On Tuesday (Oct. 4), reporters from national media outlets — including CNN and the New York Times — stood outside First Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, wondering what was occurring inside at a closed prayer event for the embattled campaign of U.S. Senate hopeful Herschel Walker. Later in the day, one outlet broke the news about what Walker and First Baptist Senior Pastor Anthony George said at the event. That publication was A Public Witness.
That means you were among the first people in the country to receive the scoop. Soon, the report that one of us (Brian) wrote was cited by Religion News Service, Baptist News Global, Raw Story, and Current. And Anthea Butler quoted it on MSNBC’s The Reid Out.
Although a pre-planned event, the campaign’s prayer luncheon took on greater significance as it occurred on the morning after The Daily Beast reported that Walker paid for a girlfriend’s abortion in 2009. The woman explained she shared her story because she “just can’t with the hypocrisy anymore” as Walker has said during the campaign that he supports banning all abortions with no exceptions.
Walker quickly denounced the report as “a flat-out lie” and announced he would sue the publication for defamation the next morning. More than two days later, the lawsuit has yet to materialize.
Instead of showing up at court, Walker and his supporters hit predictable religious tones at the First Baptist prayer event. They conflated the election with spiritual warfare, elevated the righteousness of their chosen candidate facing attacks, and cast Walker’s political opponent and journalists on the side of the devil. Of course, Walker’s opponent, Sen. Raphael Warnock, is a Baptist minister across town. And neither Walker nor George denied or directly addressed the news of the day as they prayed for political victory.
But there’s nothing new under the sun. The lying, the scandals, the campaigning in churches, the spiritualizing of a political agenda is all in the playbook for Walker. By taking a step back, we can see a critical issue beyond the media’s focus in this latest controversy. And this story is less about Walker and more about the churches that devoted their worship services to help him run down the electoral field. So, in this issue of A Public Witness, we look at Walker’s religious campaign strategy and his record of dishonesty to consider the danger of churches fumbling their moral witness.