(RNS) — The Rev. Raphael Warnock urged the Progressive National Baptist Convention to keep fighting to protect voting rights as the historically Black denomination held its annual meeting.
“If we don’t check what they’re doing in Georgia, they’ll be able to nullify the votes and the voices of the people after they have already been cast,” Warnock, Georgia’s first Black U.S senator, said in a Wednesday (Aug. 4) keynote banquet speech at the virtual 60th annual gathering.
“This is the delta variant of Jim Crow voting laws. The only inoculation is federal legislation and the only way that happens is for God’s people to stand up. So thank you, Progressive, for standing up. Thank you for bearing witness to God’s love and God’s justice in the world.”
The PNBC is considered the “spiritual home” of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and formed as a breakaway group from the National Baptist Convention in 1961 after the NBC opposed sit-ins and other civil rights protests.
Warnock also is pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, a prominent Atlanta church where King once was a co-pastor.
Prior to Warnock’s remarks, the denomination awarded former Georgia House minority leader Stacey Abrams its Freedom Award for her “unapologetic, unwavering, unyielding and undeniable courage in the face of extreme hostility to protect the voting rights of all people.”
The two other awardees were Jacqui Burton, president of the Conference of National Black Churches, and Harvard University historian Henry Louis Gates Jr., author of the new book “The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song.”
The denominational meeting, which concludes Thursday, has featured a number of discussions about social justice, including not only voting rights but concerns about equitable wages and about debates over critical race theory.
“The minimum wage in 1968 had more purchasing power than the minimum wage in 2021,” said Warnock in his speech, noting how people who clean the floors of churches and hospitals have been deemed “essential” during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Well, if they are essential workers, somebody ought to pay them an essential wage.”
In a panel hosted by PNBC’s Social Justice Commission on Thursday, several leaders in the church countered white evangelicals, including some Southern Baptists, who have opposed critical race theory, an academic theory about systemic racism.
The Rev. Gabby Cudjoe Wilkes said Black Christians should not “drink the Kool-Aid of white evangelical theology” that may cause them to think they cannot emphasize their race as well as their religion. She and her co-pastor husband are leading an August sermon series, “Critical Race Theory & Black Faith,” at their church, Double Love Experience, in Brooklyn, New York.
“Your identity as being a Black Christian says so much about our history,” she said. “And about what we have lived through and thought through and theorized through, and to still be Christian after what they’ve done to us, that is a bold and prophetic statement in and of itself.”
Earlier in the week, the Rev. Frederick Haynes III, a PNBC member, joined other Texas clergy on Tuesday outside the Supreme Court to protest its 2013 ruling that he said “gutted” the Voting Rights Act, freeing states like his “to do the dirt that they’re doing right now.” The 2013 ruling invalidated a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, whose 56th anniversary is on Friday, that would spur a mandatory Justice Department review of new voting regulations in states with a history of voting discrimination.
“Texas still needs to be under pre-clearance, because the children of the parents of those who did not want some people to vote,’” he said on Tuesday, “are now in power, and they’re committed that not all people vote.”
Jack Jenkins contributed to this report.