Republicans Scrutinize Raphael Warnock’s Checkered Past ahead of Georgia Special Senate Election

Democratic Senate candidate Rev. Raphael Warnock speaks during an Election Night event in Atlanta, Ga., November 3, 2020.
(Jessica McGowan/Reuters)

The gloves have come off in the runoff election between Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler and her opponent, Reverend Raphael Warnock of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

Over the past week, Loeffler and Republican groups have focused attention on controversies from Warnock’s past, including his ties to a number of radical black theologians and an allegation of domestic violence.

Warnock has expressed support for Reverend Jeremiah Wright, President Obama’s former pastor, who has been criticized for anti-Semitic remarks, including a now-famous sermon in which Wright proclaimed “God damn America,” and, in a separate incident, said that the U.S. government created AIDS to kill African Americans.

Wright’s “God damn America” remarks were “extracted from its theological and rhetorical context and looped to the point of ad nauseam,” Warnock said in remarks to the Yale Divinity School in 2013. According to Warnock, Wright’s sermon was consistent with “Black prophetic preaching,” in which “preachers are expected, indeed encouraged to speak the truth, tell Pharaoh and tell it like it is with clarity, creativity and passion.”

About six months into President Obama’s first term, Wright blamed Jews for not letting him speak to the president.

“Them Jews ain’t going to let him talk to me,” Wright told the Daily Press of Newport News, Va. in June 2009. “They will not let him to talk to somebody who calls a spade what it is.”

Loeffler earlier this week accused Warnock of defending Wright’s anti-Semitic comments, which Warnock denied.

“I know Reverend Wright. I’m not an anti-Semite, I’ve never defended anti-Semitic comments from anyone, and Kelly Loeffler knows better,” Warnock said in a Thursday appearance on MSNBC. “She is trying to engage in the same old Washington politics of division and distraction.”

The first-time Senate candidate also has ties to another radical black theologian, Dr. James Hal Cone, who has called White Christians “satanic” and called for “the destruction of everything white.”

Warnock praised Cone in a book he wrote in 2013 and again in 2018, when he delivered the deceased preacher’s eulogy.

“How blessed we are that someone of the spiritual magnitude and power and commitment of Dr. James Hal Cone passed our way,” Warnock said.

Warnock has criticized President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, noting the embassy opening was attended by “the president’s family and a few mealy-mouthed evangelical preachers who are responsible for the mess that we found ourselves in.” The reverend went on to accuse Israel of shooting down Palestinian protesters “like birds of prey,” and used clips from Russian state propaganda outlet RT in video of his sermon.

However, Warnock wrote in an editorial shared with Jewish Insider this week that “without reservation, you can count on me to stand with the Jewish community and Israel in the U.S. Senate.” Warlock referred to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement as anti-Semitic, and has received the backing of much of Atlanta’s Jewish community.

Republicans have also turned attention to Warnock’s employment in the mid-1990’s at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, when in 1995 the church invited Cuban dictator Fidel Castro to give a speech.

Castro “blast[ed] the United States with the vigor that was missing from his speech to the United Nations earlier in the day,” the Miami Herald reported at the time. The dictator finished “the evening with a rousing rendition of the socialist hymn Internationale.”

Warnock was employed as a youth pastor at the church, according to campaign spokesman Terrence Clark.

“Twenty-five years ago, Reverend Warnock was a youth pastor and was not involved in any decisions at that time,” Clark told Fox News, without saying whether Warnock attended Castro’s speech.

Aside from his political positions, controversies have appeared over incidents in Warnock’s personal life. Before finalizing their divorce, the reverend’s ex-wife Ouyele Ndoye accused Warnock of running over her foot with a car during a heated argument. Warnock has flatly denied the accusation, telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “it didn’t happen.”

Warnock was also briefly charged in 2002 with obstructing a police investigation into suspected child abuse at a Maryland summer camp, according to a Baltimore Sun report at the time. Police said that Warnock and a fellow reverend had tried to prevent officers from interviewing teenage counselors at the camp.

“I’ve never encountered resistance like that at all,” State Trooper Dianne Berry told the Sun.

However, charges against Warnock were later dropped, and the reverend has repeatedly denied the accusation that he attempted to obstruct police.

“It’s no surprise that as Reverend Warnock’s support grows, the false attacks start,” a Warnock campaign spokesperson said in comments to Fox News. “The truth is, he was protecting the rights of young people to make sure they had a lawyer or a parent when being questioned. Law enforcement officials later apologized and praised him for his help in this investigation.”

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Zachary Evans is a news writer for National Review Online. He is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces and a trained violist.

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