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Georgia's Loeffler-Warnock debate highlighted the GOP's anti-Christian hypocrisy

It's clear that Rev. Warnock is informed by the Gospel. But for all of her talk of God, Sen. Loeffler seems more motivated by the desire to score cheap political points.
Image: Debate between Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock and Republican incumbent, Senator Kelly Loeffler for U.S. Senate seat representing Georgia
Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., and Raphael Warnock, her Democratic challenger, debate in Atlanta on Sunday.Ben Gray / Pool via Reuters

There go the GOP talking points about religious beliefs being off limits.

During the confirmation process for Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., decried the "anti-faith attacks against Amy Coney Barrett coming from the left" as "disgusting." Loeffler was part of a conservative chorus lamenting any mention of the judge's faith. Yet the senator's disgust with faith-based attacks seems to have dissipated — just in time for her Senate runoff election. In a debate Sunday night with her challenger, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Loeffler waged an all-out attack on her opponent's Christian beliefs.

In a debate Sunday night with her challenger, the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, Loeffler waged an all-out attack on her opponent's Christian beliefs.

Throughout the debate, Loeffler repeatedly took Warnock's sermons out of context. In particular, she focused on an old sermon in which Warnock said you can't serve both God and the military. But the clip was part of a longer riff on Matthew 6:24, not an argument against military service.

"She's lied, not only on me, but on Jesus," Warnock responded during the debate before delivering another mini-sermon for his opponent. "Everybody's clear about what that passage is about in Matthew. You can't serve two masters, and she should have listened to the lesson. Maybe she wouldn't be so focused on herself, she'd be thinking about the people she's supposed to represent."

Repeatedly throughout the debate, Loeffler seemed to purposefully speak down to Warnock, refusing to refer to him using his professional titles, as would have been appropriate. Instead, Loeffler called him "radical liberal Raphael Warnock" a dozen times.

She also claimed that Warnock's pro-choice beliefs mean he can't really be a Christian. (In fact, there's a long history of Christian leaders' advocating for reproductive rights, and the majority of U.S. Christians do not want to overturn Roe v Wade.) This attack echoed those made by Republican Rep. Doug Collins, who also ran for the Senate seat during the general election but now supports Loeffler. "There is no such thing as a pro-choice pastor," he said at a recent rally. "What you have is a lie from the bed of hell. It is time to send it back to Ebenezer Baptist Church."

It would be hard to miss the racial undertones here. The pointed mention of historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. served before the Rev. Dr. Warnock, tells you everything you need to know about the attacks. While the modern religious right claims to be a movement focused on abortion, historians know it is really a movement based in large part in racism.

After the debate, I asked Dr. Anthea Butler, an associate professor of religious studies and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania and a THINK contributor, what she thought of Loeffler's attempts to talk about religion. "It may be hypocritical, but never forget, this is about race and racism, and not about belief," she told me.

Loeffler's faith-based attacks have also been criticized by one of the country's leading religious liberty organizations. Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, said sermons are different from political speech because the Holy Spirit is inspiring the pastor. She said that "to take even one sermon — let alone one line from one sermon — out of that larger relationship in context of a pastor and their church, it can be very misleading."

Loeffler is more than happy to celebrate with Warnock’s congregation when it is politically expedient.

The Baptist Joint Committee's director of education, Charles Watson, said: "The attacks that are going on Dr. Warnock now about his religious statements are some of the same attacks that were on Martin Luther King Jr. We're saying the same words. We're calling somebody a radical, calling somebody a communist, calling somebody anti-American. Now, 60 years after Dr. King's death, it's hard to find somebody that will speak ill of Dr. King Jr."

And yet, Loeffler is more than happy to celebrate with Warnock's congregation when it is politically expedient. To mark the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday day this year, Loeffler appeared at Ebenezer. "I am so humbled to be here with you today in this sacred place, surrounded by men and women who advanced the cause of freedom," she said as Warnock looked on behind her.

So was she lying then? Did she not believe that Ebenezer was, in fact, a sacred place full of Americans advancing the cause of freedom? Or did her views about Christianity and sacred spaces change with the political tide?

During another of her faith-based attacks Sunday, Loeffler asserted that Warnock had "invited Fidel Castro, a murderous dictator, into his own church." PolitiFact rated the claim "mostly false." Warnock was the youth pastor at a New York City church where Castro spoke in 1995. But youth pastors, for those not acquainted with how churches work, don't handle international diplomacy.

In response to Loeffler's Castro claim, clearly an attempt to tie Warnock to socialism, Warnock again demonstrated his superior knowledge of the Bible. "If you want to know who informs me and my sense of how we engage as people in the economic system, you need look no further than Matthew 25. I'm a Matthew 25 Christian." He went on to quote the Gospel passage, which, broadly speaking, teaches Christians to care about the poor and the marginalized, before returning to how it informs his politics. The point of the passage is to "love your neighbor," Warnock said. "And for me, that means you don't get rid of your neighbor's health care, particularly in the middle of a pandemic."

It's clear that Rev. Warnock is informed by the Gospel. For all of her talk of God, Sen. Loeffler seems much more motivated by the desire to score cheap political points. But ultimately, only God knows what's really in Kelly Loeffler's heart. All we have to go on are her words — and those paint a pretty ugly picture.