An Obama Pastor Problem That Will Rankle Democrats

GLBT Community Discovers Rev. James T. Meeks

By Published on .

Barack Obama's got another pastor in his closet, one that might hurt him with a key faction of the Democratic party.

By now we all know that as much as Barack Obama wants to boot Jeremiah Wright off to the side and dazzle us all with a grown-up discussion about race (though it seems like he changed that subject as quickly as possible), when it comes time for the general election, he's still going to have himself a problem.

As I said before, love or hate Fox News for obsessing over Wright clips as much as Nancy Grace fetishizes missing white girls, it did provide a glimpse of what Republican operatives will get up if Obama is the nominee. Sure, John McCain said he'd keep it clean, but he won't be the only one running ads. Even one of the diarists at Democratic site MyDD broached the subject by posting an "ad" juxtaposing Wright's comments with imagery for the Twin Towers falling. As crudely constructed and slapdash as that "ad" is (follow the MYDD link) and whatever the diarists anti-Obama motivations are, the point is Republicans will use that to their advantage. But Wright isn't Obama's only religious problem.

Rev. James T. Meeks is an Illinois state senator and a strong supporter of Obama. From
Described in a 2004 Chicago Sun Times article as someone Barack Obama regularly seeks out for "spiritual counsel," James Meeks, who will serve as an Obama delegate at the 2008 Democratic convention in Denver, is a long-time political ally to the democratic frontrunner.

When Obama ran for the U.S. Senate in 2003, he frequently campaigned at Salem Baptist Church while Rev. Meeks appeared in television ads supporting the Illinois senator's campaign. Later, according to the same Chicago Sun Times article, on the night after he won the Democratic primary, Sen. Obama attended bible study at Meeks' church "for prayer" and "to say thank you."
So what's the problem? Meeks is, according to the GayWired piece, "stridently homophobic." This isn't a surprise to anyone who follows politics closely. Even Republicans know this and have tried to make an issue of it previously. But on this issue, it matters little what Republicans think. It's not like the party is known for its strident support of the GLBT community. (Though, like Wright, Meeks has a habit of cursing White America.)

The problem, from a Democratic marketing standpoint, is what Meeks says about the gay community. More from GayWired:
A spring 2007 newsletter from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) named Meeks one of the "10 leading black religious voices in the anti-gay movement". The newsletter cites him as both "a key member of Chicago's 'Gatekeepers' network, an interracial group of evangelical ministers who strive to erase the division between church and state" and "a stalwart anti-gay activist... [who]... has used his House of Hope mega-church to launch petition drives for the Illinois Family Institute (IFI), a major state-level 'family values' pressure group that lauded him last year for leading African Americans in 'clearly understanding the threat of gay marriage.'"
Of course, tension between Black religious Democrats and the GLBT community is nothing new, and such tensions aren't unique to the Democratic party. Many conservatives thought about donning gun-control blinders to vote for Rudy Giuliani or will put on their immigration-reform shades to unsee John McCain's recent record. Gay Democrats and Black religious Democrats (not all of whom hold homosexuality in such low regard, of course) seem to usually have a "gentleman's agreement" to not go after one another in public. But you can't sweep all of these differences under the rug. If someone like Meeks -- a man who reportedly blamed "Hollywood Jews" for foisting "Brokeback Mountain" on the world -- starts making the news, it gets a little harder to ignore. (And spare me the lectures about "Guilt by Association"; this is politics, "Guilt by Association" is a proven marketing tactic.)

Of course, one of the big mysteries here is why people are only discovering these things now -- especially considering none of this was exactly secret and many of these published accounts are from two years ago. If GLBT groups start making a loud issue of Meeks, it could have an impact. And why wouldn't they? Perhaps they get a little tired of the Democratic party's tendency to overpromise and underdeliver to the GLBT community and seemingly being the first group to get sold out when the Religious Right starts screaming (last I checked, "Don't ask, don't tell" is still on the books, and gay marriage isn't).

But at this stage in the game, the issue would just have to be a small piece of the Big Miracle Pie needed to give Hillary Clinton a shot. Also something to consider is Team Clinton's almost complete inability to turn any of Obama's troubles to its advantage.
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