Senior pastor of historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. King preached enters Senate race

The Rev. Raphael Warnock of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Rev. Raphael Warnock of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. | Twitter

The Rev. Raphael Warnock of Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. served as pastors, announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate on Thursday “to make sure every voice is heard.”

Warnock, 50, who grew up with his parents and 11 siblings in Kayton Homes public housing in Savannah, Georgia, explained in a campaign video that he wants to take his work helping people “realize their highest potential” beyond the church door.

“Some might ask why a pastor thinks he should serve in the Senate. Well, I’ve committed my whole life to service and helping people realize their highest potential. I’ve always thought my impact doesn’t stop at the church door. That’s actually where it starts. And I love this country. And I believe that what makes America so great is that we’ve always had a path to make it greater,” said Warnock.

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“Greater for people like for the ones I’ve counseled at my church and others like them across this state. Like my father used to tell me every morning — whatever it is, be ready. I think Georgia is ready. Ready to stand up for the family who’s tried to do everything right but when they received one bad medical diagnosis they realize that the cost of being sick is too much. Ready to fight for the dignity of workers who are paid too little and pushed aside as government works for Wall Street corporations. Ready because I realize that a kid who grows up in the projects today and struggling families across Georgia have it harder now than I did back then.”

Warnock’s bid for political office is a departure from Dr. King’s legacy who chose social action over public office to create the change he wanted to see. He told The New York Times that even though he respect’s King’s approach, he was inspired by another civil rights leader, the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., who once preached at New York City’s Abyssinian Baptist Church where he also spent time. Powell served in Congress from 1945 to 1971.

Senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, in Atlanta, Georgia, the Rev. Raphael G. Warnock.
Senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, in Atlanta, Georgia, the Rev. Raphael G. Warnock. | YouTube/Reverend Raphael Warnock

“Yes, it is, for some people, an extraordinary step for a clergyperson to operate beyond the pulpit and enter the rough-and-tumble of politics,” Warnock told the publication. “I am aware of the risk. But I am embracing it because I think the times demand it.”

He argued, “The soul of our democracy is imperiled.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that since Warnock announced his bid for a seat in the U.S. Senate he had garnered support from high-profile Democrats, including a former presidential contender, a powerful Washington group and Stacey Abrams, the most coveted Democratic endorsement in the state.

Warnock’s Democratic opponents, Matt Lieberman and Ed Tarver, who have been getting pressure to end their bid in favor of the reverend, have so far ignored those calls.

“I believe that the voters of Georgia, and not top Democrats, will decide who to unify behind,” Tarver told AJC. “This is a decision that will have an enormous impact statewide and nationally. Unity has never been a valid justification for subverting the process.”  

Warnock has been an outspoken advocate of issues such as abortion rights, voting rights and the expansion of Medicaid.

In a 2014 interview with The Christian Post, he argued that black voters, while many hold conservative social values, tend to vote in “our perceived interests.”

"Black people are not allergic to the word Republican. Black people vote like other voters, we vote our perceived interests," he said.

And what are those interests?

"We've been pushing for Medicaid expansion, we've been dealing with the issue of wealth inequality, the need to raise the minimum wage. These are moral and spiritual issues, they are consistent with Dr. King's war on poverty. We're trying to address this business of poverty, give regular people an opportunity to live a dignified and decent life," Warnock said.

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