Of the two Georgia runoffs, it was supposed to be the easier race for the Democrats to win.
Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock is the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the same historic congregation where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached. He gave the benediction at former President Barack Obama’s second inaugural. He came to political prominence as an advocate for Medicaid expansion in Georgia — a good entry point, considering the Democrats believe health care policy to be a winning issue for them.
His opponent, GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler, isn’t even particularly beloved among many Republicans, who view her as emblematic of everything lukewarm and dysfunctional about the party’s establishment wing.
Previously a business executive, Loeffler was appointed by Gov. Matt Kemp against the wishes of the Trump administration, which preferred Rep. Doug Collins to replace Sen. Johnny Isakson after he resigned for health reasons.
It got bad enough that, when running against Collins in a general election race that was essentially a primary, Loeffler took to claiming she was “more conservative than Attila the Hun.”
It’s true. pic.twitter.com/Yea3phqB2s
— Kelly Loeffler (@KLoeffler) September 21, 2020
This is seldom the kind of thing that needs to be said by someone with conservative bona fides to speak for them, particularly not in such grimace-emoji terms. (Collins, who responded that Loeffler “is so uncomfortable discussing conservative values that she hired an actor to make grunting noises rather than do it herself,” also acidly noted that “Attila the Hun was an open-borders globalist who killed christians and practiced postnatal abortion.” Loeffler has faced questions as to whether her donations and the WNBA team she owns, the Atlanta Dream, have benefited Planned Parenthood.)
While Loeffler defeated Collins in the de facto primary that was the Nov. 3 general election — Georgia’s election rules allowed for multiple candidates from the same party to face each other in the election to finish off the remaining two years of Isakson’s term — it was unclear she’d be able to unite Republicans behind her the same way, say, Attila managed to unite the Huns and Ostrogoths. The Holy Roman Empire, in the personage of Warnock, seemed a safer bet.
In the weeks since the election, however, Warnock has been put in the position of defending the indefensible.
Along with allegations he tampered with a child abuse investigation at a church-run camp in 2002, Warnock’s praise for Jeremiah Wright’s infamous “God Damn America” sermon (I know! He’s back!) and remarks made by a radical black theologian described by Warnock as his “mentor” have come back to haunt him.
According to The Washington Free Beacon, James Hal Cone was Warnock’s academic adviser at Union Theological Seminary. Warnock said this of Cone in his 2018 eulogy for the preacher: “How blessed we are that someone of the spiritual magnitude and power and commitment of Dr. James Hal Cone passed our way.”
That high spiritual magnitude manifested itself in calling white Christians “satanic” and advocating for the “destruction of everything white” in society.
In his 1970 book “A Black Theology of Liberation,” Cone wrote that “American white theology is a theology of the Antichrist.”
“God is black,” he wrote, and “has nothing to do with the God worshiped in white churches.”
“The white God is an idol created by racists, and we blacks must perform the iconoclastic task of smashing false idols,” Warnock’s mentor asserted. “White religionists are not capable of perceiving the blackness of God, because their satanic whiteness is a denial of the very essence of divinity.”
“If there is one brutal fact that the centuries of white oppression have taught blacks, it is that whites are incapable of making any valid judgements about human existence,” Cone continued. “The goal of black theology is the destruction of everything white, so that blacks can be liberated from alien gods.”
The book veered from the theological on occasion, with Cone seeming to confront whiteness at a more earthly level.
“There will be no peace in America until white people begin to hate their whiteness, asking from the depths of their being: ‘How can we become black?'” he wrote.
Another section: “We have reached our limit of tolerance, and if it means death with dignity, or life with humiliation, we choose the former. And if that is the choice, we will take out some honkies with us.”
A true understanding of Christianity, Cone wrote, begins with the knowledge that we must “[deny] whiteness as a proper form of human existence and [affirm] blackness as God’s intention for humanity.”
But, again, this led to more earthly goals, including overthrowing white society.
“With the assurance that God is on our side, we can begin to make ready for the inevitable — the decisive encounter between white and black existence. White appeals to ‘wait and talk it over’ are irrelevant when children are dying and men and women are being tortured,” Cone wrote.
“We will not let whitey cool this one with his pious love ethic but will seek to enhance our hostility, bringing it to its full manifestation.”
Warnock cited the book “over a dozen” times in his 2013 work, “The Divided Mind of the Black Church,” according to The Free Beacon.
The Democratic candidate’s ties to Cone surfaced after his praise for Wright’s 2003 sermon — a sticking point of the first Obama presidential campaign, given that Wright was the candidate’s pastor at the time.
The sermon — officially titled “Confusing God and Government” — included claims that the U.S. government knew the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor and “lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color.”
It’s best known for the passage where Wright, in high dudgeon, declares, “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 keeps trying to act like she is God and she is supreme!”
According to National Review, Warnock, in a 2013 speech at the Yale Divinity School, said that part of the sermon was “extracted from its theological and rhetorical context and looped to the point of ad nauseam.”
Instead, he said, Wright’s words were in line with “black prophetic preaching,” where “preachers are expected, indeed encouraged to speak the truth, tell Pharaoh and tell it like it is with clarity, creativity and passion.”
In 2008, according to the Cleveland Jewish News, Warnock also appeared on Fox News to praise the “social transformation that’s been the hallmark of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s ministry.”
“We celebrate Rev. Wright in the same way that we celebrate the truth-telling tradition of the black church, which when preachers tell the truth, very often it makes people uncomfortable,” he added, calling Wright a “preacher and a prophet.”
Loeffler accused Warnock of supporting Wright’s anti-Semitic tendencies; Warnock hit back in a Thursday T-ball interview with MSNBC but still wouldn’t answer directly when asked if Wright was anti-Semitic.
“I know Rev. Wright. I’m not an anti-Semite, I’ve never defended anti-Semitic comments from anyone, and Kelly Loeffler knows better,” Warnock said Thursday. “She is trying to engage in the same old Washington politics of division and distraction.”
The problem is that knowing Wright also means knowing his less-savory tendencies, best exemplified in a 2009 interview with the Hampton Roads, Virginia, Daily Press.
Asked if he’d talked to Obama since his former parishioner had become president, Wright said, “Them Jews ain’t going to let him talk to me. I told my baby daughter that he’ll talk to me in five years when he’s a lame duck, or in eight years when he’s out of office.”
“They will not let him to talk to somebody who calls a spade what it is. … I said from the beginning: He’s a politician; I’m a pastor. He’s got to do what politicians do.”
Meanwhile, on Israel, Wright said, “Ethnic cleansing is going on in Gaza. Ethnic cleansing [by] the Zionist is a sin and a crime against humanity, and they don’t want Barack talking like that because that’s anti-Israel.”
Given that Wright has mostly shuffled off into intellectual obscurity, the Daily Press interview remains the last time he’s appeared on the mainstream political radar.
I’m guessing for the next few weeks, Warnock will pretend he never read that, the same way he’ll pretend he never read that august tome by the man he calls his “mentor,” “A Black Theology of Liberation.” I mean, sure, he cited it, but that was probably one of his research people who looked into it. Any follow-up questions? Yes? Whoa, gee, look at the time …
Warnock will also disregard an open letter he signed in 2019, unearthed by Jewish Insider, in which the signatories agreed Israeli tactics against Palestinians “seem to have been borrowed and perfected from other previous oppressive regimes” and said it was “reminiscent of the military occupation of Namibia by apartheid South Africa.”
A Warnock spokesman walked back the statements, saying he was referring to “settlement activity” and didn’t believe in the more inflammatory language.
But then there was inflammatory language of his own, like when he said in a 2018 sermon that “we saw the government of Israel shoot down unarmed Palestinian sisters and brothers like birds of prey.”
As Wikipedia might put it, “[citation very much needed]” on that one.
These aren’t legitimate concerns to the Democratic challenger — or, at least, he’s pretending they aren’t.
Instead, Warnock told MSNBC this is all about the “politics of division and distraction” and then segued to his personal brand of the “politics of division and distraction.”
“[Loeffler] can’t explain why she is for getting rid of health care in the middle of a pandemic,” Warnock said in the Tuesday appearance. “It’s Rev. Raphael Warnock who’s running for the U.S. Senate, and if she wants to know what I think, she can find me in the Scripture. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ And for me, in practical terms, that means you don’t get rid of health care in the middle of a pandemic.”
Whatever you might think of reductionist, fear-mongering language such as a candidate “getting rid of health care in the middle of a pandemic,” this isn’t garden-variety “division and distraction.”
Our country — indeed, the world — has seen a resurgence of anti-Semitism on an unprecedented scale. Warnock can’t even say if a man who declares “them Jews” wouldn’t let him talk to the president (and has never disavowed that comment) is an anti-Semite. His fulsome praise of Wright and Cone came long after their respective oeuvres were well-known to anyone who wanted to look.
Warnock cannot pretend that progressive voters from Atlanta are going to carry the state. Instead, given the red-tinged purple-ish nature of Georgia, he has to convince conservatives and independents he’s a unifying candidate who’s trying to keep the mean old rich woman from snatching their health care away.
That’s not going to work in a year when the wounds of our division cleave so deeply that riots and violence over issues of race, identity and culture seem like an anodyne occurrence.
Remember, this was supposed to be the easier one. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the first polling by a Republican firm showed Loeffler with a 1-point advantage over Warnock with a 2.6 percent margin of error, 49 percent to 48 percent. That same group found Sen. David Perdue with a 4-point lead over challenger Jon Ossoff with the same margin of error. (The poll was conducted by Remington Research Group on Nov. 8 and 9 and among 1,450 likely runoff election voters.)
You might remember Ossoff as the man who almost won a 2017 special election in Georgia that became a basket into which Democrats, recently stung by their loss to Trump, dropped a not-insignificant amount of eggs. Ossoff disappointed then and he’s disappointed now.
He’s a political first-round draft pick who continues to underperform three years into his pro career — but not by enough to let the team cut bait. He’s like the Sam Darnold of high-level federal politics. Lose this one and the Democrats are looking for any other mildly unobjectionable young white man who can reasonably be marketed as empathetic.
At least Ossoff doesn’t have to live down what Warnock does, however.
Kelly Loeffler might not be Attila the Hun. She doesn’t have to be — not when her opponent is a vigorous apologist for two of the most extreme voices in radical black theology.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.