Pastor Raphael Warnock
Most Americans know that run-off elections in Georgia will decide the balance of power in the Senate. It’s being billed as a battle between Democrats and Republicans. The two Democrats are Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. The two Republicans are Senator David Perdue and Senator Kelly Loeffler.
When I started writing this chapter, I knew very little about the candidates except what I had seen in a portion of a debate between Jon Ossoff and Senator Perdue. I want to give you two introductions to Raphael Warnock. The first introduction will be the way that Republicans are introducing him. Then I will introduce him via his resume.
Here’s a sample of the Republican introduction/characterization of Raphael Warnock:
o Republicans, likewise, see Warnock as a threat as well as a ripe target, unleashing a torrent of attacks designed to tarnish his appeal and mobilize GOP voters
o Loeffler outlined the Republican playbook against Warnock, calling him ‘the most radical Democrat on the ballot this year’ and listing several associations that have been featured in a stream of GOP attack ads
o “He welcomed Fidel Castro to his church in the ’90s,” she said. “He called the Rev. Jeremiah Wright a prophet.”
o In mentioning Wright, Loeffler was referring to Warnock’s 2008 defense of Obama’s former pastor
o Loeffler has also attacked Warnock over a 2002 arrest on obstruction charges by authorities investigating an abuse case at a summer camp run by his church. The charges were dropped, and police said Warnock was cooperative. He has said that the charge resulted from an overzealous investigator and that he had insisted only that teenage camp counselors have access to a lawyer
o Vice President Pence told a crowd in Canton that the pastor had “demeaned our military and repeatedly defended the anti-Semitic rhetoric of Reverend Jeremiah Wright"
Here’s a characterization of Raphael Warnock based on his resume:
o He was the 11th of 12 children. His parents were both preachers, though his father also hauled old cars to a local scrap yard for money
o Like King, he attended Morehouse College, a historically Black school in Atlanta. In 2005, at age 35, Warnock became the youngest senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, the spiritual home of King, which has for decades been at the symbolic center of activism in Atlanta
o The fiery 51-year-old preacher who leads the legendary Atlanta church associated with King
o “He is the charismatic pastor of the most important Black church in Georgia — a church of enormous historical importance,” said former House speaker Newt Gingrich
o Warnock was also arrested on the steps of the Georgia Capitol in 2014, protesting the then-governor’s decision to not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act
o Under Warnock, the church has continued to exist at the intersection of piety and racial justice. Lewis’s funeral was held there in July. And from the same pulpit, Warnock eulogized Rayshard Brooks — a Black man shot by police who encountered him sleeping in the drive-through lane of an Atlanta Wendy’s
I’d also like to introduce Pastor Raphael Warnock by way of his own words, taken from the eulogy he gave for Rayshard Brooks. You can view a clip of the eulogy at this link: https://rebrand.ly/Pastor-Warnock . I have also included an excerpt of it below:
“Rayshard Brooks is the latest high profile casualty in the struggle for justice and a battle for the soul of America. This is about him but it is so much bigger than him. A couple weeks ago a reporter asked me, “Pastor, what was like to stand in the pulpit of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King, Jr. stood and preach following the tragic and unnecessary killing of George Floyd.” I said, “Well, it’s sort of like it was that Sunday I stood preaching in a hoodie following the killing of Trayvonn Martin. Then Michael Brown and 12 year old Tamir Rice playing on a playground. Oscar Grant, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Laquan McDonald, Freddie Gray, Rekia Boyd, Natasha McKenna, Botham Jean, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery before George Floyd.
And while we were addressing the death of George Floyd, in no time flat, we found ourselves here again. I hear somebody say, “Reverend, they are not the same. George Floyd complied. Rayshard Brooks ran.” Yes, that’s true. And they are both dead. And therein is the problem. Black parents do not really know what to tell their children in order to keep them alive. And that’s a problem! Not just a black problem although it’s happening to black people. That’s an American problem! Dr. King said, “We are tied in a single garment of destiny.”
Make no mistake. I think you should obey the law (unless it is an unjust law) and respect authority. But if your skin is the weapon and your complexion is the crime, what do you do to stay alive? Comply like George Floyd? Or run like Rayshard Brooks? I’m asking for myself and my nephews and my nieces and my children!
This country has become too accustomed and comfortable with black people dying. Black Lives Matter is just a way of saying see our humanity. We’re trying to stay alive and keep our families alive. That’s why we asked you to wear masks today inside the church and outside the church. That’s why we are socially distanced and had the choir to sing virtually rather than stand in the loft. We’re trying to stay alive. Don’t play with this virus. If Black Lives Matter, then we must do all we can to fight for our lives, fight this virus: COVID-19.
But we had to come together because there’s another virus in the land. And, it’s killing people. There’s COVID-19 and then there’s COVID-1619. They are both deadly. And in this land, we’ve been trying to beat back this virus since 1619 when about 20 slaves or so arrived in Jamestown, Virginia. Mass incarceration is the latest mutation of an old virus called racism.
And that’s not just a social issue or a political issue. That’s a moral issue. That’s a spiritual problem. “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.” (Exodus 8:1) Liberate them so that they may live lives of human flourishing, promise and possibility to the glory of God. They don’t belong to you! They don’t belong to private prison corporations. Thus says the Lord, “Let my people go!”
That’s why I’m grateful for this great coalition of conscience, pouring out into our streets in nonviolent protest. Let’s keep marching! Matter of fact, I’m here to announce another march. Please don’t miss it. It’s happening November 3, 2020 at a voting booth near you! March to the voting booth!”
I have never met Ralph Warnock and had never heard him speak before listening to the eulogy he gave for Rayshard Brooks. The disparity between who the Republicans portrayed him to be and who he actually appeared to be was so compelling that I had to add a chapter to this book. It’s not just about the Republican Party’s characterization of a Democratic opponent as a “member of the radical left.” That’s been a consistent tactic from President Trump’s campaign on down.
What made Pastor Warnock’s story so compelling was two-fold. First, the irony that the party of the ‘religious right’ would “mobilize the GOP” and run “attack” ads on a Christian pastor. The second most compelling aspect was Pastor Warnock’s historical tie to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the fact that he presides over Dr. King’s church.
It is telling that in 2020 that a born-again Christian pastor who opposes racism finds himself in opposition to the Republican party, who enjoys the staunch support of mostly white evangelical Christians. It is also telling, but not surprising because I have heard both President Trump and Vice President Trump say that “systemic racism does not exist.”
If you dig deeper into the Republican’s attack on Pastor Warnock, you discover that it includes an attack on another pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. I’m not condoning any of Reverend Wright’s incendiary comments. I am mentioning him only because it ties back to racist attacks levied against President Obama.
In both MGA volumes, I mention that as a life-long Republican voter, I never voted for President Obama. However, in MGA Vol II, I highlighted the fact that two national leaders, Reverend Franklin Graham, in particular, repeatedly tried to paint President Obama as a Muslim. This was particularly egregious to me because President Obama met with Franklin Graham and his father, the legendary evangelist Billy Graham, for prayer, and President Obama also publicly professed Christianity. Republican politicians slammed his Christian roots/ties to Reverend Wright while Republican Christian leaders tried to erase them altogether.
I view it as an attack on the legitimacy of black clergy. It appears in the example of Pastor Warnock and Reverend Wright that the criteria for being a legitimate Christian pastor have become being a member of the Republican party, denying the existence of systemic racism, and being a supporter of President Trump.
In MGA Vol I, I quoted the President of Christianity Today Magazine, Timothy Dalrymple. He said, “American evangelicalism is not a Republican PAC,” and that “We are a diverse movement that should collaborate with political parties when prudent but always standing apart, at a prophetic distance, to be what Martin Luther King, Jr. called ‘the conscience of the state.’”
I am angry. I am angry that the party that I have supported with votes for Reagan, Bush I, Dole, Bush II, and McCain can run attack ads against a pastor of arguably the most historic African-American church in America. I am angry that from all appearances, members of my own evangelical faith appear to be letting it happen. What of the radical left accusations? What of Pastor Warnock’s support for someone who made anti-semitic remarks or his purported association with Castro?
President Trump has said racist things about Asians, Mexicans, black men who kneel before the flag, brown people from “shithole” countries, and told black American-born Congresswomen to go back to the countries they came from (i.e., go back to Africa). The president has cozied up to communist leaders like Putin in ways that would make former Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy, famous for “exposing communists and other left-wing loyalty risks,” roll over in his grave. A sitting U.S. president publicly asked the communist Chinese leader to investigate the Bidens and praised the communist leader of North Korea for his strength, yet the Republican party and evangelicals pass out pardons for him faster than he can grant pardons for his former associates.
It’s not a double-standard. It’s racism. Stop calling it something else. It’s racism because the standard for the righteousness of the actions is based on the race of the person. It’s racism, and it’s not new to politics or to the Church. Dr. King experienced the same treatment from politicians and white Christian leaders in his quest to deal with many of the same issues that concern blacks today: racism, unequal treatment by the police, the right to vote/the disposition of our votes.
Dr. King was rebuffed, labeled radical, and encouraged to tone it down by members of the white clergy who would not stand against racism. I included excerpts from his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in MGA Vol II:
“My Dear Fellow Clergymen:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities ‘unwise and untimely.’…
You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative…
You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist…
So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent-and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.
Is it possible that in 2020 we have come full-circle from Dr. King to Pastor Warnock? Or would it best categorized as a regression? Is it possible that a different man, preaching from the same pulpit, nearly 60 years later, preaching against the same inequities, is still allowed to be labeled by white Christian leaders as extreme or “radical?” Dr. King alluded to some of the white Christian leaders of his day as “archdefenders of the status quo.” How are some of the white Christian leaders today any different? The president and vice president say system racism doesn’t exist, that we should preserve our Confederate monuments, and that we should toss out millions of votes, likely cast by minorities, in an effort to preserve the status quo as he sees it. What is the white evangelical response? “Amen.” “Status quo.”
“Of all people, Christians should be the most active in reaching out to those of other races, instead of accepting the status quo of division and animosity.”
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