Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock congratulate each other on their senate wins. Photo: @raphaelwarnock on Instagram

As the first first Black U.S. senator from the state of Georgia, Reverend Raphael Warnock is the youngest pastor ever named to the senior pastor role at Ebenezer Baptist Church, the church in Atlanta where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. served as co-pastor with his father until his assassination in 1968. Warnock has been the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist since 2005.

He grew up in Kayton Homes public housing in Savannah with 11 brothers and sisters. Warnock found inspiration in his mother, Verlene Warnock, a former tobacco and cotton sharecropper. Both of Warnock’s parents are Pentecostal pastors. Warnock’s father Jonathan Warnock also inspired him, as he was a World War II veteran, businessman and preacher. The impact his father had on him can he seen through Warnock’s advocacy for veterans and military families.

Warnock is the first Georgia democrat to win a statewide contest since 2006. Throughout his campaign, Warnock advocated to enact new voting rights legislation, expand affordable and quality healthcare and boost public health funding for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Warnock attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, graduating cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology in 1991. He went on to earn Master of Divinity, Master of Philosophy and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from Union Theological Seminary in New York. He strongly supports educational financial aid due to his experience with low interest student loans when in college, according to The Washington Post.

Along with educational aid, Warnock supports the Affordable Care Act, designed to give millions of uninsured Americans the ability to purchase affordable health insurance and to prevent insurers for denying care due to preexisting conditions. He also is a proponent of expanding Medicaid, the federal and state program that provides financial assistance for medical care for those with limited incomes. Warnock also hopes to protect voting rights through the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, supporting efforts to make election day a federal holiday and increasing training and resources for state election officials and volunteers. 

According to the New York Times, Warnock is not afraid to address and take action on uncomfortable issues. In 2007, Warnock used his pulpit to support the release of a young Black man from prison who was serving a 10 year sentence for a consensual sexual encounter. Despite the decision from a lower court to release the young man, state attorney general Thurbert Baker appealed that verdict. This left Warnock to stand up for his community and make it known that Baker was in the wrong. With this and other instances, Warnock used his preaching to stand up for social justice.

Warnock has long been involved in political advocacy for change in Georgia. In March 2014, Warnock led a sit-in at the Georgia State Capitol to pressure legislators to accept the expansion of Medicaid, leading to his arrest. Warnock chaired the New Georgia Project from June 2017 to January 2020. The nonpartisan organization on voter registration.

Warnock strongly advocates for women’s healthcare and reproductive justice while also protecting the rights of the LGBTQ community, according to his website. Warnock continues to intertwine political activism and ministry, as he explained in his campaign announcement video. “Some might ask why a pastor thinks he should serve in the Senate,” he said. “Well, I’ve committed my whole life to service and helping people realize their highest potential. I’ve always thought that my impact doesn’t stop at the church door. That’s actually where it starts.” As Warnock seeks to give voice to the pressing concerns of Georgia, he plans to remain in the pulpit for sermons on Sunday morning at Ebenezer.

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