U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) goes back to Atlanta every Sunday to lead the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church as senior pastor. He’s currently trying to balance his first full term on Capitol Hill with faith and politics.
The same pews that bore witness to sermons from Martin Luther King, Jr. during the civil rights movement now are filled with congregants and constituents watching a rising Democrat.
“Someone might ask ‘why would a preacher get involved in something as messy as politics?’ I’m a patriot. I love America. Only in America is my story possible. You’re looking at a kid who grew up in public housing. I serve in the United States Senate,” Warnock told CBN News during a congressional recess period when he was back in Georgia.
Warnock is battle tested. His recent re-election victory over opponent Herschel Walker needed a special runoff election to decide the outcome. It was the second time Warnock won under the circumstances in the last two election cycles. He won a special election in 2020 to become Georgia’s first black senator, and the first Democrat elected to represent the Peach State in the U.S. Senate in 20 years.
While the political victories raised his profile, Government wasn’t always part of the plan.
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“I’m a Matthew 25 Christian. ‘In as much as you’ve done unto the least of the these, you’ve done it unto me.’ When you feed the hungry, clothe those who are naked, you visit those who are sick and in prison. And so that’s the work I’ve tried to do as a pastor. And what I’ve found over time is that my ministry at Ebenezer Baptist Church took me into the public square,” he said.
Warnock said his faith drives him when advocating for things like racial justice, reducing gun violence, and expanding healthcare. He frequently prays for and with his fellow members of Congress from both his own party and across the aisle.
One of his top priorities during his first few years in the Senate focused on capping insulin prices for Medicare recipients. The price was capped at $35 as a provision of the Inflation Reduction Act passed last year. He’s now pushing a bipartisan effort to get the drug price capped for people with private insurance.
Warnock and U.S. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) are the upper chamber’s only two ordained ministers. There are three in the House. While the scriptures they read from are from the same book, the partisan divides remain on a variety of topics with none more evident than the issue of abortion.
Warnock labels himself as a pro-choice pastor.
“I mean my faith is so basic to who I am. I don’t feel the need to defend my Christian identity. I’m a man of faith. I love the Lord with all my heart, my soul, my mind, and my strength. Christians have a whole range of differences on a whole range of issues. And for me the acid test of your faith is the depth of your commitment to the most marginalized members of the human family,” he explained.
“My stance as a pro-choice pastor is not in spite of my Christian identity it’s because of my Christian identity. I believe in human agency, and I believe in choice. I have a deep reverence for life, profound reverence for life. And I have a respect for choice,” the Georgia senator told CBN News.
To Warnock, having the freedom to choose also means the government should be supporting women and families faced with difficult decisions on unplanned pregnancies. He sponsored a bill with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) aimed at improving maternal mortality rates. He’s also advocated for expanding the child tax credit that aids low income families.
“Senator Rubio and I don’t agree on the reproductive choice question. But, if the issue is life, what we both recognize is that this country’s maternal mortality rate is criminally high. And it’s something we can actually do something about,” Warnock said.
“The question is who’s choice is it? And I still believe a patient’s room is still too small and cramped a space for a woman, her doctor, and the United States government. And I think as we’re seeing this debate play out right now there is diversity on that point even inside the Evangelical Christian community,” he said.
Warnock has proven his brand of sermons and service can win in a new political battleground in Georgia. It’s not too early for pundits to toss his name around when talking about future presidential candidates, but it’s too early for him to consider it.
“Look, we need all kinds of people serving in all kinds of places, but right now I’m focused on serving the people of Georgia. And I still every few days pinch myself because I can’t believe I get to do this work. And I’m looking forward to serving the people of Georgia for a long time,” he said.