A coalition of more than 100 Black pastors in Georgia blasted unelected Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler over the weekend, arguing in an open letter that her recent attacks on Democratic opponent Rev. Raphael Warnock amounted to an affront on the Black church.
"We call on you to cease and desist your false characterizations of Reverend Warnock as 'radical' or 'socialist,' when there is nothing in his background, writings or sermons that suggests those characterizations to be true, especially when taken in full context," the religious leaders said in the letter. "We see your attacks against Warnock as a broader attack against the Black Church and faith traditions for which we stand."
Early voting is already underway for the Loeffler-Warnock matchup next month, one of two runoffs in The Peach State that will together determine which party controls the U.S. Senate. After President-elect Joe Biden's upset win in Georgia last month, outside groups have flooded the swing state with money and ads.
The Loeffler campaign has recently targeted Warnock's patriotism, highlighting a 2011 sermon in which he said that "nobody can serve God and the military" — a variation on the biblical verse that "no one can serve two masters." In a debate earlier this month, the former financial executive called Warnock a "radical liberal" more than a dozen times, while declaring "There is not a racist bone in my body."
The letter called such criticism "naked hypocrisy," asking Loeffler "what can be more radical, more seditious" than her support for the Trump campaign's nearly 60 post-election lawsuits, a great many of which would have disenfranchised countless Black voters.
"Through your silence you demonstrated your disdain for Black elected officials and Black Lives Matter marches," the pastors wrote in the letter. "You characterized these campaigns as mobs and lawlessness but remained silent on the antics of the Proud Boys and Wolverine Watchmen," they added, referencing the militia group that plotted to kidnap and kill Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. They called for Loeffler, who had months ago characterized perceived attacks on Amy Coney Barrett's faith as "disgusting," to "cease and desist" her criticism of Warnock's ministry.
Warnock, the senior pastor at Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church — Martin Luther King Jr's pulpit — endorsed the letter.
"My faith is the foundation upon which I have built my life," he said in a tweet. "It guides my service to my community and my country. [Loeffler's] attacks on our faith are not just disappointing — they are hurtful to Black churches across Georgia."
Loeffler responded in a tweet, saying, "No one attacked the Black church."
"We simply exposed your record in your own words," the appointed Senator wrote. "Instead of playing the victim, start answering simple questions about what you've said and who you've associated yourself with. If you can't — you shouldn't be running for U.S. Senate."
Loeffler recently drew backlash for appearing in a photo with Chester Doles, a white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan imperial wizard with extensive ties to the neo-Nazi movement.
"Kelly had no idea who that was, and if she had she would have kicked him out immediately because we condemn in the most vociferous terms everything that he stands for," Stephen Lawson, a Loeffler campaign spokesperson, explained to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Doles, however, had been thrown out of a Loeffler campaign event in September — not by Loeffler's campaign, but by Rep.-election Marjorie Taylor Greene, who caught fire for his attendance at one of her campaign events earlier that year.
Warnock has also seen recent criticism from faith leaders. Earlier this month, two dozen conservative Black pastors called on Warnock, a "pro-choice pastor," to reverse his position on abortion, and last week a group of Orthodox rabbis published an open letter criticizing his past statements on Israel, such as comparing Israel's military occupation of the West Bank to South Africa's occupation of Namibia during apartheid.
GOP Rep. Doug Collins, who has flipped to backing Loeffler after losing to her in the state's "jungle primary" on Nov. 3, responded to the conservative ministers by alluding to Warnock's church as the "bed of hell."
"There is no such thing as a pro-choice pastor," Collins said at a Loeffler campaign event. "What you have is a lie from the bed of hell. It is time to send it back to Ebenezer Baptist Church."
Loeffler responded to the rabbis with an open letter of her own, in which she once again called Warnock "radically liberal."
Jewish leaders in Georgia came to Warnock's side.
"The recent attacks against Rev. Warnock misrepresent his position on Israel," Rabbi Peter Berg, head of Atlanta's oldest Jewish congregation, The Temple, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
In contrast to Loeffler, Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., who is locked in Georgia's other Senate runoff, has created distance between himself and the contest, steering clear of cameras and even refusing to show for a debate against Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff.
Ahead of the general election, Perdue, who once asked a Black voter about chicken and Herman Cain, was dragged for mocking Sen. Kamala Harris' name.
The Perdue campaign said he had "simply mispronounced Senator Harris' name, and he didn't mean anything by it."
In July, the Perdue campaign removed an ad that had enlarged the nose of his opponent, who is Jewish, amid criticism that it was anti-Semitic.