Hell up in Hopeville

Gospel's Donnie McClurkin takes on his gay critics

Singer Donnie McClurkin is more than just another popular gospel singer. He's a phenomenon. His uplifting single "We Fall Down," from the 2000 album Live in London and More, moved beyond the gospel realm and onto the secular R&B airwaves. He nabbed appearances on Oprah and the sitcom Girlfriends, and Live in London stayed at the top of Billboard's gospel chart for 40 straight weeks, selling more than a million copies.

But along with success came controversy. McClurkin released an autobiography, Eternal Victim, Eternal Victor, where he recounted how, from age 8 to 13, he was repeatedly molested by an uncle. This, he claimed, led to him later becoming homosexual. But religion "delivered" him from being gay, according to McClurkin's story, which is also covered in the new DVD From Darkness to Light: The Donnie McClurkin Story. And it's this claim that has angered many gay activists.

Keith Boykin, an openly gay writer and former adviser to President Clinton, addressed McClurkin's claim on his website. "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."

McClurkin doesn't understand why his story bothers so many people. "I'd like to know why that makes them mad," asks McClurkin during a phone interview. "I didn't say anything except that [God] delivered me from it. Why would that anger you because I got changed? Does it anger them when somebody who is heterosexual decides to be homosexual? Do they get angry because of that? If they don't get angry because of that, then why should they get angry because God delivered I>meP> from something?"

Gay activists, particularly those in the black community, say that McClurkin is being naive about the larger implications of his story. "When a public figure as influential as Donnie McClurkin speaks to being delivered and urges and promotes reparative therapy to change homosexuals to heterosexuals, that is not simply sharing one's personal experience," says Craig Washington, a black gay activist/writer who serves as a volunteer and training coordinator at Positive Impact, an Atlanta agency serving people affected by HIV. "That's forwarding a particular agenda, which is perpetuating the belief that homosexuality is a pathology, an experience to be rescued from."

The gay backlash against McClurkin, who performed at this year's Republican National Convention, has become so strong that it has produced its own backlash. In September, the Atlanta-based Powerful Change Ministry Group International, which offers counseling for gay people who want to change their sexual orientation, issued a statement defending the singer. "Pastor McClurkin is absolutely right," states Executive Director Darryl L. Foster in a press release. "Telling any child that he or she is born gay and cannot change is a death sentence. Gay activists and their blind allies in the mental health, medical and educational professions have blood on their hands for condemning young people to a life mined with such suffering and disease."

For McClurkin's part, he maintains that although he continues to preach his controversial story of sexual transformation, he has nothing against gay people, many of whom are fans. "My deliverance was just that," he says. "It was God realigning my passions and putting me back into right standing. But people's sexual activity doesn't stop me from loving the person. I don't like their sexual activity and I don't like the claim that that's who you are, but I can get past the claim of who you are and what you've done and love you as a person."

Many gay people, however, remain unimpressed. "I think he's a good singer," Washington says, "but it's hard for me at this point to separate his ex-gay activism from his music. So, no, I don't buy his CDs."