As senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, the Rev. Raphael Warnock has played up his connection on the Georgia Senate campaign trail to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., but Alveda C. King is having none of it.
Ms. King, an evangelist, a pro-life leader and the niece of the civil-rights icon, has challenged Mr. Warnock’s claim to the King mantle, arguing that her legendary uncle would have recoiled at the Democratic Senate candidate’s embrace of unfettered abortion rights.
“You’re not going to pretend that the King family legacy is the same thing as what you’re promoting,” Ms. King said about Mr. Warnock in an interview with the Washington Times.
“If you’re a pastor, you must stand for Christian values first and foremost, so politics cannot supersede what the holy Bible says,” she said. “I’m very convinced that he’s manipulating his pulpit, the Bible, and everything else.”
A Georgia resident, she has joined Black civil-rights leaders and pro-life advocates for a campaign called Not On My Watch, holding prayer rallies and marching earlier this month to Mr. Warnock’s campaign office to deliver letters. The campaign locked the door, as shown on video.
She spoke at a CatholicVote get-out-the-vote rally last week with pro-life leader Abby Johnson; participated in a Keep America America Action Fund bus tour with John Pence, Vice President Mike Pence’s nephew; teamed up with the Frederick Douglass Foundation on a voter guide; and signed a letter from more than two dozen Black church leaders to Mr. Warnock about his support for abortion.
“As a Christian pastor and as a Black leader, you have a duty to denounce the evil of abortion, which kills a disproportionate number of Black children,” said the Dec. 11 letter. “Your open advocacy of abortion is a scandal to the faith and to the Black community.”
Mr. Warnock, who calls himself a pro-choice pastor, reiterated his stance on abortion at the Dec. 6 Senate debate against Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, saying “I have a profound reverence for life and an abiding respect for choice.”
“The question is, whose decision is it?” asked Mr. Warnock. “I happen to think that a patient’s room is too small a place for a woman, her doctor and the U.S. government. I think there’s too many people in the room.”
His position on abortion is one thing, but his repeated references to Martin Luther King on the campaign trail and in fundraising pleas, along with headlines referring to him as “heir to MLK’s pulpit,” have Ms. King worried about the integrity of the King family legacy.
That heritage includes her uncle as well as her father, the Rev. A.D. King, and her grandfather, the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., all of whom were pastors at Ebenezer Baptist Church, or what she calls “historic Ebenezer.”
She made it clear that she does not speak for MLK’s children, but that “Ebenezer Baptist Church goes beyond Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. That’s the King family legacy, and I can speak to that.”
The original church building is now part of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park. She describes the current church, which added the 1,700-seat Horizons sanctuary in 1999, as Horizons Ebenezer.
Since Mr. Warnock became senior pastor in 2005, she said, the church has embraced what she calls a progressive “social gospel.”
“It has become extremely liberal. It wasn’t always,” said Ms. King. “That’s the difference between the historic Ebenezer and the Horizons Ebenezer. It’s not just a different building. It’s a different mindset. It’s a different theology — totally different. It is not the theology of the three King preachers. It’s not.”
She worried that Mr. Warnock would “misuse the Bible to defend indefensible positions,” citing his criticism from the pulpit of Israel as well as his support for the Equality Act, which would require schools to allow transgender participation in women’s and girls’ athletics.
“Raphael Warnock supports males competing in female sports,” Ms. King said. “I promise you my daddy, granddaddy and uncle would not be saying that. They just would not.”
Debate has long raged over where MLK stood on abortion, which was not made a constitutional right or become a defining political issue until the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, well after his 1968 assassination. Terms such as “pro-life” and “pro-choice” did not exist then, and, as far as anyone knows, MLK never directly addressed the issue in public.
Ms. King, the director of civil rights for the unborn for Priests for Life, argued that her uncle’s statements on other subjects make it clear that he opposed abortion.
“If you read any of Martin Luther King Jr.’s writings, his messages, if you listen to them, you’ll find out he said that the Negro cannot win if he’s willing to sacrifice the futures of his children for immediate personal comfort and safety,” said Ms. King. “That’s what Martin Luther King Jr. said.”
In addition, “Martin Luther King Jr. said injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Martin Luther King Jr. said when you value the human personality, you won’t kill anybody,” she said. “Now, look at these ultrasounds. You see the human personalities of every baby in the womb.”
The strongest evidence to the contrary is Coretta Scott King’s 1966 speech to Planned Parenthood. In accepting the organization’s first Margaret Sanger Award on behalf of her husband, Mrs. King made repeated statements in favor of family planning.
“Like all poor, Negro and white, they have many unwanted children,” said Mrs. King in the speech, which is posted on the Planned Parenthood website. “This is a cruel evil they urgently need to control. There is scarcely anything more tragic in human life than a child who is not wanted.”
Planned Parenthood said that Mrs. King “delivered her husband’s acceptance speech on his behalf,” while Alveda King argued that the speech and the subsequent thank-you note were not written by her uncle.
“It’s based on that everything he’s ever said or written sounds nothing like it. It’s totally not in his style at all,” she said.
In addition, Planned Parenthood in 1966 was focused on expanding birth control, not providing abortions, according to the Denison Forum.
“At that time the organization was still publishing a pamphlet that stated, ‘Is birth control abortion? Definitely not. An abortion kills the life of a baby after it has begun. It is dangerous to your life and health,’” said Denison in a 2016 post. “The organization supported birth control but opposed abortion and changed its stance on the latter years after Dr. King was assassinated.”
Ms. King knew Mr. Warnock well before the Georgia Senate race. She occasionally attends concerts and other events at Ebenezer, although she no longer belongs to the church.
She said she attended the 2016 wedding of Mr. Warnock and Ouleye Ndoye, whose divorce became official in November. Police camera footage of a March domestic dispute before their divorce shows Mrs. Warnock accusing her husband of running over her foot, which he denied.
“I’ve been prayerful over their relationship from that day forward,” Ms. King said. “Certainly when there’s all of that and when you have children, compassion is needed. But it’s still not good for a man to be that harsh with his wife and the mother of his children. I would say that. There’s never any reason to do that.”
She winced at Mr. Warnock’s sermon honoring Rep. John Lewis, Georgia Democrat, a pivotal civil-rights figure who died in July, which included the line that he was “wounded for America’s transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed.”
That description comes from the Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament, and refers to Jesus Christ.
“Martin Luther King Sr., Martin Luther King Jr., and A.D. King would say Jesus Christ was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities,” said Ms. King. “They did not preach a social gospel. They preached the gospel of Jesus Christ. Raphael Warnock preaches a social gospel.”