Warnock holds the same position once held by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as the pastor of Atlanta’s famed Ebenezer Baptist Church. He’s a quality candidate; if Georgia were a safe Democratic state, or even one that leans blue, such as Virginia, there’s no doubt he would win. But the Peach State is anything but that, and therein lies his problem.
Like many people who get into politics later in life, Warnock has said many impolitic things. His sermons often have touched on current events, and he unfailingly took a staunchly progressive line. Some of those are now the focus of Loeffler’s television ads: a statement that Americans cannot serve both God and the U.S. military; statements about the police that can be characterized as anti-police; a statement disparaging Israel’s protection of its border with the Gaza Strip as violence against Palestinians. Warnock understandably says that some of them were taken out of context or do not represent his full views, but it’s not hard to see why Loeffler brings them up, especially because when taken together they show Warnock is a pretty consistent progressive well to the left of Georgia voters. In that context, one might even say they are “radical.”
If anything, Loeffler soft-pedals Warnock’s views. Her ads have not yet included clips of Warnock pooh-poohing attacks on socialism, citing Acts 2 for the proposition that the members of the early church held “all things in common.” It is doubtful that moderate suburban Georgians — especially those who voted for Joe Biden and whose swing to the Democrats is why this state is even up for grabs at all — agree with socialism and holding all things in common.
But that’s part of Warnock’s problem as a candidate: He genuinely believes that America is a fallen, corrupt nation, befouled by racism and besmirched by capitalism. He makes that crystal clear in his 2013 book, “The Divided Mind of the Black Church,” in which he praises Marxism and castigates “white capitalistic forces.” That’s the common thread that holds his writings and his sermons together, and no degree of eloquence or number of cute ads can disguise that fact.
Warnock cannot easily separate himself from Cone, given that he was so close to the man that Cone chose him to give his eulogy. That speech, given in New York City’s famed Riverside Church in 2018, showed Warnock still revered his teacher and endorsed his more controversial beliefs. He even referred to “the machinery of the American empire,” as if the United States were an evil empire on par with the truly abominable regimes of history. The progressive Manhattan audience might have lapped it up, but suburban Atlanta is not the Upper West Side’s political clone.
Warnock could have done what Barack Obama did when he was tied to the equally controversial and racially inflammatory Jeremiah Wright in the 2008 campaign. When Wright’s “God Damn America” sermon surfaced, Obama completely disavowed his former spiritual guide as more about Wright came to light. But Warnock has not done that with Cone, which explains why Warnock defended Wright in 2008 and again years later, even after Obama had thrown his former pastor under the bus. Warnock, like Wright, views America’s past and present very harshly.
The reverend might say those are just words, but as he said in his eulogy, “that’s the funny thing about words”: They have an inner logic that compel examination and demand consistency. Warnock’s words are ones that the voter he needs in affluent Atlanta suburbs such as Alpharetta and Roswell — places that backed Mitt Romney and Joe Biden and turned Georgia purple — might not agree with.
Warnock’s eulogy compared Cone to the prophet Amos, of whom it was said “the land could not bear all his words” because he criticized the ruling forces. But even if Warnock and his teacher are prophets, the New Testament tells us that even a prophet is often without honor in his own land. The land of Georgia might not be able to bear all of Warnock’s words.