Hours of Democratic Rev. Raphael Warnock’s sermons are being put under the political microscope as he seeks to oust appointed Georgia Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler.
But his connection to a fellow preacher with his own history of inflammatory statements has yet to receive the same attention ahead of the Jan. 5 special election runoff, which could decide the Senate’s balance of power.
In March 2008, Warnock attended a black faith leaders summit where Rev. Jeremiah Wright was honored, shortly after a video of Wright’s 2003 “God Damn America” sermon resurfaced.
During a press conference on the sidelines of the State of the Black Church Summit, Warnock defended Wright from criticism over his “anti-American” rhetoric. The public had confused moral outrage with hatred, local Dallas media reported Warnock telling journalists.
“In fact, it’s inappropriate not to feel outrage in the face of injustice,” he said at the time.
Later that day, Warnock appeared on Fox News to, again, support Wright publicly.
“We celebrate Rev. Wright in the same way that we celebrate the truth-telling tradition of the black church, which, when preachers tell the truth, very often, it makes people uncomfortable.”
Warnock praised Wright’s “God Damn America” address as “a very fine homily” on God and government during 2013 remarks at the Yale Divinity School. He argued it was excerpted “from its theological and rhetorical context.”
He echoed the sentiment in his 2014 book, The Divided Mind of the Black Church, and while promoting his work.
“He was saying that we ought not worship the government. That Christians, that people of faith, even when they are patriots, that the best way to be a patriot is to ask your government hard and tough questions,” Warnock told NPR that year.
Warnock, 51, is the 15-year senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, preaching from the same pulpit as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He’s also the Democratic challenger in one of two Georgia Senate races that will determine whether President-elect Joe Biden will be hamstrung by a Republican-controlled chamber in the next Congress. The GOP currently has a two-seat majority.
Loeffler, a wealthy businesswoman appointed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in January, has seized on Warnock’s sermons and, to a lesser extent, his relationship with Wright on the trail and in ads. Warnock, for instance, has come under scrutiny for saying in 2011 that “nobody can serve God and the military.”
“I know Rev. Wright. I’m not an anti-Semite. I’ve never defended anti-Semitic comments from anyone. And Kelly Loeffler knows better,” Warnock told MSNBC last month. “And there’s a reason for this. She can’t explain why she is for getting rid of healthcare in the middle of a pandemic.”
Wright, 79, is a pastor emeritus of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, where former President Barack Obama was once a parishioner. Wright’s sermons, for example, comparing the U.S. government to al Qaeda and on government distrust more generally, almost derailed Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Obama denounced Wright’s rhetoric before delivering his “A More Perfect Union” speech in Philadelphia.
“Them Jews ain’t going to let him talk to me. I told my baby daughter that he’ll talk to me in five years when he’s a lame duck, or in eight years when he’s out of office,” Wright told the Daily Press of Newport News in 2009 of Obama.
The race between Warnock and Loeffler for the two remaining years of retired Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term is expected to be extremely competitive.
A Fox 5 poll last month had the Democrat leading by 1 percentage point, while a Remington Research Group survey a week earlier had the Republican ahead by the same margin.