Senate runoff race in Georgia thrusts historic Ebenezer Baptist Church into the ...

One of two Senate runoff races in Georgia have thrust the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev Martin Luther King Jr once preached, into the spotlight as its senior pastor Rev Raphael Warnock runs against GOP incumbent, Kelly Loeffler.  

The red-bricked Gothic Revival church has been a monument to the history of African Americans' fight for civil rights and the legacy of an activist icon. But it took a high-stakes Senate race and a -era cultural debate to thrust the church into the center of the current political debate.

Its senior pastor, Rev Raphael Warnock, is running for the Senate in one of two runoff elections that could decide which party ultimately controls Congress in the first years of the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden. 

But Warnock's preaching has become a focal point in the debate about race and justice in the election.

His opponent, Loeffler, has run attack ads using snippets of sermons Warnock preached from Ebenezer's pulpit to accuse him of being a far left, radical socialist who doesn't support police officers or military service members. 

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One of two Senate runoff races in Georgia have thrust the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev Martin Luther King Jr once preached, into the spotlight as its senior pastor, Rev Raphael Warnock (pictured in June), runs for office

vThe red-bricked Gothic Revival church (pictured) has been a monument to the history of African Americans' fight for civil rights and the legacy of an activist icon

vThe red-bricked Gothic Revival church (pictured) has been a monument to the history of African Americans' fight for civil rights and the legacy of an activist icon

For King's former church, the intense spotlight isn't new. Its 6,000 members are accustomed to standing-room only Sunday services, due in large part to the out-of-town visitors who flocked to the church. 

Still, Loeffler's criticisms have renewed attention on a pillar of black life in Atlanta and a tradition of political activism it represents.

'The Republican attack is not just against Warnock, it's against the black church and the black religious experience,' said the Rev Timothy McDonald III, pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta who served as assistant pastor of Ebenezer from 1978 to 1984.

McDonald describes Warnock's views as consistent with the church's opposition to racism, police brutality, poverty and militarism. 

Loeffler's attacks include selectively edited portions of Warnock's sermon in which he decries 'police power showing up in a kind of gangster and thug mentality,' as a criticism of law enforcement practices that have historically driven a wedge between departments and black residents.

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'I don't care what you think about Warnock,' he said. 'We've got to defend our church, our preaching, or prophetic tradition, our community involvement and engagement. We're going to defend that.'

Ebenezer is 'black America's church,' McDonald added. 'It's bigger than any individual.'

Loeffler has responded, saying in a tweet last month that she isn't attacking the black church. 'We simply exposed your record in your own words,' she wrote in a reply to Warnock.

Commonly referred to as 'Martin Luther King's church,' Ebenezer sits in the middle of a national park dedicated to the civil rights icon's life and legacy, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors and tourists annually. 

Warnock's leadership at the church is his chief credential, a position so prestigious some note the US Senate is a step down.

Warnock has continued to preach as he campaigns for office — albeit pre-recorded in an

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