The Black church has always played a pivotal role in the community, and in our fight for justice and equality. It is where many of our great leaders emerged, where they organized, and where they pushed for change.
Decades earlier, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. built a powerhouse of mobilization as the pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York. He later went on to become the first African American to serve on the New York City Council, before spending 11 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, fighting to enact programs for the poor and the marginalized. The attacks against Powell are well-known, especially within New York’s Black community: his critics and enemies painted him as a radical, an extremist, a communist, a troublemaker and an overall threat to society.
It's same playbook we see over and over again: racist attacks rooted in nothing but plain old bigotry.
Today, we are seeing similar refrains against Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and the Democratic candidate for one of Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats. As the Jan. 5 runoffs approach, and with control of the Senate in the balance, the smears and vitriol against Warnock have only escalated. It’s the same playbook we saw against Powell and the same playbook we see over and over again: racist attacks rooted in nothing but plain old bigotry.
During the Dec. 6 debate between Warnock and Sen. Kelly Loeffler, the Republican candidate referred to Warnock as a “radical liberal” 13 times. That was no coincidence or a slip of the tongue. Rather, it was an orchestrated strategy designed to tarnish Warnock's image, play to the GOP base, and make Georgians fearful of the “radical Black man.” It’s tired; it’s old; and it’s the same vile fearmongering that was used against transformative changemakers like Powell and against Black men since the inception of this nation. Loeffler knew exactly what she was doing.
She also took Warnock’s sermons out of context, trying to paint him as anti-military and a candidate who believes inthe so-called defund the police movement.None of this is true, of course. But when you have a party that believes in “alternative facts,” it’s easy for its leaders like Loeffler and others to casually spew misleading statements and lies in order to galvanize its supporters.
Loeffler even attacked Warnock’s beliefs by claiming that he couldn’t be both an abortion rights supporter and a Christian at the same time — once again riling up the Republican base while simultaneously attacking his faith. It is extremely ironic that her fellow Republicans are so quick to denounce attacking a person’s religion, but then turn around and do exactly that.
The Black church has always been at the forefront of the civil rights movement. In our long journey toward freedom and justice, it’s served as a home base for families to convene, share information, strategize, organize, tackle challenges and inspire one another. That remains the case today.
It is why Republicans, including the current president, are so threatened by its organizing power, and are working overtime to attack Warnock. U.S. Rep.-elect Madison Cawthorn even insinuated on Fox News on Tuesday that Warnock was a carpetbagger. "You see this Warnock fella who's coming down here and disguising himself as some moderate pastor from the South," Cawthorn said.
In reality, the 51-year-old Warnock, who was born in Savannah, Georgia, has done immense work at Ebenezer, such as participating for years in “Souls to the Polls,” an effort to encourage Black participation in the voting process. Republicans fear what Warnock has accomplished and are doing everything to stop him from succeeding any further. Sadly, they don’t even have to reinvent the wheel; they just have to use the same ugly tactics used against other Black leaders.
When Barack Obama was elected to the highest office in the land, it was as if the Band-Aid had been ripped off this nation. Gun sales went up, self-proclaimed militia groups exponentially increased, and right-wing media unleashed a barrage of daily attacks against the first Black president. Republicans at the time rallied their base by constantly painting Obama as the “other,” somehow un-American, a socialist, and yes, of course, a radical. Let us never forget Trump’s role in popularizing the so-called birther movement.
Now, Republicans have turned their focus on Warnock, because in our current political reality, control of the Senate means everything. It’s no coincidence that they have zeroed in on him instead of on Jon Ossoff, the Democratic candidate in the race against Republican Sen. David Perdue.
Ossoff’s whiteness makes for a less obvious target than Warnock’s Blackness.
As a result, they have chosen the same tired tropes and talking points used time and again against Black leaders, the Black church and our faith. It is disgusting, it is dangerous, and it must be denounced immediately.
I’ve been a preacher my whole life and have witnessed the kind of bigotry and demonization directed at Warnock firsthand. It comes with the territory, because when preachers speak truth to power, it often makes people uncomfortable – especially those who possess that power. That is what people like Powell Jr. did in every sermon he delivered, every powerful word he spoke and every legislative action he took to advance priorities like anti-poverty bills and so much more. It is what Warnock is doing today from the Ebenezer Baptist Church as he seeks to represent and fight on behalf of all Georgians in the Senate so that he, too, can deliver progressive results that help advance all Americans. It’s no wonder Loeffler and the Republican Party are working overtime to try to discredit him.
Regardless of what the outcome is Jan. 5, we will never forget what they’ve done to tear down a pillar of the Black church.