Rev. Andy Sidden, pastor of Garden of Grace United Church of Christ in Columbia, SC, was the openly gay minister selected by the Barack Obama campaign to deliver a message of tolerance to the likely overwhelmingly black audiences who will attend concerts this weekend featuring recloseted/now-decloseted anti-gay Grammy winning gospel singer Donnie McClurkin.
The fact that Sidden is white (I spoke with the pastor directly on Friday -- he identified himself and stated plainly that he's white; since the question was still open in some minds) has started up a chatter on the blogs, and Mike Signorile wanted to ask him about it on his show. Here's the segment (use the player below or this link):
He's a nice guy and was gracious and happy to come on my show yesterday -- at least, that was in the morning, when my producer, David Guggenheim, booked him. Later on, he was reticent, almost canceled, clearly getting pressure from the Obama campaign not to do it (he mentioned a name of someone at the campaign -- Joshua -- and this was shortly after someone called us to cancel for him, but we could not, bizarrely, identify who that was; the Obama campaign later wrote my producer to say that no one at the campaign had called to cancel for him, but the call came on our guest hotline, which general listeners do not have). The question is, why were they trying to stop him from coming on?
One of the reasons might have to do with this: On the show he did not deny African-American lesbian blogger Jasmyne Cannick's description of him as white. I must say that this was baffling. I did not even think for a minute that the Obama campaign would choose a white minister to bring the message of acceptance of homosexuality to a black audience at a gospel concert featuring a hugely popular antigay black gospel singer. I assumed from his photo that Rev. Andy Sidden was black and light-skinned, or biracial. Sidden also told me he was not an Obama supporter, and accepted the invitation because he'd never turn away someone who asked him to pray.
To make matters worse, news that the Obama camp actually rejected two gay black pastors and two gay affirming ones, including Michael Eric Dyson also came out yesterday. Rod 2.0 had the scoop.
Several sources inside and outside the campaign confirm the names of TWO openly gay black pastors suggested by the National Black Justice Coalition and the Human Rights Campaign were rejected in favor of Rev. Sidden. Those names are: Bishop Yvette Flunder, an outstanding pastor and orator from San Francisco and Bishop Tonyia Rawls of Unity Fellowship in North Carolina. In addition, Bishop Carlton Pearson of Oklahoma, whose inclusive ministry welcomes the LGBT community, was also rejected. A campaign source says Rev. Michael Eric Dyson , the so-called hip-hop intellectual, reportedly volunteered and was also rejected. Dyson is a prominent Obama supporter and very popular in hip-hop and with youth.
"We decided to go with someone local," says our source in the Obama campaign, who expressed concerns around finding a "local" gay pastor in Obama's own United Church of Christ. Bishop Flunder is affiliated with the UCC, but, there was no such concern around Hezekiah Walker and Donnie McClurkin who are in the Pentecostal Church.
The last thing a crowd of black folks who have a problem with homosexuality needs is: 1) to be "told" by the Obama campaign that a message about tolerance must be delivered from a white voice of faith, and 2) to have their beliefs confirmed that being gay is "a white man's perversion." Coming from a white pastor under these circumstances, can only be seen as paternalistic and patronizing; the shields of defensiveness will go up, the message will be ignored.
The most stinging message that the Obama campaign has sent is that they apparently didn't see the relevance or necessity of removing the ability of religious blacks to stay in denial, that somehow there is not an intersection of being black and gay. This move renders us invisible yet again, as politically expendable, because it telegraphs that it's too politically volatile to address the division in the community by having them confront one of their own -- black gay and gay-affirming ministers -- when it comes to looking at bigotry.
We have been given the hook, pushed to the side, had the trapdoor to the alligator pit released under our feet.
LGBTs of color haven't been just pushed to the back of the bus in this controversy. We have been kicked off of the bus and told to find our own way home.
Perhaps Obama's people couldn't find an openly gay black pastor in time for the event? I don't know. I guess I will give them a little slack.
No, I can't cut these folks any slack. Did they ask the National Black Justice Coalition for a recommendation for a pastor? I certainly saw a whole lot of them when I attended the organization's National Black Church Summit this year.
Obama and his staff were obviously present at the CNN's YouTube Presidential debate. Did they have iPods on when Rev. Reggie Longcrier, pastor of Exodus Missionary Outreach Church in Hickory, N.C. asked this question of John Edwards?
Sen. Edwards has said his opposition to gay marriage has been influenced by his Southern Baptist background. We know religion was once used to justify slavery, segregation and women not being allowed to vote, all of which today are recognized as unconstitutional and socially and morally wrong. So why is it still acceptable to use religion to justify denying gay and lesbian American their full and equal rights.
Certainly I would have had Longcrier on speed dial after that.
The problem with the top-tier Democratic candidates, including Obama, is that they have voluntarily sought the religious vote by citing their religious beliefs as a reason to deny civil marriage for gays and lesbians. Not only that, the Democratic Party has spent a lot of time, energy and money trying to find out how to court the religious (specifically evangelical) vote. Religion holds no place in the campaign, or in government, other than to support the right of people to practice and exercise it.
Obama has been a friend to the LGBT community (other than his lack of support for civil marriage for gays and lesbians). That, however, doesn't let him off the hook for being surrounded by complete ineptitude on this issue with McClurkin.
Once he opened the Pandora's box of personal religious convictions, Obama -- or any candidate -- cannot then step back and pretend they hold no responsibility for crossing that line when the going gets tough.