Barack Obama is drawing criticism over plans to tour South Carolina this week with gospel singer Donnie McClurkin, who has vowed to battle "curse of homosexuality."
The state has been regarded as key to Obama's chances of winning the nomination and as a demonstration of his support in the South.
In fact, McClurkin came under fire in 2004 when he performed at the Republican National Convention. He has stated that he believes that gays can be changed and turned straight. At the time, he told the Washington Post, "I can't let off. I didn't call myself — God called me to do what I do. If this is a war, we are willing to fight. Not a war of violence, but a war of purpose."
Ad the Washington Post reported, McCurkin 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."
Already, Huffington Post columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson has called on the candidate to cancel the tour.
Hutchinson writes, "He's also sold himself as a healer and consensus builder. Legions have bought his pitch, and have shelled out millions to bankroll his campaign. But healing and consensus building does not mean sucking up to someone that publicly boasts that he's in 'a war' against gays, and that the aim of his war is to 'cure' them. That's what McClurkin has said. Polls show that more Americans than ever say that they support civil rights for gays, and a torrent of gay themed TV shows present non-stereotypical depictions of gays. But this increased tolerance has not dissipated the hostility that far too many blacks, especially hard core Bible thumping blacks, feel toward gays."
McCourkin also has performed at events for Bill Clinton and George Bush.
Obama's campaign issued a statement in which the Illinois senator repudiates McClurkin. He does not say anything about dropping him from the tour.
Obama said, “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 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.”
It brings up an interesting question, as candidates start to deploy celebrities to the trail as surrogates: How much should they be held accountable for a celebrity's past statements and views?
John Edwards campaigned with Danny Glover earlier this year, shortly after Glover appeared in Venezuela with Hugo Chavez. But such a "guilt by association" failed to become an issue that was used against him. This is a bit different, both with the groups involved and in the timing.
It will be interesting to see if Obama brings it up during any of his appearances on the tour, which includes other gospel singers such as Mary Mary, Hezekiah Walker, Byron Cage and the Mighty Clouds of Joy. At the HRC/Logo forum, Obama pointed to his past efforts to get African American religous leaders to address homophobia.
Obama said cited a forum he attended that was origanized by Harold Ford. "And I specifically talked about the degree to which the notion of gay marriage in black churches has been used to divide, has been used to distract. I specifically pointed out that if there is an pastor here who can point out a marriage that has been broken up as a consequence of seeing two men or two women holding hands, then you should tell me, because I haven't seen any evidence of it.”
My guess is there will continue to be pressure on Obama to drop McClurklin from the tour.