(RNS) — Georgia Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Herschel Walker attended a closed-door prayer event at a prominent evangelical church in Atlanta on Tuesday (Oct. 4), huddling with religious supporters a day after he denied allegations he paid for an abortion in 2009.
The event, a “Herschel Walker Prayer Luncheon,” was convened at First Baptist Atlanta, which was once led by prominent evangelical leader the Rev. Charles Stanley. Press was reportedly barred from the event, with an official saying the decision was made by the church and Walker’s campaign.
Kelly Stewart, First Baptist’s director of business operations, told Religion News Service the event was not preplanned, but an Eventbrite invitation for the luncheon was later found online, and it was unclear how long ago it was created. The luncheon came together, she said, because Walker’s campaign “was looking for a place to bring the prayer warriors to gather for Mr. Walker.”
Stewart said the event drew around 240 people and largely consisted of the church’s current pastor, the Rev. Anthony George, asking Walker questions about his faith and “religious liberties.” She said Walker also offered his personal testimony, after which the group prayed over him. Footage of the event shared on social media and found by Word and Way also showed George celebrating the presence of conservative Christian activist Ralph Reed in the crowd.
“Everyone gathered around him and prayed for him and prayed for our country,” Stewart said.
“We did not get into personal things with him,” Stewart said. Facebook videos of the event did not feature George asking Walker about the reporting, although the pastor appeared to allude to it on multiple occasions and also spoke critically of the press.
According to the Daily Beast’s report, the woman, who remained anonymous, shared with the outlet a $575 abortion clinic receipt, an image of a signed $700 personal check from Walker and a “get well” card featuring what appears to be his signature.
Walker denied the allegations on Monday, calling it a “flat-out lie” and threatening to sue the Daily Beast over the article. The outlet has since said it stands by its reporting.
“I can tell you right now, I never asked anyone to get an abortion,” Walker told Fox News host Sean Hannity Monday evening. “I never paid for an abortion — it’s a lie.”
Walker’s campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the event.
First Baptist is one of several churches to have hosted Walker during his campaign this year, including when George appeared with the candidate during worship for a question-and-answer session in front of the congregation. After Walker told George, “I’m not just going to Washington, I’m taking Jesus with me,” the pastor asked the former NFL star about his “pro-life” stance.
“When somebody asks me that question, I say it’s strange, it’s so strange, because I’m a Christian,” Walker replied. He later added: “Did I not say I’m a Christian? That means you’re supposed to be pro-life.”
Walker’s son, Christian Walker, published a series of tweets and videos Monday and Tuesday arguing his father — not the Daily Beast — was lying.
“The abortion card drops yesterday — it’s literally his handwriting on the card. They say they have receipts,” the younger Walker said in one of his videos. “He gets on Twitter. He lies about it. Okay, I’m done. Done. Everything has been a lie.”
Christian Walker, who participated in a campaign event for his father late last year, went on to criticize fellow conservatives who voice support for “family values” but overlook elements of the Georgia candidate’s past, such as reports regarding Herschel Walker’s children: Walker’s son said his father “wasn’t in the house” raising four children conceived with “four different women,” but was instead “out having sex with other women.”
“I don’t care about someone who has a bad past and takes accountability. But how DARE YOU LIE and act as though you’re some ‘moral, Christian, upright man,’” Christian Walker tweeted. “You’ve lived a life of DESTROYING other peoples lives. How dare you.”
Herschel Walker appeared to respond to his son on Twitter Monday night, saying, “I LOVE my son no matter what.”
Despite the criticism, many prominent Republicans and conservative groups are standing by Walker’s candidacy, according to NBC.
In the wake of the Supreme Court decision earlier this year overturning Roe v. Wade, effectively returning the question of abortion access to the states, abortion has proven to be one of several issues motivating voters across the country in the lead-up to the midterm elections next month — including in Georgia. According to a poll conducted by the Atlanta Journal Constitution in September, 48% of respondents said they are more likely to back a candidate who would support abortion rights. Meanwhile, only 25% of likely voters said they’re more likely to vote for a candidate who wants to limit abortion — although that number was nearly half among Republicans (47%).
Walker’s Democratic opponent, pastor and current U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, has publicly expressed support for abortion rights and identified as a “pro-choice pastor.”
This story has been updated.