Several gay groups say they are baffled by President Barrack Obama's continued trust in pastors they view as anti-gay; they contend Obama has a new “pastor problem”.

Over the past year, Obama has come under fire several times over close ties to incendiary clergy. The rantings of Rev. Wright during the general campaign served as fodder for critics of the president who called the pastor “anti-American” and “hateful.”

And gay rights groups howled when it was announced that Rev. Rick Warren would give the invocation prayer at the president's inauguration. Warren is a best-selling author and heads the prominent evangelical Saddleback Church in Southern California. He supported passage of Proposition 8, the November initiative that placed a gay marriage ban in the California constitution. During that heated gay marriage debate, Warren likened gay marriage to an incestuous relationship, pedophilia and even polygamy.

Gay rights activists fear Obama is once again aligning himself with socially conservative pastors who are doggedly opposed to gay rights.

The president has surrounded himself with five different pastors, four of whom oppose gay rights, and in at least one case support the notion that gays and lesbians can “pray away the gay.”

The president's prayer circle consists of five men, two of them white and three black: Bishop T.D. Jakes, Kirbyjon Caldwell, Joel Hunter, Jim Wallis and civil rights veteran Otis Moss Jr, the New York Times reported on March 14.

Bishop T.D. Jakes helms the 30,000-strong Potter's House church in Dallas, Texas and is known for his vehement anti-gay rhetoric. Rev. Jakes, who made headlines last month after his son, Jermaine Jakes, was netted in a police gay sex sting operation in a Dallas park, has called being gay “brokenness” and has admitted he would discriminate against a sexually active gay person.

Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell's Windsor Village Church in Houston, Texas believes gays can be “cured” through prayer. Caldwell oversees the world's largest – and possibly richest – United Methodist congregation.

“I think Obama's got another pastor problem,” Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, a group dedicated to exposing the “ex-gay” myth, told The Sunday Telegraph.

“There's a tendency to surround himself with these anti-gay preachers which is very offensive. These are people who believe that we are sinful and sick and that you can pray away the gay.”

“The notion that Obama can't find a pastor in America who doesn't have these outrageous extreme beliefs is baffling to many of us,” Besen added.

Joel Hunter once headed the Christian Coalition, the most widely recognized anti-gay and anti-abortion group in the nation. He now runs a conservative megachurch in Florida.

Obama has also spiritually reached out to Jim Wallis, president and chief executive of Sojourners, a Washington-based evangelical magazine, who is a vocal opponent of abortion and gay marriage.

Gay activists are also concerned by the fact that three of the men – Wallis, Rev. Hunter and Rev. Moss – have been appointed by Obama to the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, an extension of President Bush's Faith-Based Council that delivered funds to church social groups.

In creating the office, the president deferred the thorny issue of whether religious groups receiving federal money could continue discriminating against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folks. Under the Bush administration, organizations were allowed to discriminate against gay people in their hiring practices and could decline to provide services to the gay and lesbian community.

Besen suggested Obama should consult Bishop Gene Robinson instead. Robinson is the openly gay New Hampshire bishop whose ordination has divided the worldwide Anglican church.

“There's a person of courage and integrity and the kind of international leader that Obama should look towards,” Besen told the paper.