Just days into the U.S. Senate runoff campaign, Rev. Raphael Warnock, the Democrat running against Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, is under fire for his defense of a controversial African American pastor and his own statements about Israel and the Palestinians.
The latter includes a sermon in which Warnock, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, voiced support for young Palestinians “who are struggling for their very lives.”
The former stems from Warnock’s efforts to explain the preaching style and context of a Chicago pastor’s sermon that became a headline item during Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign.
In a Twitter post on Nov. 5, Loeffler brushed off a television ad in which Warnock warned “Get ready Georgia. The negative ads against us are coming.”
Loeffler wrote, “We ARE going to talk about your own words” and among the items listed was “Embracing Jeremiah Wright’s ‘God Damn America’ Agenda.”
Rev. Jeremiah Wright delivered the sermon titled “On Confusing God and Government” at Trinity United Church of Christ on Palm Sunday in 2003. He became a political lightning rod when a recording surfaced during the 2008 campaign. Wright had retired earlier that year. Obama and his wife, Michelle, resigned from Trinity United in May 2008 after attending for 16 years.
As he addressed the failures of nations, including treatment of African Americans in the United States, an impassioned Wright said, “The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law, and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no, not God bless America, God damn America, that’s in the Bible, for killing innocent people, God damn America for treating her citizens as less than human, God damn America as long as she tries to act like she is God and she is supreme.”
Warnock defended Wright when the recording surfaced and in the years after. Speaking in 2013 at the Yale Divinity School, Warnock said that the “God damn America” clip had been “extracted from its theological and rhetorical context and looped to the point of ad nauseam.” The sermon was an example of “Black prophetic preaching,” Warnock said, in which “preachers are expected, indeed encouraged to speak the truth, tell Pharaoh and tell it like it is with clarity, creativity and passion.”
In March 2020, Warnock told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Any fair-thinking person would recognize that everything a government does, even the American government, is not consistent with God’s dream for the world. And preaching at its best points out those contradictions but then shows us the path forward.”
Loeffler, in a statement to Fox News in October, said that Warnock’s defense of Wright was “appalling, disgusting and has no place in this country — much less in this Senate race. . . I am running to protect our conservative values that are under attack every single day by radicals like Raphael Warnock. We live in the greatest country in the world, and I’ll NEVER apologize for saying the words ‘God Bless America.’”
Michael Rosenzweig, a member of the national board of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, decried what he called “a cynical attempt by the Republicans, especially Kelly Loeffler, to divide the Black and Jewish communities,” telling the AJT that “His [Warnock’s] statement about Rev. Wright had absolutely nothing to do with Rev. Wright’s — or Rev. Warnock’s — views on Israel or the Jewish community and everything to do with the understandable frustrations felt by so many Black Americans.”
Warnock, in a Nov. 9 statement to the AJT, said: “I have always and will continue to speak out against hate in any form and I believe my life’s work shows how much I love our country. I have no hesitation condemning anyone’s words that seek to divide us or turn one group against another. That is true when it comes to the special relationship the United States and Georgia have with Israel, which I respect and will defend. Now, more than ever, we need to come together and focus on how we can lift one another up instead of tearing one another down.”
In a May 2018 sermon at Ebenezer Baptist, Warnock said, “It’s been a tough week. The administration opened up the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. Standing there [were] the president’s family and a few mealy-mouthed evangelical preachers who are responsible for the mess that we found ourselves in, both there and here — misquoting and misinterpreting the Scripture, talking about peace. Meanwhile, young Palestinian sisters and brothers, who are struggling for their very lives, struggling for water and struggling for their human dignity, stood up in a nonviolent protest, saying, ‘If we’re going to die, we’re going to die struggling.’”
Warnock traveled in February to March 2019 to Israel and the Palestinian territories, as part of a delegation of African American clergy under the auspices of the National Council of Churches, along with clergy from the South African Council of Churches.
“We came as representatives of African American communities; as descendants of those who survived slavery, Jim Crow and who work now to dismantle the new Jim Crow of mass incarceration and militarization of police in our communities; and we came as representatives of the South African people who lived through the indignity of over 300 years of dehumanizing dispossession, colonialism, segregation and apartheid,” the delegation said afterward.
Included in that statement were references to “heavy militarization of the West Bank, reminiscent of the military occupation of Namibia by apartheid South Africa and “what appears to be an unstoppable gobbling up of Palestinian lands to almost render the proposed two-state solution unworkable.” The statement also compared Israeli security barriers to the Berlin Wall and criticized “laws of segregation that allow one thing for the Jewish people and another for the Palestinians.”
Rabbi Peter Berg of The Temple told the AJT, “The recent attacks against Reverend Warnock misrepresent his position on Israel and are deceitful. As a close friend and clergy confidant, Reverend Warnock and I have spoken on numerous occasions about his strong support for a two-state solution. It was my honor to travel to the AIPAC Policy Conference with Rev. Warnock this past year. Reverend Warnock has publicly praised the [U.S.-Israel] Memorandum of Understanding, strongly condemned BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] and looks forward to advancing cooperation be-tween Georgia and Israel.”
Berg added, “We are blessed that all four candidates from both parties running for U.S. Senate from the state of Georgia are strongly pro-Israel and will work every day to advance the U.S.-Israel relationship. We cannot allow Israel to become a wedge issue.”
In a statement to the AJT, Chuck Berk, who heads the Atlanta chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said, “The Jewish community should be appalled by the pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel, anti-Semitic comments by Rev. Warnock and have real concern as to whether, if elected, he would be a supporter of Israel and Jewish issues. But if history is any guide, I doubt that will have any impact. Liberal Jews, including many of our Atlanta rabbis will naively ignore these statement, as they did Obama’s Reverend Wright’s statements, the cold shoulder to Israel by Obama-Biden for eight years, throwing Israel under the bus at the U.N., and not condemning the Black Lives Matter ‘protestors’ in Los Angeles who attacked and vandalized synagogues, Jewish businesses and memorials with anti-Semitic, anti-Israel slogans (i.e. F*** Israel). We need Georgia senators who have a history of a strong, unblemished record of support for Israel and Jewish causes, like David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.”
- Dave Schechter
- Kelly Loeffler
- Raphael Warnock
- Ebenezer Baptist Church
- Jeremiah Wright
- United Church of Christ
- Atlanta Journal Constitution
- Michael Rosenzweig
- Chuck Berk
- U.S. Embassy
- National Council of Churches
- South African Council of Churches