There’s been a bit of a storm in the blogosphere over Obama’s gospel concert in South Carolina, which was aimed at courting black evangelical voters. Obama invited Donnie McClurkin, an “ex-gay” singer, to the event. After a bit of an uproar from gay bloggers, Obama hastily booked a white openly gay minister to deliver a short prayer. Rather than following the gay minister’s example of discretion, McClurkin decided to preach on how he was cured from homosexuality. NYT reports:
The whole controversy might have been forgotten in the swell of gospel sound except Mr. McClurkin turned the final half hour of the three-hour concert into a revival meeting about the lightning rod he has become for the Obama campaign.
He approached the subject gingerly at first. Then, just when the concert had seemed to reach its pitch and about to end, Mr. McClurkin returned to it with a full-blown plea: “Don’t call me a bigot or anti-gay when I have suffered the same feelings,” he cried.
“God delivered me from homosexuality he added. He then told the audience to believe the Bible over the blogs: “God is the only way.” The crowd sang and clapped along in full support.
I can see how this can be more than mildly offensive to gay people, but at the same time I think the whole controversy is way overblown. I’d say the gay community has a lot more to worry about than some obscure gospel singer preforming for a losing candidate.
But more to McClurkin’s message (disclaimer: not trying to legitimize his views, just explain them). He subscribes to the Christian view of homosexuality–where it is considered an action, not an identity. “Ex-gay” ministries were out in full force at the Values Voter Summit. I was able to talk to a few people and pick up materials (Max Blumenthal has a good video report here).
The brochures are sprinkled with pseudo-scientific theories and skewed statistics relating to homosexuality, along with resources for “overcoming” homosexuality. What’s notable is that although these organizations have an explicitly religious foundation, there is no mention of God or the Bible in their brochures. Of course this is a seemingly dishonest attempt to give the appearance of legitimacy (which is to say, not based on a single ancient text) to their cause.
The individuals I spoke to at the Summit were all very kind (of course I was covering as an evangelical concerned about pro-homosexual groups on my campus). One must understand where many of the individuals active in ex-gay ministries are coming from. Most once lived an openly gay life themselves (usually after being estranged from or ostracized by their religious family for being gay). If you listen to their stories, they will say that they were deeply unhappy when they were openly gay. Their stories are wrought with drug abuse, sex abuse, and strings of empty relationships. It’s no wonder that someone finding themselves distraught under these circumstances would try to find a “cure”.
Most of these individuals have undergone an emotionally painful “sexual reorientation” process. The “conversion” techniques include behavior modification, aversion (sometimes electro-shock) therapy, Freudian psychoanalysis, and prayer. The American Psychological Association maintains that such programs are ineffective and even harmful writing, “potential risks of ‘reparative therapy’ are great, including depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by a patient.”
And in spite of all of this, there are individuals out there like McClurkin and those I spoke to at the summit who stand by their decision to repress and deny their sexual orientation. I think we should cut them a break and go after the root of the problem, that is, the pervasive anti-gay norms and and prejudices in society.
Yes, that is no small feat, but it is necessary for true equality. It consists of gays living their lives without shame, in spite of all the forces (external and internal) saying they should do otherwise. It requires that gays interact with and reach out to their straight friends, family, and colleagues (rather than hiding away in gay ghettos).
The push for equality must come from gay individuals who don’t differentiate themselves as some irreconcilable ‘other’ in society (as many on the Religious Right and Queer Left would have it). Only then, when gays show that they are just like any other straight friend or family member, will the straight world begin to recognize their equality. This is already happening, and I think there is an unstoppable momentum on the side of (eventual) full gay equality.