included in his campaign. why can't he be inclusive and tolerant of MR Mrclurkin? on the other hand , this does feed into obama's image as wanting to be all things to all people by not standing for anything, he even missed an iran vote recently so as not to ruffles any feathers.

    anyone who votes for him = fools

    October 27, 2007 12:50 am at 12:50 am |
  6. anonymous, ny

    terrance does have a point that we just need to get someone new i the white house. Well that won't be hard, since geroge bush isn't running again. maybe people will just wake up and feel better when a new face is around there

    October 27, 2007 12:52 am at 12:52 am |
  7. Jake, San Diego CA

    If you were an Obama supporter and decided that you will not support him any longer because of this then you really didn't support his politics of change and hope in the first place.

    Obama has said many times that he wants to unite the country, why does there have to be two sides and no middle ground. Divisive politics is what is wrong in America. Obama tries to bring people together and find that middle ground and I find that refreshing in a political candidate.

    Now as far as the original article personally I am not gay, but I do believe being gay is not a choice but something you just are.

    Just like how a straight person is attracted to a certain type of person from the opposite sex, it's not because you decided "hey that's what I'll be attracted to" you just are, and I feel the same could be said to anyone who just happens to be attracted to people of the same sex.

    Just my opinion though.

    October 27, 2007 12:56 am at 12:56 am |
  8. Dave, Cheverly, MD

    Listen up folks!

    You can please Some of the people Some of the time, but you can’t please ALL of the people All of the time”. Obama is CORRECT in attempting to allow his event to bring folks who do not think the same way on a top. To the LGBT Community. There is a time to fight issues, BUT this is not the time. This is an opportunity for the LGBT Community to practice what IT Preaches, TOLERANCE for individuals who have different views. The LGBT Community cannot require other Groups, Political Parties or individuals to allow the LGBT Community to have a seat at the table. But yet the LGBT Community wishes to deny others that same right. ALL should go and maybe get something spiritual and positive out of the event.

    October 27, 2007 02:30 am at 2:30 am |
  9. Dave, Cheverly, MD

    To Tony, Tulsa, OK

    You said “Ignorant, self-loathing hate from McClurkin is not just another idea to be considered. It's an idea we are actively fighting to destroy.”

    Look when African Americans went to JENA LA to rally. They had folks, who were Gay, folks who hated Gays etc. But the Rally was NOT about the GAYS. Obama event is NOT about Gays.
    That is exactly the TOLORENCE I was speaking of. This is about a man that is running for The Presidency of The United States. Obama is hosting the event for THAT purpose.

    Obama has invited ALL to come participate. Obama did Not UNINVITE the LGBT Community to participate. NOR should he UNINVITE Donnie McClurkin. Why don’t ALL just go to the event and show that you are no different, cannot change who you are etc. That way people come together and maybe learn something from each other.

    October 27, 2007 08:24 am at 8:24 am |
  10. Kyu Reisch, Radcliff, Kentucky

    Obama tried too many ways without solid political view, I am fresh and new face also change the Country without idea, dirty games for campaign, I am God, Joshua and JFK,
    used wife's sharp tongue(failed), grabbed Oprah's purse, black people will vote me, use churches, preaching, stop wearing flag pin, not place his hand over his heart with the Pledge of Allegiance to flag(dangerous leader), skipped important AARP Debate as Presidential candidate, no vote for RGTO, then too many excuses, what is next? I vote Hillary no matter what Obama says.

    October 27, 2007 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  11. Eli, Indianapolis, Indiana

    The fact of life is that everything we do is choice. Doctors say that alcholics are born with a tendency to become alcholic. If that person starts to drink and becomes and alcholic, that is there fault not there bodies fault, they chose to drink. If they break the law for public intox, or get a dui, do we let them off the hook because they have an alcholic tendency? No, they chose the actions they took. People now say that being gay is a tendency they are born with. This is the exact same thing as alcholics, you have a choice on weather to act on this tendency. It says in the Bible as plain as day that a man should be with a woman period, that's it. It says love the sinner and not the sin. I have several really good frinds who are gay, they all know that I think that it is wrong and that I really dislike the fact that they are gay, but does that stop me from being a good friend? No, love the sinner not the sin. How can someone be a leader of a church while living in sin? We all sin, we all make mistakes, so therefor we all are hypocrites because we critisize each other while we have our own problems. But just because we do sin, does not give anyone the right to live in sin, God ask everyone to live as honestly and moraly right as we can, but to not live in sin. Show me one religion in the world that says it is ok to be gay. There is none. Finally Obama's idea to add the openly gay pastor proves two things. He is afraid to stand by his own opinion and just feeds off what makes him look good. And that this "man of faith" truly does not know what the Bible says by allowing this. Why would anyone want to vote for a man who can't even stand by his own opinions and thougths in the primary's? Also why are the people in the Christian faith, the people he is trying to prove something too with these concerts (or any other religion for that matter), want to vote for someone, who is now promoting something that in the Bible is as clear as black and white, that this lifestyle is wrong?

    October 27, 2007 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  12. JB Hull, IA

    I'm sorry, but I don't see why this should be controversial. The man is not being hired to make policy decisions, he's being hired to sing.

    October 27, 2007 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  13. Steven in Charleston

    I am just amazed at how many people on here seem to believe that Donnie McClurkin's appearance on the same stage as Senator Obama is no big deal because whether being gay is a choice or not is simply "a matter of opinion."

    No, it's not.

    Not everything can be considered just opinion.

    There may be some people on this planet who still believe the earth is flat. That is not having an "opinion,' that is being WRONG.

    It is no different here. Being gay is not a choice, no matter how much some people wish to make it so. How do I know? Because I am gay, and it is not something I ever chose. And to suggest that you somehow know more about MY life than I do, is either silly, stupid, or arrogant - take your pick.

    The only choice I got to make was the same one Donnie McClurkin got - whether or not to embrace and celebrate who I was, or whether to deny my true nature. He and I obviously made very different choices.

    To all of you stating that McClurkin's place on the stage is no big deal, you reveal your own discomfort with homosexuality and equality with your dismissal. I can't believe you would be as cavalier were the person in question someone who advocated "White Power" or making abortion a crime or believed that women were second class citizens.

    I respect diversity. But I am tired of being told that I need to "respect the opinion" of people who wish to marginalize me, discriminate against me, fire me, kick me out of home, rail against me, tell lies about me, pretend that my relationships aren't real, and eventually beat me and even kill me. Those opinions aren't "diversity" and making allowances for them isn't tolerance, it is stupidity and self-destruction.

    October 27, 2007 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  14. Joeley Reno, Nevada

    Obama is a good man but he's not ready YET to be President.

    It's great to have new ideas and a new and positive approach but not in 2008.

    The world is more dangerous today than ever in our history.

    We need strength,capability, knowledge of the process and environment (Washington and the Congress).

    Our next President must be stedfast in her determination to return this country to it's rightful stature in worlds affairs. Back to a place where our leaders are respected rather than loathed or laughable. A place where we are the example of an open and democratic government representative of equality, justice and 'the American way'.

    It's time for Hillary Clinton.

    Hillary Clinton is the candidate with the strength and determination to successfully navigate the dangerous neo-conistic rhetoric of the past and present and once again make America the Lighthouse to the World.

    She will be a great world leader.

    October 27, 2007 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  15. Stupid

    At least when you protested with the "doc" you knew which end was up. I do not know "which" end is up. Thank you.

    October 27, 2007 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  16. Colleen,ny

    OK, how did you know one was a minature poodle?

    October 27, 2007 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  17. Greg, Barrington, IL

    Greetings CNN! It is a shame that because of the (perfectly essential) need of the gay community to address any and every perceived attack on the right of gay men and women to exist in a modern world, without being victimized by old world ignorance and hatred, that sometimes the criticism falls the hardest on people that would be the most advantagous to their cause. Mr. Obama has chosen a particular direction to most successfully communicate with a specific block of voters (under-privilaged and under-educated African Americans) who's most desperate hope lies in faith, religion, and a belief in eventual deliverance from the type of society that was forced upon them. Unfortunately, the cornerstone of their faith also happens to sometimes be rooted in intolerance, bigatry and ignorance itself. Suggestion to the gay community: see the man for what he is... One of your greatest friends!

    October 27, 2007 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  18. hdog

    Why are gays so afraid of the truth? There has never been anything beyond grade B science trying to convince us all that there's just nothing to be done to change. There are thousands to tell us first hand otherwise, but naturally, they're censored.

    Gays, it's a choice, so get over it. You've got the whole world of liberalism eating out your hand, so what are you worried about?

    October 27, 2007 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  19. Donna D

    Seems we need to deal with real issues. Abortion and Gay issues are there but should not be political. Obama it seems to me is fair and unbiased and not yet 'bought up' by the special interests. This country NEEDS a change - he is biracial in background - is a shame people still judge based on color - we should be ELECTING a president based on INTELLIGENCE FAIRNESS and ability to NOT BE BOUGHT .... wake up America... Hillary said she would 'be big businesses best friend" don't think we need that attitude continuing...do we?

    October 28, 2007 07:29 am at 7:29 am |
  20. Bob Columbia, SC

    As a gay citizen in SC, I completely understand the outrage. I also can seperate Obama's views. I wish he would have made a differant decision, but that comes with experiance he lacks. The real problem in this state is that the African American churches refuse to even deal with the subject, preferring to keep it in the closet. The African American church is full of scared closet cases, some of which, lead the congragation's they so wish to control on this subject. SC has a large gay and lesbian population and its equal among black and whites. The problem we see here is that this only helps the church deny this exist, and this has and continues to cause much pain for gays who happen to be African American. Its sad that only a few will turn out to oppose this, but this is still the south. The South Carolina Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement is not protesting Obama, who has been more than open to this state. SCGLPM is making a statement, that these practices need to change. I am proud of Andy Sidden. He is in a tough spot today, but he is one of our greatest friends. People, please try and seek out what the real story is here.

    October 28, 2007 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  21. David, Brooklyn New York


    October 29, 2007 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7