George W. Bush longed to escape his daddy's shadow, while Barack Obama has turned to shadowy preachers in his long search for a father figure. His filial approach to faith began with Rev. Jeremiah Wright and has now taken a sharp turn right.
The New York Times reports that the president has surrounded himself with a cadre of clerical crackpots known as the Circle of Five. These holy men are: Rev. Joel Hunter, former head of the Christian Coalition; anti-gay Bishop T.D. Jakes; the ex-gay loving Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell; and Jim "waffling" Wallis, a protean progressive. The only Obama shaman who isn't shameless is the civil rights era preacher Rev. Otis Moss Jr.
Rev. Jakes refers to homosexuality as "brokenness" and has claimed that he wouldn't hire a sexually active gay person. But it seems T.D. can't even keep his own son off the D.L. (down low). His "sexually broken" heir was arrested earlier this year for cruising a Dallas Park in search of gay men.
Wallis, the chief executive of Sojourners, a Christian magazine, holds "traditional" views on homosexuality and abortion, according to the Times article. Although Wallis has taken some affirmative steps on GLBT equality, he prides himself on not being a part of "the religious left."
Rev. Caldwell has endorsed Metanoia, an ex-gay ministry designed to "help homosexuals understand with God's help that 'change [is] possible." When the GLBT community worked to elect Obama, this is not what we thought he meant when he promised "change."
"Whoa, OK, so let's assume [the Obama Administration decides to release] a mealy mouthed message like 'the President does not believe in ex-gay therapy' or some such nonsense," wrote blogger Pam Spaulding. "If he doesn't, then what is he doing talking to Caldwell when there are plenty of other prominent pastors he could choose to break bread with who don't subscribe to that view?"
We must also remember that during his campaign, Obama tapped "ex-gay" gospel singer Donnie McClurkin to croon at a concert tour in South Carolina. And, this insult was compounded by the injury of selecting Rev. Rick Warren to give the Inauguration invocation.
I can live with Obama's poor Sunday choices if on Monday he hears our voices and passes landmark gay civil rights legislation. Still, it is disconcerting that such a cool and rational leader keeps returning to the theological armpit to fill his pulpit. Will spending time in the biblical backwater influence Obama's views and lead him to sell us down the river?
By embracing these conservative clerics, Obama is also setting a wretched example overseas. Last month, the State Department released a report to Congress that documents "an unfortunate crisis in human rights abuse directed against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people worldwide." Much of this violence was the result of brutal religious oppression. Yet, Obama pals around with reprehensible reverends, thus undermining his own administration's call for moderate religious leadership abroad.
The Pope, who takes his road show to Africa this week, could have used Obama's absent leadership. In Nigeria, for example, lawmakers are debating a draconian law that would imprison gay people for living together. It encourages violent witch-hunts by requiring Nigerians to turn in their gay neighbors. Those who don't rat out gays could be jailed for up to five years.
The BBC reports that during a debate on this unconscionable legislation, Rev. Patrick Alumake told the National Assembly that the top leaders of the Catholic Church in Nigeria supported the measure.
"There are wild, weird ways of life that are affecting our own culture very negatively, we have people who either by way of the media or traveling around the world have allowed new ideas which are harmful to our nation and our belief," said Alumake.
Catholicism is also the largest religion in Uganda. There, the penalty for homosexuality is life in prison. Last week, American anti-gay leaders held a conference in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, where a local group leader pledged to "wipe out" homosexuality.
If he chose, the Pope could have a significant impact this week by urging African Catholics to stop persecuting homosexuals. But, we know this won't happen. After all, we are talking about a Vatican that dispatched its minions to Albany, New York last week to fight against a bill to temporarily lift the statute of limitations for lawsuits alleging the sexual abuse of children. If the Pope won't protect innocent youths, he certainly won't lift a gold ringed finger to save the lives of people he considers "objectively disordered."
While there will be no moral leadership from this Pontiff, we expect Obama to understand that his clerical choices do matter. It is time Obama stops searching for Daddy and becomes the man of the (White) house, by picking preachers who are not at irreconcilable odds with his human rights policies.