American gospel star DONNIE McCLURKIN spoke to Mike Rimmer about his decision to give up gospel music to become a church pastor and his personal battle with homosexuality.
Donnie McClurkin is back in the UK performing live with Byron Cage and Fred Hammond. In a sharp suit, he takes the stage and enjoys the adulation of gospel fans. Since the 'Live In London' album, his career has shot through the roof. It's ironic then that he is beginning to share that his days in gospel music are numbered. Having been called to pastor a church in New York in 2001, he is planning on retiring from gospel music at the beginning of 2007.
When it comes to the increasing effectiveness of his ministry in music, it seems that it has only been since he decided to pursue his calling as a pastor that his music has connected with a bigger audience. Is this a coincidence? "It happened right after 'Live In London' came out in 2000. I started pastoring in 2001. In the industry's view, it was the worst timing! Because now you're at the pinnacle and to start pastoring means it cuts right into everything that you've worked so hard to do, when that was your only purpose. But it was all a part of bringing me to this place of pastoring. It's easy to let go of the singing for me and to be pastoring because that's who I am. It's the people, God's called me to minister to his people and they are important to him. The singing is secondary."
Moving from music ministry to pastoring his church is going to be a big step for Donnie McClurkin. Surely he is going to have some regrets. "It's been bittersweet," he shares openly. "Me and Kirk Franklin sit and talk about it. He's like, 'Man, what you go and do that for?!' I said, 'Man, I have no choice. I have to go on to be who I'm called to be.' It served its purpose, it got the attention of the secular world and it's made me pastor to some of the greatest people. People like Beyonce, Missy Elliott and Star Jones, even though they don't go to our church, unless they come to New York. Now everybody calls me 'pastor'. The secular world calls me 'pastor'. I'm like, 'Lord, whoever thought that this would happen?!' But I understand now, this is who he's called me to be. Music is what I did and what I do but my being is in ministry. You've got to let go of one in order to move into the next place of your life. You can't hold onto one with regrets. You've got to let it go. I told Kirk it's going to be bittersweet because all of my friends are in the music industry, CeCe and Marvin Winans and BeBe and Yolanda, Kirk.all of them. We're all brothers and sisters. Michael W Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman.it's going to be hard because I love them. But the joy comes when I stand before the congregation that God has placed me as pastor over, and see the lives changing, and see the lives growing, and seeing the babies being born and the young people growing up in the ministry, you know? That, I can't get when I am out on stage."
Donnie's style of pastoring is interesting because he's a man who has had struggles and faced difficulties and won through. It's almost as though God has allowed him to go through hard times in order that he might now be equipped to pass on the comfort he has personally received directly from God. He agrees, "God has allowed me and others to go through things, uniquely our own, knowing that there will be people that the testimony will reach, that are going through the same exact thing or can relate to it. Others may not be going through the identical thing but it will relate to their situation regardless. People gravitate more quickly to people who show them their wounds, than to those to who just preach at them. My thing is, if I want to get into their heart I've got to show them where I've been. I've got to show them that I am not exempt from problems and struggles just like anybody else. If it weren't for God, I wouldn't be here, I would be lost. So what I've got to do is open myself up and become vulnerable to the people that I preach to, knowing that it does have its down sides and it does have its backlashes. But it's worth it to see people's lives changed."
Donnie's own story was first told in his book Eternal Victim, Eternal Victor where he chose to go on record and tell the truth about some of the dysfunction in his family, the abuse he received and his own honest struggles with homosexuality. The book was a raw, bare account of some experiences that were taboo subjects amongst Christians and yet Pastor McClurkin chose to go on record. He remembers, "It was quite difficult because in America, I'm not sure about outside of America but we have a very strong gay activist community. They took offence at the book in many ways. Then we've got a lot of people who in the church, are worried about it because it's such a taboo issue and we sweep these things under the table. So from both ends, I was getting flak."
His motivations for writing the book and sharing his experiences are revealed as we sit and chat about the issues. He shares, "But then you've got a bunch of young and old people who have gone through the same thing secretly and haven't been able to say anything to anyone; they're just looking for an outlet. And that's the benefit of it, when I can see them come to me like Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. I tell you, married men, married women, with children and families, come and tell me 'This is what I'm going through now. How do I get out of it? What do I do?' And I pray about it and I give them the council of God. It serves its purpose but I guess there's a price that goes along with it."
To state it simply, Donnie McClurkin was sexually abused as a child. He was raped by a male relative and then raped again by that relative's son. Donnie struggled for 20 years with homosexuality and then God delivered him. But how did that deliverance take place? The answer is simple and he explains, "The deliverance took place by me finally realising that I'm not who my desires say that I am. Let me put this down for the record, you're about one of the first ones that I'm saying this to; the struggle's still not over, you know? Just because God delivers you doesn't mean that the temptations don't come back and people need to realise that. It is not odd or strange for the very thing God has delivered you from to come back to see if everything's still cool, you know? I still have to fight and it seems like the more I preach about it, the more people try to test it. But you've still got to remain and you got to keep yourself surrounded with people who will keep you accountable. Those things are part of the ongoing healing and deliverance. And just like everyone has to deal with whatever dark secrets and demons that they have to deal with, I'm just more and more vocal and a little more transparent with it."
He continues to share about the stages of deliverance. "It came about because first of all I admitted it and took off all of the masks, opened up every closet and said 'This is the truth of what happened.' My mom was totally amazed, my family was totally shocked. But then I wanted to deal with it because this is what I went through. This is what I struggled with and still have to struggle with. I told them I was going to be needing support, or they could get out of the way; one of the two. Because I'm not stopping, I'm going forward. And they've been there. So every attack, they've been there. They've understood everything and THAT helped in my deliverance. Having the 'base' behind me to keep me strong. Then, the more you see people delivered, that strengthens you in your deliverance. The more you testify and see the few respond, that enables you to realise what I'm here for!"
For years there have been rumours of homosexuality amongst American gospel artists and the prevailing cover-up culture that does not expose the sin within the industry. Gospel artist Carlton Pearson recently went on record with his comments on the gay issue which contradicted the generally held evangelical perspective that homosexual activity goes against basic Bible truth. Donnie believes that gospel musicians have a responsibility to the public. He explains, "The general public see us as 'the ministers'. They see us as the authorities. They know that we should not be singing about anything that we don't believe. We shouldn't be espousing anything that we're not ready to live. So they're believing that what we're saying, we live. Sometimes unfortunately, it is just the opposite."
He continues, "You spoke about Carlton Pearson, it's a shame that these things take place. A man who once preached the truth now turns around and denounces the things that he once preached so fervently, to become popular. And thus hurts and damages people in the interim. But I know my calling and I have to keep strong. The bottom line is, if I mess up tomorrow and if I'm out in the lifestyle and I'm totally bankrupt of all my morality.I would be the first one to tell them 'Don't follow me. I'm wrong, God is right.' But that's not going to happen!" he laughs.
McClurkin shares honestly about his feelings, "You can't talk about the redeeming and saving power of Jesus Christ when you're still living in the abominable. I know I may get into trouble with some who may think that I am a little too strong saying that homosexuality is abominable but there's a Bible that I have got to concur with. I've got to agree with it. Not to the slighting of those that are involved but to the pulling down and destroying of the thing that they're involved in. We can't kill the people, the people are too precious to God. Everyone is too important to God and God does not dispose of people!"
The compassion of a pastor is revealed as McClurkin shares his thoughts about those caught up in a gay lifestyle. He refuses to be condemning of those who are homosexual but rather seeks to separate the sinner from the sin. "We make our own choices," he says. "Heaven or hell is our choice but God is ever extending his hand and he's ever-loving. It's time for Christians to start doing the same! The bottom line is we've been too hard, we've been too absolutely dogmatically ignorant. These are situations in people's lives, this is what people are born into. I don't believe that they're born that way but they're born into these things. And we've got to address them and we've got to love them, we've got to nurture them and we've got to embrace them. And we can't judge them because the end of the story is not written yet!"
It often seems that in the church, when it comes to the gay issue, Christians struggle to come up with a compassionate response but McClurkin thinks it's time to change. "We do it with the drug addict! We do it with the alcoholic! So why can we not do it with those who have sexual differences? Pull them in, embrace them, love them. Give them the truth of God with the love of God and watch people's lives change. I see it happen all the time. I've got people in the church that I'm still working with who are young and old. They'll say, 'Pastor, it's been a whole month, nothing's happened!' And I tell them it's good and to not even worry about counting the days, take one day at a time. Love God, every day fall more in love with God and you'll find these things falling off of you. And that's how we do it, we do it one day at a time and increase our intimacy with Jesus Christ and we see him change our nature, realigning our passions."