Warnock thanks his relieved church: ‘We stuck together’

Throughout his reelection campaign, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock was pilloried as a “fake pastor” by Republican Herschel Walker. His benefits at Ebenezer Baptist Church came under scrutiny, as did an apartment complex with ties to the historic Atlanta congregation.

At his first Sunday sermon since his runoff win, the Democrat thanked his flock for standing by him through the barbs – “politics ain’t for the faint of heart,” he mused – as he pledged to continue pulling double-duty as both a pastor and a politician.

“By the grace of God, we got it done,” Warnock told the cheering congregation. “Thank you for all of your prayers. Thank you for your love, for your support, for your perseverance against all kinds of unfair attacks. We stuck together.”

ExploreAnalysis: How Raphael Warnock defeated Herschel Walker

From the moment he entered the Senate race in 2020, Warnock made clear he couldn’t have waged his campaign without his congregation’s approval. This was no idle matter: church elders balked at the idea of a Warnock bid for Senate in 2016.

In the years since, the church hired additional clergy and reassigned administrative duties, setting the stage for Warnock’s bid. He campaigned with a mantra to “remain the reverend” and told audiences that a vote is a kind of prayer for the vision of the world they want for themselves and their children.

His bid put the church in an awkward spotlight. Parishioners say they’re both proud of the rising political star who now strides the pulpit where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached but unnerved the congregation had become the go-to target of Walker and his GOP allies.

The relief over Warnock’s victory was palpable on Sunday, when Warnock was introduced on towering flat-screens with a montage of TV clips trumpeting his victory. Congregants bounded to their feet, showering Warnock with a sustained standing ovation.

Like most Sundays, the pews were packed – a mix of regular churchgoers and a large group of tourists, including a contingent from a New York synagogue that occupied several rows near the back of the chapel.

In a sermon that quoted both Tennyson and Tupac, Warnock drew a line between the odyssey of the Israelites through the desert after their escape from Egypt and modern-day trials that forge both strength and faith. Warnock need not remind his flock of his own political journey.

“I’ll tell you, the last three years have been tough. I know I made it look like fun. And in some ways, it was,” he said. “But it’s something to walk by faith and not by sight. I didn’t know what God would do. But I knew I had an assignment.”

As cheers echoed through the chapel, Warnock said he knew “from experience that God will show up.”

“I knew that God needed a voice to speak on behalf of the least of these, that God wanted to elevate a voice to speak on behalf of justice, and on behalf of kindness and on behalf of mercy – and I decided if the Lord needs somebody, here am I. Send me.”