Longtime civil rights activist and abortion advocate, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who was elected as Georgia’s first black senator in January 2021, drew the ire of conservatives on Twitter Monday night for declaring himself a “pro-choice pastor” and reiterating his support for a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.
The theological furor over Warnock’s comments comes in the wake of a leaked draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito published by Politico showing that the U.S. Supreme Court has voted to strike down the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, that legalized abortion in the U.S.
“As a pro-choice pastor, I’ve always believed that a patient's room is way too small for a woman, her doctor, and the United States government,” declared Warnock on Twitter Monday night.
The senator, who still leads Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. served as pastors, added: “I'll always fight to protect a woman's right to choose. And that will never change.”
Though Warnock has long defended his support for abortion as a minister even before his election, his comment on Twitter went viral with more than 143,000 likes as of Wednesday morning and thousands of comments, including from many conservative Christians who questioned the compatibility of his Christian faith with his pro-choice views.
Tony Dungy, the first black NFL coach to win a Super Bowl, who is also an unapologetic conservative Christian, publicly questioned whether Warnock’s support for abortion is aligned with the faith he professes.
“It all comes down to what you believe about the organism growing inside the mother. Is it a life or not?” he asked on Twitter. “If it is just growing tissue then your ‘choice’ makes sense. If it’s a life then it’s obviously not OK to choose to end it. What does your Bible tell you it is? Psalm 139:16.”
In the New International Version translation of the Bible, Psalm 139:16 reads: “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
Mike Stone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Georgia, who ran an unsuccessful campaign to become president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2021, was also among the conservative voices condemning Warnock’s comments.
“Woe to them who call good evil, evil good, and Raphael Warnock a pastor,” Stone tweeted Tuesday morning.
Firebrand Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from Georgia also had a strong response to Warnock’s statement in which she labeled him “a liar” and “a fraud.”
“There is no pastor ordained by God that would support killing God’s creation in the womb. You are a liar. A fraud. And a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Shame on you,” Greene declared on Twitter.
Data published by the Pew Research Center in 2016, show that many Christian denominations such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Assemblies of God, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Southern Baptist Convention all oppose abortion with few or no exceptions. Others, like the Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Methodist Church, support abortion rights with some limits. Groups like the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) and the United Church of Christ support abortion rights with few or no limits.
In an op-ed for The Hill in December 2020, Marik von Rennenkampff who served as an analyst with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, as well as an Obama administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Defense, argued that pro-choice pastors like Warnock had the Bible and history on their side.
“The rank hypocrisy of Republican attacks on Warnock’s faith aside, the Bible makes no mention of abortion. This remarkable silence, along with the first Christians’ divergent views on the issue, instantly deflates sweeping claims that the Bible is ‘clear’ on abortion,” she argued.
She argued that up until the late 1970s, most Evangelicals believed that life begins at birth.
“In stark contrast to the movement’s present-day orthodoxy, evangelicals were largely pro-choice or ambivalent about abortion for much of American history. These nuances make the acerbic and uncompromising Republican attacks against Warnock woefully myopic,” she insisted.
“As unfathomable as it may seem to Rev. Warnock’s detractors, leading evangelicals once cited these Bible passages to declare the Catholic claim that life begins at conception unbiblical,” she added. “Indeed, a 1968 issue of the evangelical movement’s flagship journal proclaimed that ‘God does not regard the fetus as a soul.’”
She contended that the ongoing debate and shifting positions of Christians on the issue over the years makes it “right to hold nuanced and varying views on such a complex and challenging issue.”