We have to ‘redeem America’s soul,’ says Biden at Martin Luther King Jr.’s church

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden took his battle for the nation’s soul Sunday morning to the pulpit of the historic Atlanta church where Martin Luther King Jr. once led.

Biden, at a service on the late civil rights leader’s birthday, drew on King’s legacy and urged Americans to follow the minister’s example to “redeem” the country and restore faith in its institutions.

“The battle for the soul of this nation is eternal. It is a constant battle. It is a constant battle between hope and fear, kindness and cruelty, justice and injustice against those who deal in racism, extremism and rebellion,” Biden said. “And at best, the American promise wins out.”

President Joe Biden shakes hands with Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., a senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, during a service honoring Martin Luther King Jr.  Sunday in Atlanta.

President Joe Biden shakes hands with Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., a senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, during a service honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday in Atlanta.

A year after making a powerful appeal for voting rights following a visit to King’s spiritual home, Biden returned to Atlanta on Sunday to pay tribute to the late civil rights leader from his pulpit at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

It was Biden’s first trip to Georgia since last January, when he visited Ebenezer and met with King’s family ahead of a speech in support of a series of voting reforms that Democrats are still trying to pass.

He spoke at the request of the Democrats Late. Raphael Warnock, who has been senior pastor at Ebenezer since 2005.

“Now there really are too many elected officials here to name,” Warnock said as he opened the service. “Who but Martin Luther King Jr. can get the President of the United States and everyone else in one place.”

King’s sister, Christine King Farris, Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and Biden senior adviser and former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms are in attendance.

“Mr. President, until the pandemic, she was here every Sunday sitting in that seat. Can you imagine how scary it is to be standing here preaching with Martin Luther King Jr.’s sister?” Warnock teased as he introduced Biden. “You must do that tomorrow.”

Biden later told her, “And by the way, sister, every good man, every good brother needs a really strong, strong sister.”

Warnock, who said he was “inspired” by Biden’s “lifelong commitment to service,” noted that Presidents Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have come to the church, but Warnock said Biden is the first sitting president to deliver. to give the Sunday sermon in the church.

Biden said that speaking to the congregation is “intimidating” and that it was “humbling” to give a sermon at the church once led by King, whom he described as one of his two great political heroes. He said his home state of Delaware was segregated and a slave state to “our great shame”.

“Folks, to the royal family, I know, no matter how many years passed, it doesn’t matter how many years pass, those days of remembrance are difficult. They bring everything back like it happened yesterday. It is difficult for you,” he said and thanked them. “And we love you all.”

Biden said he came to the church because he believes King’s legacy can provide direction for the country amid new struggles with democracy and again raised the prospect of increased federal oversight of state voting laws.

People attend a service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.  at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Sunday.

People attend a service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Sunday.

Lance Bottoms said Friday that the president would talk about the importance of democracy in his remarks at Ebenezer.

“You can’t come to Atlanta and not recognize the role that the civil rights movement and Dr. King played in where we are in our country’s history,” Lance Bottoms, senior adviser for public engagement at the White House, said at a press briefing. “But we still have to push forward. We still have more work to do.”

“It’s a historic church. Anyone who has preached from the pulpit or sat in the congregation understands that Ebenezer has meant a life of purpose, a reminder to fight for suffrage, equality and justice for all,” says veteran Democratic strategist Donna Brazil.

“I wish more Americans had the opportunity to go to Ebenezer, not just to sit and listen to the sermons up in the choir,” Brazile said, “but to commit to the struggle and sacrifice that Dr. King gave his life. to make this a better world, to make this a more perfect union.”

Biden gave his speech in Ebenezer, which boasts a congregation of more than 6,000, on the civil rights leader’s birthday — a federal holiday that will be observed nationally on Monday.

“You should show up and be present at historic moments like this that matter,” said Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. “I had to fight for the royal holiday vote, so I want the president to show up, especially not in an election year.”

Georgia voters last month gave Warnock a full six-year term after previously electing him to fill a two-year Senate vacancy. Biden did not visit the state, a battleground state he narrowly won in 2020, during Warnock’s most recent campaign.

“Congratulations on your historic victory,” Biden told him during his sermon

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Biden is also scheduled to appear at the National Action Network breakfast in Washington, which the Reverend Al Sharpton hosts every year on the third Monday in January.

In remarks about Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy last year, Biden condemned voter suppression, election sabotage and the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

From the common grounds of Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College, Biden pushed lawmakers to pass reforms that would make voting easier.

Biden also supported changes to the filibuster — the procedural mechanism that prevents legislation from reaching the floor if it lacks the support of at least 60 senators — to pass federal ballot laws.

Late.  Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., a senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, speaks at the church on Sunday.

Late. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., a senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, speaks at the church on Sunday.

The vote’s bill stalls in Congress

Senators on both sides of the aisle oppose changing the filibuster, and Biden has been under pressure from progressives to look for additional executive actions his administration can take.

“If there’s more he can do, we welcome those proposals. But as I stand here today, it’s my understanding that we’ve done everything we can do from the executive branch. Now we need Congress to to act,” Lance Bottoms said Friday.

Campbell said civil rights leaders are reevaluating their strategy with Republicans in control of the House now and the filibuster still in place.

“We have a divided Congress now. So how much we can get done, I’m not hopeful right away,” said Campbell, who plans to attend Biden’s remarks in Ebenezer. “We will listen carefully, but also continue to engage the administration as quickly as possible to ensure that we weigh in.”

National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial said civil rights leaders “fought and fought and fought” for voting rights last year, and a ruling was made at the time to privately pressure two Democratic senators who openly opposed eliminating the filibuster. “And it didn’t work.”

“It’s important for Joe Biden to confirm his commitment so people don’t think that because we couldn’t do it, we’re going to stop fighting for it,” said the civil rights leader, who is close to the White House. “So I want to see him fight for the right to vote until hell freezes over. And then I want him to fight on the ice.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden preaches at MLK’s church with Raphael Warnock

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