One candidate in Georgia’s Senate contest warns that “spiritual warfare” has entangled America and offers himself to voters as a “warrior for God.” But it isn’t the ordained Baptist minister who leads the church where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached.
It’s Republican Herschel Walker, the sports icon who openly questions the religious practices of Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, who calls himself “a pastor in the Senate” and declares voting the civil equivalent of prayer.
Both men feature faith as part of their public identities in a state where religion has always been a dominant cultural influence. But they do it in distinct ways, jousting in moral terms on matters from abortion, race and criminal justice to each other’s personal lives and behavior.
Their approaches offer a striking contrast between political opponents who were raised in the Black church in the Deep South in the wake of the civil rights movement.
“It’s two completely different visions of the world and what our biggest problems actually are,” said the Rev. Ray Waters, a white evangelical pastor in metro Atlanta who backs Warnock in Tuesday’s election.
How religious voters align could help decide what polls suggest is a narrow race that will help settle which party controls the Senate the next two years. According to Pew Research, about 2 out of 3 adults in Georgia consider themselves “highly religious.”
Warnock, 53, preaches a kind of social justice Christianity that echoes King, the slain civil rights leader who also led Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
The senator embraces the Black church’s roots in chattel slavery and Jim Crow segregation. From the pulpit, he acknowledges institutional racism and calls for collective government action that addresses inequities and other social ills. He often notes his arrests as a citizen protester advocating for health insurance expansion in the same Capitol where he now works as a senator.
“I stand up for health care because it’s a human right,” Warnock said. “Dr. King said that of all the injustices, health care inequality is the most shocking and the most inhumane.”
Walker talks, too, of society’s shortcomings, but the 60-year-old points to the expansion of LGBTQ rights, renewed focus on racism and “weak” politicians, who, he says, “don’t love this country.” He has called for a national ban on abortions but has faced accusations from two former girlfriends who said he pressured them into terminating pregnancies and paid for their procedures. He has said the claims are lies.
It’s a culturally conservative pitch tied to individual morals rather than collective responsibility and effectively holds that the United States is a Christian country. That aligns Walker with the mostly white evangelical movement that has shaped the modern Republican Party.
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