When Donald Trump announced that he would nominate Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, conservatives steeled themselves for attacks on Barrett’s religious faith. They didn’t come. The issue at hand was how her conservative Catholicism would influence her views on Supreme Court precedents, like women’s reproductive freedom and marriage equality.
One of those defending Barrett’s faith was Senator Kelly Loeffler, who tweeted that the anti-faith attacks against the nominee were “disgusting.” But less than two months later, Loeffler was attacking Raphael Warnock—her opponent in the upcoming Georgia Senate runoff election—for his religious faith.
I’m the daughter & granddaughter of veterans, and proud to serve on the VA Committee.@ReverendWarnock — this is despicable, disgusting, and wrong.
You owe our active military & veterans — who sacrifice so much for our country — an immediate apology. https://t.co/QIDOmRGC78
— Kelly Loeffler (@KLoeffler) November 18, 2020
Warnock is pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. served at the time of his assassination in 1968. The video in Loeffler’s tweet is an edited clip of him preaching a sermon in 2011 titled “When Truth Meets Power.” In it, he refers to something Jesus said during his Sermon on the Mount: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other.” That is the context for his statement about not being able to serve both God and the military.
Loeffler has also criticized Warnock for sermons condemning police brutality, advocating for criminal justice reform, and expressing support for measures to reduce gun violence—all issues of immediate concern to members of his church.
But perhaps the most telling charge is that Loeffler equates Warnock with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the Chicago minister who became a cudgel for attacks on Barack Obama in 2008. That line of attack stems from Warnock’s appearance on Fox News in 2008 when he said, “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.”
When Warnock refers to “the truth-telling tradition of the Black church,” he’s talking about the prophetic tradition rooted in the Bible, something Walter Brueggemann, professor emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary, wrote about.
If you take the phrase “prophetic imagination,” the imagination part of that is that the prophets are able to imagine the world other than the way that is in front of them…So prophetic imagination is grounded in the conviction that God is doing something lively in the world. That it may be slow, but it is very sure, and that a new world is coming into being.
The reason Warnock said that this kind of prophetic preaching often makes people uncomfortable is that it challenges the status quo and imagines a process by which God is acting in the world to bring a new one into being. It is precisely why the Black church has been a beacon of hope since slavery. In calling out the status quo, the prophetic tradition enumerates how the people have strayed from God and condemns their allegiance to other masters (ie, money), as Jesus did in the Sermon on the Mount.
This prophetic tradition is not unique to the Black church. It is very much a part of white evangelical Christianity today, only with a focus on things like abortion and marriage equality as demonstrations of the ways in which people have strayed from God. That difference is why the white people Loeffler is appealing to view attacks on Coney Barrett’s positions as an attack on her faith, but fail to see the same thing when Loeffler attacks Warnock.
The gulf between the prophetic tradition of the Black church and white evangelicals is exposed in all its clarity in this video of rallies held on the same day in North Carolina by Franklin Graham and Rev. William Barber.
For Graham, the prophetic tradition means calling out progressives as atheists, while condemning other religions and denouncing civil rights protections for LGBTQ Americans. Barber says that Jesus came to preach the good news to the poor and those who have been made to feel unacceptable. A political message based on that Gospel will be focused on minimum wage, equal rights, criminal justice reform, and health care for all. Both Franklin and Barber claim that their faith is rooted in the Bible. And yet their prophetic vision couldn’t be more at odds.
Republicans have fully embraced the prophetic vision of white evangelical Christians and use it to defend Coney Barrett from attacks on her faith. On the other hand, Democrats—who value the separation of church and state—haven’t been as vocal in defending the prophetic vision of Black ministers. Perhaps that is as it should be when one of those ministers is running for office. It explains why Warnock took a whole different approach to the attacks being levied against him by Loeffler.
I told you the smear ads were coming, but Georgians will see Sen. @Kloeffler’s ads for what they are. pic.twitter.com/0sgU8ndC63
— Reverend Raphael Warnock (@ReverendWarnock) November 24, 2020