Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

After months of hearing Barack Obama opine about his faith and values, his priorities have finally been put to the test. Politically active gay leaders are asking that Obama remove popular gospel artist Rev. Donnie McClurkin from his “Embrace the Change” gospel tour. McClurkin, a powerful, award-winning, gospel singer has been impressed with Obama, whom he met at a fundraiser sponsored by Oprah Winfrey this year.

Gays quickly attempted to label the minister as homophobic. Nothing could be further from the truth. McClurkin told AP radio in a September interview that he was “once involved in those desires and thoughts.” Raped as a child and molested by family members, McClurkin had a great deal of baggage to overcome. Fortunately, McClurkin feels that God turned things around for him.

Gays around the country have declared that he was molested by “straight relatives.” They want to distance themselves from the reprehensible thought of child abuse. Therefore, they seem to feel as though they must silence the testimonies of McClurkin and others.

In addition to the gruesome details of the singer’s family background, gay activists are probably more worried about his testimony of deliverance from the gay lifestyle. This is because McClurkin believes that gays can be cured. Ironically, McClurkin was open-minded enough to travel with Obama, despite a glaring difference in theology between them. Rev. McClurkin’s endorsement in black gospel circles is every bit as influential as that of Oprah Winfrey’s in society at large.

This week, Obama has caved in to gay activists’ desires for him to wave their banner. He added a less popular person – the Reverend Andy Sidden, an openly gay South Carolina pastor. Although he has refused to remove Reverend McClurkin from the program, he has highlighted an inconsistency that I am sure he wanted to hide. To worsen matters, Obama is scheduled to appear on The Ellen Degeneres Show next week.

In case anyone wonders about Obama’s position, here’s what he says at his website:

“I have clearly stated my belief that gays and lesbians are our brothers and sisters and should be provided the respect, dignity, and rights of all other citizens. I have consistently spoken directly to African-American religious leaders about the need to overcome the homophobia that persists in some parts of our community so that we can confront issues like HIV/AIDS and broaden the reach of equal rights in this country.

I strongly believe that African Americans and the LGBT community must stand together in the fight for equal rights. And so I strongly disagree with Reverend McClurkin's views and will continue to fight for these rights as President of the United States to ensure that America is a country that spreads tolerance instead of division." ~ Barack Obama10/22/07

Although Mr. Obama claims to be a bridge builder, he failed to seize a great opportunity last week to talk about both his candidacy and his faith at the Washington Briefing, which my organization co-sponsored. I find it ironic that he ran from an occasion to present his views to an important and well-informed group of Christians. Similar to the front-running Republicans candidates who snubbed Tavis Smiley by not attending the debate at Morgan State University, I feel that Obama has snubbed conservative Christians by refusing to come and talk with them. On the other hand, he seems to be groveling to receive the acceptance of a much smaller, and may I add, much more hostile group.

Perhaps his waning popularity in the polls is driving him to attempt to go into churches in South Carolina in a desperate attempt to play both the race card and the faith card to make his candidacy more viable. At the end of the day, I believe that the mixed message that Obama is sending to the black community will set back his campaign instead of advancing it.

Last week, before the Washington Briefing, I made a last ditch attempt to get the Senator to respond to our invitation for him to speak. I was very disappointed that we did not receive a response of any kind and wrote a letter to Obama concerning his lack of response. It reads as follows:

“Since you claim to be a born-again believer, Scripture clearly states we are considered to be a part of the same spiritual family. Obviously, we may not agree on everything, yet your sincerity now is suspect for many in light of your recent social stances and the disrespect you have shown to many conservative clergy members, myself included.

Senator Obama, this begs me to ask the question: Are you fearful of being rejected by fellow, Bible-believing Christians?

Perhaps you fear rationalizing to fellow believers your attendance at the Gay and Lesbian Presidential debate this summer. And what did it garner you? On August 10, 2007, E.J. Graff, writing for The Nation, said this about your appearance in the Gay and Lesbian forum:

“Edwards hit it out of the park. Hillary got smartly on base, to wild--even excessive--cheers. Obama struck out.”

It is inconceivable (and hypocritical) to me that you would go to great lengths to criticize black pastors and their biblical positions during the LOGO television debate – which, by the way, failed to impress this tiny segment of the electorate – and then to host a ‘gospel tour’ of southern black churches.

Senator, if you are sincerely reaching out to the faith community and intend on ‘uniting’ this country as you have claimed, perhaps you should reconsider your priorities.”

From my perspective, McClurkin (now a pastor) is courageously declaring the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to change a person’s life. Maybe it’s Mr. Obama that needs to “embrace the change.”

Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.