On Tuesday, Reverend Ralph Warnock clinched Georgia’s vote in a vital runoff election, ousting the Republican incumbent Senator Kelly Loeffler. It was a major victory for Democrats, who are poised to control the U.S. Senate in addition to the House and the presidency. But Warnock’s win carries enormous symbolic significance for the entire country as well. Warnock will be Georgia’s first Black senator and just the second Black senator from the South. And — as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the same church once led by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — Warnock is poised to be the nation’s most visible, prominent figure of the Religious Left.
Warnock was raised in Savannah’s public housing, the youngest of twelve children, the son of a pastor and a woman who grew up picking cotton. Warnock went into the ministry as well, becoming Ebenezer’s youngest pastor at 35 years old. “Some might ask why a pastor thinks he should serve in the Senate,” Warnock said in his campaign announcement. “Well, I’ve committed my whole life to service and helping people realize their highest potential. I’ve always thought that my impact doesn’t stop at the church door. That’s actually where it starts.”
Warnock’s friends say he “idolizes” King and his own political activism has mimicked many of King’s chief civic concerns. Warnock is a vocal advocate of expanding voting rights, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, and a staunch critic of things like the death penalty.
Warnock’s support for abortion rights were oft-discussed during his campaign. Rep. Doug Collins even said that “there is no such thing as a pro-choice pastor. What you have is a lie from the bed of hell.” 77 percent of white evangelicals agree that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, but they’re an outlier among religious groups in the U.S. 60 percent of white Mainline Protestants, 56 percent of Catholics and 64 percent of Black Protestants say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to a 2019 Pew Research poll.
Warnock’s opponents were accused of resorting to racist attacks throughout the campaign. A series of adds from Loeffler darkened his skin in photographs
Warnock says he plans to continue preaching despite his new job. “I intend to return to the pulpit and preach on Sunday mornings,” he told CNN. “The last thing I want to do is become disconnected from the community and just spend all of my time talking to the politicians. I might accidentally become one.”