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Joe Biden delivered a sermon on Sunday at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, becoming the first sitting president to do so at the church where Martin Luther King Jr. was a pastor.
“I’ve spoken before Parliament, kings, queens, leaders of the world — I’ve been doing this for a long time,” Biden said. “But this is intimidating.”
King served as a pastor of the historic church until his assassination in 1968 at the age of 39. Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock, who is the church’s current pastor, invited the president to deliver the sermon on what would have been King’s 94th birthday.
“Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a nonviolent warrior for justice, who followed the word, and the way, of his lord and his savior,” Biden said. “On this day of remembrance, we gather at Dr. King’s cherished Ebenezer.”
During the speech, which lasted for roughly 25 minutes, Biden touched on both King’s faith and his commitment to equality. The president said he felt “humbled” to achieve the historic milestone. He spoke about King’s legacy and called the reverend one of his heroes.
But the sermon quickly turned political, as Biden discussed economic issues and voting rights.
“This is a time of choosing of the direct choices we have,” Biden continued. “Are we a people who choose democracy over autocracy?”
Prior to the sermon, Biden released a proclamation on Friday, reflecting on the holiday and similarly touching on voting rights and health care. Biden said his administration is calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act.
“In keeping with Dr. King’s campaign for economic justice and the rights of workers, my Administration is striving to make the American Dream a reality for every family,” Biden said in the proclamation.
During his speech, Biden said that “the battle for the soul of this nation” continues today. He discussed a range of current affairs including the recent appointment of the Supreme Court’s first Black female justice and the political turmoil in Brazil.
Biden concluded his speech by describing a bust of King that currently lies in the Oval Office, reiterating that King is one of his inspirations. There is also another bust in his office, according to Biden, of Rosa Parks. The president once again asked listeners to continue to work toward the country’s progress.
“Folks, for God’s sakes, this is the United States of America,” Biden said. “There’s nothing beyond our capacity if we set our mind to it.”
Biden’s sermon comes amid news that the Department of Justice is investigating the president after classified documents were found at his Washington, D.C. office and Delaware home. Biden also recently completed his first visit to the U.S.-Mexico border as president, while Republicans continue to spar with the Biden administration over its immigration policy.