To Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, the gospel that her opponent preaches from the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta is a threat to capitalism and the American way of life.
She has not minced words. The Rev. Raphael Warnock, whom she faces in a Jan. 5 runoff for United States Senate, is a “radical liberal,” she repeatedly says. At a rally for Senator Loeffler, former Rep. Doug Collins went further: “There is no such thing as a pro-choice pastor. What you have is a lie from the bed of hell. It is time to send it back to Ebenezer Baptist Church.” Perhaps such heated rhetoric should not be surprising. The election – along with a second Georgia runoff on the same day – will determine which party controls the Senate in Washington. With Democrats now set to hold the White House and House of Representatives, the Georgia races represent a last stand for Republicans this election cycle. Yet the targeting of Mr. Warnock’s beliefs has taken the election beyond politics. It has revealed the deep differences in the South between a white Christian tradition founded on personal salvation, and a Black Christian tradition that preaches liberation and social justice. In that way, the political balance of power in Washington could hinge on how Georgia resolves tensions about faith that date back to America’s founding. In the past, when those two strands of Christianity have clashed, Ebenezer has been a salve, honored as the church of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But the religious nature of the attacks on Mr. Warnock suggests not just a base-energizing strategy, but a willingness to risk the bonds of those efforts to find common ground and healing.
Will election become a new ‘lost cause’ for evangelical conservatives?
“This McCarthy-esque frightening plays on polarization and tribalism, and has become a departure from a fragile trajectory of increased bipartisan civility” between Republicans and the Black church, says Robert Franklin, the former president of Morehouse College, who now holds a chair in moral leadership at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta.
“At its heart it’s a mischaracterization,” he adds. “This is not Marxian economics. This is Christian social gospel.”
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