Pastor Donnie McClurkin doesn’t mince his words, especially when delivering God’s message. After five years, the Grammy-winning gospel and pastor of Perfecting Faith Church in Long Island, New York, returns to inspire souls through his ministry. The beauty of his gospel genius is in the simplicity of his words and passion for his convictions, whether he’s encouraging one to lift his spirits in his chart-topper “We Fall Down,” or to to speak about mercy and forgiveness in “Again.” The Detroit native continues his ministry of peace, love and unity with the release “We All Are One.” ESSENCE.com caught up with McClurkin, where he talked about how the world can stand united, the death of his sister, and why he learned to stop being judgmental.
ESSENCE.COM: It’s been five years too long pastor and we’re glad to have you back! Your new album’s title, “We All Are One,” speaks of a global togetherness. How do you define unity.
MCCLURKIN: “Unity,” that root word means to unite or unique meaning one of a kind. So many religions foster separation rather than see the thing they share in common. Unity to me is looking at somebody and seeing a part of them that resonates in me, then overlooking the multitude of differences to find the one thing that links us. Even if I don’t agree with what you’re doing I can still love you no matter where you are and what you’re involved in. When we can learn to do that then we’ll be all the better for it.
ESSENCE.COM: You made an interesting statement that where you said, “coming from a religious background, I was taught to judge harshly.” Many from the secular world have stayed away from the church for fear of being judged. Doesn’t the Bible teach compassion?
MCCLURKIN: Which church were you raised in? I f you talk to any Baptist, chances are they will tell you their denomination is the only way, because John was a Baptist and the same with a Catholic church and so on. If we’re doing this in the church, we don’t have the tolerance for those in the church, then what level of tolerance will we have for those who don’t go to church at all. If we can learn to love with the love of Jesus then we’d all be all right because he didn’t condemn any sinner.
ESSENCE.COM: How has your gospel ministry evolved?
MCCLURKIN: In the last 40 years since I gave my life to Christ (this August will be my anniversary), I learned that it’s a maturation period and you have to learn and understand that you don’t know it all. I learned that I wasn’t loving right and that’s hurt me more than anything. What I mean by that is that in my lack of love I might have given people the Word but not delivered it with the love of God. In other words, I might be right in what I say, but wrong in how I deliver. I go back to the simplicity of John 3:16, for God so loved not judged; so loved not accused or condemned; he so loved this world that he gave his only son, so that whoever—not just you little church people—believes in Him will be saved. And then God asked me a question: “What if you love them and they don’t change? Do you still love them or do you look at them like they are less than a person and turn your backs on them? No, you say to them, let me love you to wholeness. I bet my love will work better than condemnation, and if I can embrace you while you’re [at your worst] and say I’m not going anywhere, then that’s what it means to love through the eyes of God.
ESSENCE.COM: We agree that we are all too judgmental. How has the role of the Black church and its pastors in this economy and welcoming its first Black President changed since the civil rights era?
MCCLURKIN: It has definitely changed from the civil rights era to make us mobile so we can move forward and take this fight and win. There is a reason that 40 years after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr, in 1968 that we’ve reached a point of promise and have elected our first Black President. Just as the children of Israel wandered for 40 years until Moses got them started, but it was Joshua who led them into Israel. Martin Luther King, Jr., did the same thing, where there was this significant shift. So this is the time that the church and all of its denominations have to come and work together.
ESSENCE.COM: Unity is key. Speaking of which, we were sorry to learn of the loss of your sister. How have you been holding up?
MCCLURKIN: Well, don’t be sorry for me because she went there before us. Frankly, I think she got the better end of the deal because she’s seeing things we’ve never seen, hearing things we’ve never heard and able to sit in his lap and touch his face and say, “You are God,” and laugh at us because none of us can conceive what this life truly is. The hardest thing time for me was to let her go after the funeral. For two hours I wouldn’t let them take her casket away. Kirk Franklin sat with me and cried with me for two hours. I couldn’t stop crying and didn’t even know that much time had passed. He finally said, “C’mon, Donnie, you have to let her go.”
ESSENCE.COM: Years ago you were criticized for taking a stand against gay marriages alongside former President Bush. With several gay celeb couples and others getting hitched, do you still hold the same position?
MCCLURKIN: Well, I’ve been criticized for more things than that. It started with Bill Clinton in 1992, but I’ve never vocally been against anything. From the pulpit, I simply share what the Bible says. What we preach on Sundays is the truth. The world is not a church and people are going to do what they want to do. I read people whenever I feel I have the strength to endure those who have never heard me yet want to criticize me. Too often people believe what they read and what they read is at the mercy of the journalist and whatever frame of mind that person might be in. Everyone talks about what I believe, but nobody has ever asked me because I’d tell them. I had to talk to President Obama’s campaign manager when he was running for office and he’s like, “We disagree with your beliefs” and I told him you don’t know my beliefs until you ask me and you’re doing to me what they do to you all. People turn phrases to meet their legislate morality. My job is to say this is what God says, and even if he doesn’t change I’m going to still love you.
Donnie McClurkin’s “We All Are One (Live in Detroit)” is available in stores now.