The January 5 Senate runoff in Georgia pits two very different candidates against each other. There’s incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler, a pro-Trump business executive. Then there’s Raphael Warnock, a Democrat and senior pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, which has been part of a growing trend of Black churches pushing for environmental justice.
Loeffler has warned that Warnock will turn the U.S. into a socialist country, as reported by Financial Times. Warnock said in a statement that it’s past time to fix “environmental wrongs and provide communities on the frontlines of our climate crisis a voice and a means to fight back against the pollution that threatens their children and families.” In order to achieve “true justice for Black and Brown communities in Georgia and across the country,” he said in the statement, people must address “historic shortcomings by placing equity and justice at the center of federal climate and environmental policy.” He indicated that he planned to do this work in the Senate.
Ebenezer Baptist Church is one of the most famous churches in the country, because Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. served as pastor there. The church was known as a leader in the civil rights movement and has been getting more involved in environmental activism since the early 2000s, when the church’s singles program was transformed into an environmental ministry. Instead of the usual singles activities, participants upgraded the church’s energy efficiency and started community gardens. “We were trying to care for God’s creation,” said Garry Harris, an Atlanta engineer and sustainability entrepreneur who led the singles ministry for more than 10 years.
Warnock has been senior pastor at Ebenezer since 2005. In 2019, he hosted an interfaith meeting at Ebenezer to address climate change. Al Gore and Reverend William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, also participated.
Environmental justice has been coming to the forefront as more people have become increasingly aware of the preponderance of polluting industries in low-income neighborhoods. Black churches often frame climate issues as public health, as congregants may live close to chemical plants, oil refineries or toxic waste dumps. If Warnock wins the runoff, he will have the power to speak up for these communities.
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