One of Donnie McClurkin’s biggest hits goes as follows:

“We fall down
But we get up
For a saint is just a sinner who fell down
and got up…”

As it turns out, Barack Obama is the one who has fallen down this time. Will he rise a saint or a sinner?

Folks are up in arms over Donnie McClurkin’s ministry and views on homosexuality. He sparked controversy by his decision to sing at the GOP Convention in 2004. Here’s what the Washington Post had to say at the time:

Gospel singer Donnie McClurkin, who has detailed his struggle with gay tendencies and vowed to battle “the curse of homosexuality,” said yesterday he’ll perform as scheduled at the Republican National Convention on Thursday, despite controversy over his view that sexuality can be changed by religious intervention.

“I can’t let off. I didn’t call myself — God called me to do what I do,” McClurkin told The Post’s Hamil R. Harris. The Grammy winner declared, “If this is a war, we are willing to fight. Not a war of violence, but a war of purpose.”

McClurkin wrote on a Christian Web site in 2002 that he struggled with homosexuality after he was molested by male relatives when he was 8 and 13. “I’ve been through this and have experienced God’s power to change my lifestyle,” he wrote. “I am delivered and I know God can deliver others, too.”

McClurkin, who said he’s sung for Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, blamed “the hatred of a few activists, not the gay community,” for the flap. “They act as if my singing on the ticket is the same as singing at a Nazi rally endorsing Nazism. The bottom line is that I sang at the Democratic convention” in 1992.

Keith Boykin wrote a powerful push-back
to McClurkin’s ministry on his blog several years ago.

I don’t know if Donnie McClurkin is homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual or asexual. Quite honestly, I don’t care. But I do know that his experience is not the same as everyone else’s. I’ve met thousands of gay men and lesbians across the country, and very few of them were raped or abused as children. Even fewer would say they “chose” their sexual orientation. Why would anyone choose to be a victim of discrimination?

In fact, because Donnie McClurkin said he had no control over the circumstances that led to his own early sexuality, McClurkin himself never chose to be gay. But he did apparently choose to be heterosexual, largely because he wanted to change.

It’s highly unlikely that God changed McClurkin’s sexual orientation. It’s far more likely that McClurkin was confused about it all along. Whatever the case, McClurkin should not make the mistake of assuming everyone else is the same as he is.

My opinion is this:

Donnie McClurkin is a MAJOR gospel star with chart-topping hits beyond gospel with a strong R&B/hip hop crossover audience. I submit to you the 308 videos of him on YouTube along with the millions of views to date that they represent.

Obama’s team was likely thinking about turnout and yes, probably wanting to represent a wider range and bigger tent. I am a big gospel fan and frankly was not aware of his “personal struggles” until this came up. I’ve sung along to McClurkin’s songs on the radio after tough days at work. His music has meant a lot to my life.

In fairness, I think there are probably a lot of people like me who will associate first with his inspiring and accessible, non-political music. And post-Katrina/post-Iraq fiasco, there’s been a big backing away from conservatives by some African-American church leaders such as T.D. Jakes who’d flirted with and even supported George Bush. So while I disagree vehemently with McClurkin’s views, I can see how this may have come to pass. Obama’s fallen down — into a dark ditch where church and sexuality, well, don’t necessarily meet as friends. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine the Clinton team stumbling this badly given the sensitivity of this topic in the black community.

For the Obama team to “repudiate” the gospel tour and/or Donnie McClurkin as Earl Ofari Hutchinson advises?

Well, this would probably a move that would be poorly received in the black community — it’s more than just music for many people. “Redemption” in its many forms is an important value. Repudiating gospel is a non-starter. Better probably to acknowledge the controversy around McClurkin’s ministry/activism and embrace the man and his music while distancing as gracefully as possible from some of his viewpoints.

I understand AmericaBlog’s insistence that Obama drop McClurkin from the tour as a “statement”. Culturally speaking, however, there are a lot of different ways that people will view Donnie McClurkin — both as saint and as sinner among African-Americans. I view McClurkin personally as a talented, tragic, confused and angry man.

I think Obama’s best hope is that McClurkin will step down from the tour and decline to be embroiled in further controversy. But given McClurkin’s enormous fan base, I think it will be difficult and perceived badly as rude and believe or not — intolerant — by many of the African-Americans Obama hopes to re-engage to dis-invite McClurkin directly. It wouldn’t sit well with the older female church-going, reliably voting demographic. In getting back up, the question is how Obama will balance their opinions with that of other progressives.

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