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President Biden delivered a sermon at MLK's church

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

President Biden visited Atlanta on Sunday to honor Martin Luther King Jr. on what would have been the civil rights leader's 94th birthday. Biden spoke at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King was once pastor. The speech drew parallels between King's civil rights mission and Biden's own domestic agenda. NPR's White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez traveled with the president.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD IS HERE")

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing) The presence of the Lord is here.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: President Biden was standing on the dais as the chorus sang. Georgia Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor of the church, joked the service may be a bit different than what the president is used to.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAPHAEL WARNOCK: He is a devout Catholic. This Baptist service might be a little bit rambunctious and animated.

(LAUGHTER)

WARNOCK: But I saw him over there clapping his hands.

ORDOÑEZ: Warnock said Biden is the only sitting president to deliver the church's sermon on Sunday morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WARNOCK: Mr. President, the choir is going to warm it up for you. That's how we Baptists do.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IF I CAN HELP SOMEBODY")

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing) And my living shall...

ORDOÑEZ: Biden then launched into a sermon, likening King's fight for civil rights to his own fight for his political agenda.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: And I believe Dr. King's life and legacy show us the way. And we should pay attention.

ORDOÑEZ: He repeatedly quoted King's words and used them when speaking about his priorities to defend democracy and revive stalled voting rights legislation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: The goal of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which Dr. King led, stated it clearly and boldly, and it must be repeated again now, to redeem the soul of America.

ORDOÑEZ: But Cliff Albright, the co-founder of Black Voters Matter, says words are not enough. He said he wants the president to use his executive authority to do more to protect minority voters.

CLIFF ALBRIGHT: We don't just need the speech. We need it to be followed up with actions.

ORDOÑEZ: But Biden has repeatedly said that Congress needs to take the next step. And he told members of the congregation that they need to stay positive.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: Like Dr. King was optimistic. Folks, as I said, progress is never easy. But redeeming the soul of the country is absolutely essential.

ORDOÑEZ: He said they must choose to be believers, to be unafraid and to always keep the faith.

Franco Ordoñez, NPR News, Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.