It was intended to be an unprecedented example of how Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama’s grassroots political campaign could win over just as many religious conservatives as Republicans can. Instead, it has run afoul with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer supporters, as well as others, who bought into Obama’s rhetoric as a healer and consensus builder.
At the Values Voter Summit in Washington last weekend, Obama’s campaign announced that they, too, could help conservative voters have a voice in the presidential campaign. They then announced they would be hosting the “Embrace the Change! Gospel Series.” It’s a gospel fest to run in three South Carolina cities - Charleston, Greenwood and Columbia – this coming weekend with gospel mega-star Pastor Donnie McClurkin as part of the concert line-up.
It appeared to be an innocuous announcement showcasing some of gospel music’s most successful artists that would mark the final days of Obama's “40 Days of Faith and Family” campaign in South Carolina. But it’s actually outing some of the black gospel chitlin’ circuit’s closeted gays ministers and biggest opponents of queer civil rights.
A reporter at the New York Daily News wrote me in an e-mail asking, “I’m writing a piece … about Sen. Obama’s gospel tour and the fact that one of the performers, Donnie McClurkin, has suggested that gay tendencies can be ‘cured’ or resisted. ... I’m wondering how you feel specifically about McClurkin acting as an ambassador for Obama to the African-American Southern Christian community.”
Well, let me tell you. McClurkin is the poster boy for African-American ex-gay ministries. "There's a group that says, 'God made us this way,' but then there's another group that knows God didn't make them that way," McClurkin has told the media. “Love is pulling you one way and lust is pulling you another, and your relationship with Jesus is tearing you.”
In the highly competitive race for black evangelical votes in South Carolina, McClurkin just might give Obama the needed edge. However, that edge will come at a cost far greater than having McClurkin at his side. It comes at revealing how Obama is not only a vote-whore, but a race-card user as well.
The Obama/McClurkin alliance introduces Obama to McClurkin’s black and white Southern evangelical base, which thinks Obama is neither Christian nor black enough.
And many observers are starting to realize just how much of a vote-whore Obama is. For example, MSNBC talk-show host Tucker Carlson suggested Obama's faith is "suddenly conspicuous," saying that Obama has only recently begun addressing his religious background as part of "a very calculated plan on the part of the Democratic Party to win" religious voters in the 2008 presidential race.
And though religion came to Obama late in life, and he was reared in a non-religious household, he came to understand "the power of the African-American religious tradition to spur social change." And how much Obama really covets the power of the black church for his own political aggrandizement, rather than for its religion, has raised questions in the minds of many.
When he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004, Obama campaigned at the Salem Baptist Church on Chicago’s South Side. It’s the 22,000-member black mega-church of Rev. James Meeks, who has called homosexuality an evil sickness. Outside of the hallowed walls of church the Rev. James Meeks is State Senator James Meeks.
Obama knew to pander to his base.
Obama will continue to speak and write about the special relationship he has with his pastor, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, as long as it doesn't run afoul of his ambitions. When news got out about Wright’s Afrocentric theology and Sunday sermons that disparagingly speak ill of whites and Israel, Obama immediately distanced himself. Yet these same sermons were not a problem for Obama when they were spiritually nurturing him into becoming a public figure. And when news got out that Wright was to deliver the invocation when Obama formally announced his candidacy in February, Obama canceled his appearance.
Many African Americans also suspect Obama of using the “race card” to win their votes, but his emotional detachment with issues blacks care about is a big turnoff. African-American journalist and CNN contributor Roland Martin stated, “You can't find one major moment where black voters have embraced him and showered him with love. I was highly critical of his performance at the June debate at Howard University because that was his crowd. But he failed to ignite the room. One huge Obama supporter told me that his daughter went to the event backing him, and came out loving [Hillary] Clinton.”
According to a recent CNN poll, Clinton leads Obama among black registered Democrats, 57 percent to 33 percent. African-American women overwhelmingly support Clinton 68 percent to 25 percent, whereas African-American men favor Obama 46 percent to 42 percent for Clinton. But it is African-American women who hit the polls in much greater numbers than African-American men.
McClurkin is not the only singer on the gospel tour who has publicly spewed vitriolic statements against LGBTQ people. But he is the biggest one Obama can use to try to win over black evangelical voters.
So once again, Obama is proving that his campaign marketed as “The Audacity of Hope” is really based on the audacity of hypocrisy.