Biden delivers sermon inspired by Reverend Martin Luther King’s legacy: ‘Now is the time to choose’


Joe Biden delivered a speech Sunday from the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, becoming the first sitting president to deliver a Sunday sermon from the historic church where civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. pastored until his assassination in 1968.

“You’ve been here 136 years — I know I look like it, but you haven’t,” Biden joked, calling King “my only political heroes” since entering public office.

In remarks from the pulpit, the president referred to the current moment in American history as “the moment of choice.”

“Are we a people who choose democracy over autocracy? You couldn’t ask that question 15 years ago, could you? You would have thought that democracy was established – not for African Americans, but democracy as an institutional structure was established. But it’s not, it’s not,” he said.

“We must choose community over chaos. Are we the people…will we choose love over hate? These are the vital issues of our time, and the reason why I am here as your president, I believe. Dr. King’s life and legacy show us the way, and we need to heed it,” Biden said.

He praised King and his legacy, noting that the civil rights pioneer “was born into a nation where segregation was a tragic reality.”

Biden’s visit came amid a steady drip of revelations related to his handling of classified documents after his tenure as vice president. The White House has come under increasing criticism for its lack of transparency with the public regarding the discovery of classified documents at Biden’s home and his former private office. Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel to take over the investigation into classified documents found at the two locations linked to Biden.

Biden was invited to speak on Sunday by the current pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, on what would have been King’s 94th birthday. Warnock was recently elected to a full six-year term following an election in which he distanced himself from Biden on the campaign trail in Georgia, where polls showed a majority of voters disapproved of the President’s professional performance.

At church, Biden spoke about King’s legacy and a number of issues, including civil and voting rights.

“He had every reason to believe, like others of his generation, that history had already been written, that divisiveness was America’s destiny — but he rejected that outcome,” Biden said. “Very often when people hear of Dr. King, people think that his ministry and the movement was mostly about the epic fight for civil rights and the right to vote. But we would do well to remember that his mission was something even deeper – it was spiritual. It was moral.”

The speech also came as the president is set to make a decision on his political future with his advisers preparing plans for a possible re-election bid. Biden narrowly toppled Georgia in 2020, buoyed by support from black voters, and the state could prove critical in next year’s presidential campaign.

Ahead of Biden’s trip to Georgia, Keisha Lance Bottoms, the White House’s senior adviser for public engagement and former mayor of Atlanta, called the visit an “inflection point” as the suffrage agenda President remains stuck in Congress.

“If you’ve been through the East Wing, you’ve seen the pictures of Dr King meeting Lyndon Johnson, meeting other civil rights leaders, chopping up voting rights in the White House – and therefore the fact that we’re still here talking about this in 2023, I think it really shows that we need action, we need this action from Congress,” Bottoms said.

“The president has done and will continue to do everything he can do within his executive powers, but there is not much he can do. We need Congress to act,” she added.

A Democratic-controlled House passed a suffrage bill in 2021, but attempts by Senate Democrats to change filibuster rules to pass the legislation failed amid opposition from moderate Democrats . Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. Sinema has since gone independent, while continuing to caucus with Democrats, and Republicans took control of the House after November’s midterm elections, further dashing hopes of a compromise on voting rights.

Bottoms defended the administration’s handling of the voting rights issue, telling reporters on Friday that the Biden White House had “done everything we could do on the executive’s part,” but if there is had additional measures that would advance the problem, “we welcome these suggestions. .”

While in Atlanta, Biden was scheduled to meet with members of the King family and civil rights organizations, the White House said.

King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968 at the age of 39.

On Monday, when the nation honors King on his namesake holiday, Biden will deliver the keynote address at the National Action Network’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Breakfast in Washington, D.C., at the invitation of the Reverend Al Sharpton.

This story has been updated.


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