How Raphael Warnock balances his political and spiritual life

How Raphael Warnock balances his political and spiritual life
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The Christian nationalist movement often hails the GOP as the party that stands up for religious values, attacking Democrats as a party of secularists who don’t respect religion. And yet, it was an ordained minister, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who, in January 2021, helped the Democratic Party regain control of the U.S. Senate — and Warnock is still quite active in his church.

Many of the articles focusing on Warnock in 2022 have mainly concentrated on his reelection campaign, which finds the Georgia Democrat competing with former football star and Republican nominee Herschel Walker. But an article by Politico’s Michael Kruse, published on August 5 for its Politico Magazine section, also gets into a subject that isn’t talked about as much: Warnock’s efforts to balance his work as a U.S. senator with his activities in church.

“The way Warnock has operated in the last year and a half in the Senate as well as the way he’s vying now for a full six-year term are natural extensions of the tensions that have animated his life and his work — the ‘double-consciousness’ of the Black church, as he describes it in the 2014 book drawn from his doctoral dissertation, the ‘complementary yet competing sensibilities’ of ‘revivalistic piety and radical protest,’ the saving of souls and the salvation of society, what (Dr. Martin Luther) King called ‘long white robes over yonder’ and ‘a suit and some shoes to wear down here,’” Kruse writes. “In strictly political terms, this tension and connection might be expressed as purity versus pragmatism. And for Warnock, ever the reverend, the balancing act between the high and the low, the eternal and the utterly quotidian, sometimes means taking a run-of-the-mill legislative compromise — one that doesn’t even allocate any actual money for the asphalt — and attempting to frame it as the apotheosis of our ongoing experiment of representative self-government.”

READ MORE: Herschel Walker said states 'can just stop all' same-sex marriages

Warnock, who turned 53 on July 23, has been a senior pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King was once the pastor. The senator never met King; the civil rights leader was assassinated in 1968, and Warnock, a Gen X-er, wasn’t born until 1969. But Warnock clearly comes from the tradition of African-American church activism.

“From what is one of the country’s most important pulpits,” Kruse observes, “Warnock has spoken out against voter suppression, the war in Iraq, the overincarceration of Americans but especially Black Americans, and the death penalty — ‘state-sanctioned murder,’ in his words, and ‘the final fail-safe of White supremacy.’ He wore a hoodie in the pulpit after the killing of Trayvon Martin. He was arrested at the state Capitol and again at the U.S. Capitol protesting for access to affordable health care. He hosted an interfaith meeting on climate change with former Vice President Al Gore.”

Most polls on Georgia’s 2022 U.S. Senate race have shown Warnock with a narrow lead over Walker. According to polls released in late July, Warnock is ahead in that race by 4 percent (Fox News) or 3 percent (Fox 5 Atlanta/Insider Advantage and Atlanta Journal-Constitution). But a Survey USA poll showed Warnock with a 9 percent lead.

Warnock and Walker, Kruse observes, “present a contrast that’s almost impossibly stark.”

READ MORE: Herschel Walker says Raphael Warnock is 'afraid' to debate him

“Warnock — the first Black senator from Georgia and the first Black Democrat in the Senate from the South, and not just a pastor but the pastoral heir of Martin Luther King, Jr. at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church — has made his life’s work a response to systemic racism,” Kruse writes. “Walker has all but denied racism’s existence. Warnock as an orator arguably has few peers. Walker, at times, struggles to make sense. And while Warnock has some scuffs to his sheen — a contentious divorce, an arrest from some 20 years back, controversial snippets from pulpits and pages from his decades of scholarship — Walker’s catalogue of flaws includes lies, allegations of domestic violence and a history of a personality disorder that made him consider killing a man and also risk killing himself.”

READ MORE: Georgia swing voters don’t view ‘abortion v. inflation’ as a ‘simple binary choice’

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