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On the morning after an explosive news report that U.S. Senate hopeful Herschel Walker paid for a girlfriend’s abortion in 2009, the Georgia Republican attended a closed prayer event at First Baptist Church in Atlanta. Journalists who showed up at the church Tuesday (Oct. 4) were told by church staffers they had to leave. But Word&Way found photos and videos shared on social media by attendees that give insights into the campaign event.
The “worship and luncheon with Herschel Walker” had already been planned by “Prayer Warriors for Herschel” before the abortion allegation that Walker denies. As attendees walked in, a welcome sign featuring a smiling Walker announced it as the “Herschel Walker Prayer Luncheon.”
Although churches can open their facilities for campaigns to use under IRS rules governing 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofits like First Baptist Atlanta, the staff wearing their name badges (like Director of Business Operations Kelly Stewart) while keeping reporters away suggests the inappropriate use of church resources to aid a partisan campaign. Stewart inaccurately told Religion News Service the prayer event was not preplanned and insisted it did not cover “personal things” like the abortion story.
In February, the church even welcomed Walker to the stage during Sunday worship to talk with Senior Pastor Anthony George. A key strategy for Walker’s campaign has been speaking during services of megachurches.
George continued his role of helping stump for Walker during Tuesday’s prayer luncheon. In a video shared on Facebook by an attendee, George and Walker are on a stage with Walker campaign signs on either side.
Although George did not explicitly mention the report about Walker paying for an abortion, his comments appeared to reference the news of the day. George said he wasn’t sure how Walker would be today but found Walker and his wife to be “in good spirits today because they know the name of the Lord is a strong tower.” George then read from Psalm 35, which he attributed to King David (though the text doesn’t note authorship).
“O Lord, oppose those who oppose me. Fight those who fight against me. Put on your armor, and take up your shield. Prepare for battle, O God, and come to my aid,” George read. “May those who rejoice at my troubles be humiliated and disgraced. May those who triumph over me be covered with shame and dishonor. But give great joy to those who came to my defense. Let them continually say, ‘Great is the Lord, who delights in my blessing, blessing his servant with peace!’ Then, Lord, I will proclaim your justice, and I will praise you all day long.”
George added, “I want to claim those verses for my friend Herschel Walker.” The crowd, which had said “amen” during the scripture reading, erupted with applause.
Asked by George how people could pray for him, Walker requested prayers for his wife Julie and “all my family that we continue to have the armor of God on and just to fight.”
George then asked those in attendance to gather around Walker and pray for him. Those closest to Walker put their hands on him while others stretched out a hand toward him. As George held the microphone and led a prayer, the crowd frequently shouted “amen” and other statements of agreement.
George started his prayer by thanking God “for allowing us to gather together in this place, in this house of prayer where we can call upon your name.” He said a “storm is raging outside these walls,” but peace comes from God.
“You give us the grace to face any storm that you allow to happen,” George added in his prayer. “And we thank you that before Herschel was born, you knew him by name, you had ordained his life, you had already anointed him to have gifts and talents that would cause him to excel above all others. Your hand of favor has rested upon his life all the days of his life. The good days and the dark and bad days, you have been there.”
George declared in his prayer that Walker “has come back stronger for every setback” and “he’s come back more faithful for every fight that he’s had to face.” He added that Walker “wants to glorify” God, be true to the Bible, and “wants to do what’s right for our country.”
“Lord, we know that this is a battle he’s facing. It’s more vicious than any sports field he’s ever played on. This is the fight of his life, holy God. And we call forth your ministering angels to be his defenders,” George prayed. “And we ask you to rebuke the devil so Satan will not get the victory. And we know whatever the results of this election, Herschel wins because we are more than conquerors through him that loves us. So, we thank you that we can support our fellow conqueror, our brother, our friend, the one that we are praying for today.”
George also prayed for a “protective hedge” around Walker’s wife “as she stands by her man.” And he added that the Walkers had “heard the call and they said, ‘Here I am, Lord. Send me.’”
As George continued praying, he also criticized the media for allegedly “circling this property, trying to sneak into this event just to feed the tabloids and the headlines.” But George added he wasn’t worried about the media because “we are standing on holy ground and you are our defender, you are our shield and buttress.”
In another Facebook video from the event, George highlighted some people present, including religious-political activist Ralph Reed. George then interviewed Walker, highlighting Walker’s personal life. Again alluding to the day’s news, George said, “God knew we would be having this meeting today. God knew exactly what would be going on. God knew exactly what people were going to be talking about. And so today we face an obstacle, but obstacles are no stranger to you.” He then asked Walker to talk about overcoming obstacles in life.
“God has prepared me for a moment like this” Walker said. “Jesus is with me and no weapon formed against me shall prosper.”
The repeated chorus of “amen” throughout the event indicated that those present remained committed in their support for Walker despite the latest allegation. Early comments on social media confirmed this sentiment.
Debbie Dooley, an influential Republican activist who cofounded the Atlanta Tea Party, wrote on Twitter after the luncheon: “I attended the prayer luncheon for the next Senator from Georgia @HerschelWalker. Big crowd and we gave Herschel a standing ovation. The hit piece on Herschel backfired spectacularly. Grassroots across Georgia are more determined than ever to elect Herschel.” She also tweeted a photo of herself and Walker at the event in front of an American flag graphic. In a video recorded after she returned home, Dooley called it “an enormously successful” event.
“I heard Herschel give his personal testimony,” she added. “There were folks at our table that were just so moved by his testimony that they started crying because it was just so emotional in the room.”
Dooley insisted the news story about Walker’s abortion “has backfired spectacularly because we know that Herschel Walker is a devout Christian.” She added, “I have complete faith and confidence in Herschel Walker. He is a good man!”
While those who prayed, applauded, and shouted “amen” for Walker at First Baptist Atlanta remain supportive, Walker’s son Christian on Monday evening turned against his father’s campaign.
“I don’t care about someone who has a bad past and takes accountability,” the younger Walker wrote in one of several tweets. “But how DARE YOU LIE and act as though you’re some ‘moral, Christian, upright man.’ You’ve lived a life of DESTROYING other peoples lives. How dare you.”
Walker is running against Sen. Raphael Warnock, who is senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.