A coalition of African-American pastors in Georgia attacked Senator Kelly Loeffler on Saturday, arguing that his characterizations of his opponent, the Reverend Dr. Raphael G. Warnock, had crossed a line and amounted to an attack on the black church.
Ms Loeffler has been locked into an intense campaign as she and the other outgoing Republican Senator from Georgia, David Perdue, were forced into a run-off against Democratic challengers. The high-stakes contests have drawn attention and investment from far beyond Georgia, as they will determine whether Republicans can retain control of the Senate.
As the ads cover television and radio in Georgia, and prominent figures from both parties campaign in the state, the Republicans’ message has focused to a large extent on Mr. Warnock, the senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
Ms Loeffler’s campaign highlighted Mr Warnock’s criticism of the police and a sermon posted on YouTube in 2011 in which he said “no one can serve God and the military”, a theme that finds its roots in biblical passages. In a recent televised debate, she called Mr Warnock a “radical liberal” 13 times.
“We ask you to cease and renounce your false characterizations of Reverend Warnock as ‘radical’ or ‘socialist’, when there is nothing in his background, writings or sermons that suggest these characterizations are true. , especially when taken in context, ”Dozens of pastors from across Georgia wrote in an open letter to the senator. “We see your attacks on Warnock as a broader attack on the Black Church and the religious traditions we defend.”
Ms Loeffler, an Atlanta businesswoman who was appointed to fill a vacant Senate position last year, dismissed claims she was turning to racist appeals. She argued that she was rejecting Mr. Warnock’s beliefs, not his identity. During the debate, she said: “There are no racist bones in my body.”
But this is not an argument the pastors have been prepared to accept. “It is irresponsible, and we are here to oppose it,” Rev. Keith Hammond, a pastor from Atlanta, said at a press conference on Saturday.
As pastor of Ebenezer, Mr. Warnock had one of the most important chairs in the South, becoming one of the successors of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the head of a legendary congregation deeply rooted in civil rights. movement.
Mr Warnock presided over the funeral of Representative John Lewis, civil rights leader and congressman, after his death in July, as well as that of Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old black man whose fatal shooting by Atlanta police in June sparked protests and unrest in the city.
But Mr Warnock also drew criticism from prominent Georgian Orthodox rabbis over past statements regarding Israel, especially a 2018 sermon in which he described the Israeli military shooting “Palestinian brothers and sisters. unarmed like birds of prey ”. (Mr. Warnock responded this month that he was a “staunch ally and supporter of Israel.”)
Opponents of Mr Warnock have also focused on his support for abortion rights. An open letter to Mr Warnock signed by more than two dozen black ministers lambasted him for his position, saying “his open plea for abortion is an outrage to the faith and the black community.”
“We believe that these statements represent serious errors in judgment and a breach of pastoral responsibility,” says the letter, “and we beg you to reconsider them.”
When a spokesperson for Ms Loeffler’s campaign was asked on Saturday about the letter criticizing her, he replied: “Do you also want to cover the letter that black pastors wrote to Warnock condemning his positions on abortion?” “
Rep. Doug Collins, a Republican who placed third in the first round of the election and has since supported Ms Loeffler, has been reprimanded for comments he made reiterating this line of attack against Mr Warnock.
“There is no pro-choice pastor,” Collins said. “What you have is a lie from the hell’s bed. It’s time to send him back to Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Jim Galloway, the dean of the Georgian political press and longtime columnist at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, argued in a recent column that such statements went beyond attacking a political opponent to “undermine the fragile relationship that Georgia Republicans have extension, the King family.
On Saturday, Ms Loeffler and Mr Warnock’s campaigns fought over Twitter under the usual themes.
“Our opponents are radicals who want to lock down our economy, defund the police and raise your taxes,” Loeffler said, referring to Mr Warnock and Jon Ossoff, the Democrat challenging Mr Perdue.
Mr Warnock focused his criticism on his rival’s wealth and the stock market transactions she made during her tenure in the Senate. He also criticized her for supporting President Trump as he lobbied to reverse her loss in Georgia and raised baseless allegations of election fraud.
“It’s a simple yes or no question: Did Donald Trump lose the election?” Mr Warnock wrote in a Twitter post. “Your refusal to answer is dangerous and disrespectful to Georgian voters.”