Rev. Raphael Warnock stood in the pulpit of historic Ebenezer Baptist Church In Atlanta Sunday morning, smiling with the contentment of a man who takes the long view.
Warnock, a newly elected US senator from Georgia, assured the virtual congregation watching via livestream that violence could prevail only temporarily, that good must triumph in the end.
They were words that all of us could stand to hear in the aftermath of the worst week in modern American history. The euphoria that many felt Wednesday morning, in the wake of not one but two Senate wins in Georgia Tuesday, turned out to be short-lived.
By now, everyone knows what unfolded next: the President Trump-incited mob, the siege of the US Capitol, the deaths, the humiliation of the greatest democracy on earth by those who would undo democracy from within.
“As we were basking in the glory of all that [his Senate victory] represented, it seemed like we could only have a few hours to celebrate,” Warnock said. ”The ugly side of our story — our great and grand American story — began to emerge as we saw the crude, and the angry and the disrespectful and the violent break their way into the people’s house.
“Some carrying Confederate flags — signs and symbols of an old world order passing away,” he continued. “The old world order is passing away.”
Warnock, 51, won a narrow victory over Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler. Coupled with Jon Ossoff’s win over David Perdue, the wins give Democrats control over the incoming US Senate.
Warnock will become the first African-American Democrat elected to represent a Southern state in the Senate. His victory — made possible by an unbelievable grass-roots organizing campaign that reached record numbers of Black voters — heralds a new day in Georgia politics.
Even before last week, Warnock had already lived a charmed life, rising from boyhood poverty in Savannah to occupying the pulpit at Ebenezer, the church of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and one of the most famous churches in the world.
He is well aware of the dramatic journey he has traveled and what it represents.
“My mother used to pick somebody else’s cotton,” he said with a grin. “The other day she went to the polls and picked her youngest son to be a United States Senator.”
His historic victory, his stature as the senior pastor at King’s church, and his ability to discuss the issues of hope and equality with so much authority mean he will make an impression in Washington. He already has a national network, here in Boston and beyond, partly through his status as an alumnus of Morehouse College.
Warnock is not naive enough to believe that everyone welcomes this. He placed the blame for Wednesday’s catastrophe squarely on those who are terrified by change, likening them to biblical figures who resorted to violence to maintain power.
“From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence,” Warnock said. “And the violent take it by force.”
And so it is in this moment, where hope and hatred have come to a violent clash that have shaken the foundation of the country.
“Power concedes nothing without a demand,” he said. “So there is victory in this moment, there is violence in this moment, there is fantastic opportunity and fierce opposition, and it reminds us that there is still a whole lot of work to do.”
To say that we have work to do feels like an understatement right now. In fact, we have an insurrection to crush, led by a megalomaniac who remains, for now, in the White House.
Warnock invoked King multiple times on Sunday. In the midst of turmoil and tragedy, King resolutely clung to a faith in America’s better angels.
His successor follows in that tradition: in the conviction that no matter how bad things appear now, we can overcome.
“We must try to embody in our speech the kind of future we want for our children, all of our children,” Warnock said.
“So here’s a question for this day: Do we want to become a more hateful, fearful, divided nation, or build a beloved community?”
This is no time to minimize the danger we face, and Warnock didn’t: “The violence is real. But violence does not have the last word. Violence will never have the last word.”
Hope can push out fear. Love can trump over hate. Right will triumph in the end. That was Warnock’s message on Sunday, and he seemed to offer his own victory as evidence.
“My beloved, keep the faith,” he said in conclusion. “Can’t you see him through the darkness, through all we’ve been through this year? Every now and then God just allows light to pierce the clouds. Just to tell his children to keep on keeping on.”
Better days are coming; that was Warnock’s promise. I hope he’s right about that, and that we see more of that light soon.