As the media has focused on the Hispanic electorate in the wake of the latest Pew Survey showing that Latinos generally favor marriage equality in about the same proportion as the rest of the population, but evangelical Latinos do not -- I thought I would reprise a version of my recent post on the not so moderate Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, a go to guy for both parties when it comes to immigration. Less well known is that he is also a fierce opponent of marriage equality and abortion rights and a leader in the Christian Right. He is also a Republican partisan, his media image not withstanding. Here is part of my recent essay about him.
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, executive director of the Sacramento-based National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, is regularly tapped by national media outlets like CNN and The New York Times as the leading voice of Latino evangelicals and has been treated accordingly by both major political parties. From 2007 to 2009, he was a columnist for the Washington Post’s On Faith section online, and he frequently appears on NPR’s “Tell Me More.” He is a member of the boards of some of the leading organizations of evangelicalism – Christianity Today magazine, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, and the National Association of Evangelicals.
But he is not nearly the evangelical moderate that he is presented as being.
The 42-year-old Puerto Rican evangelist often describes himself as a cross between Billy Graham and Martin Luther King, Jr. “with a little salsa tossed in.” He describes Latino evangelicals the same way, with the same joke, and has for years. The humor takes the edge off of the grandiosity, but leaves little doubt about his sense of destiny for himself and the people he seeks to lead towards a distinctly conservative Christian America. He is, in fact, a leader of the Christian Right who says he is not. He is a partisan Republican who claims not to be. And he is conservative on just about everything but immigration policy.
Yet when the Democrats and the Obama White House woo him, for instance to back the Supreme Court candidacy of Sonia Sotomayor or serve on the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, they elevate his influence, his power to oppose LGBT marriage, and even Obama’s own reelection.
The Silence of the Lamb
“This is a justice movement,” he is fond of saying. “This is what makes us different. We've never seen this before. We've never seen a movement that is black, white, brown, yellow, committed to both the vertical and the horizontal, that can reconcile Dr. Billy Graham with Martin Luther King, Jr., that is committed to both righteousness and justice.” But justice, by any standard definition, can be hard to find in the world according to Rodriguez.
He calls this intersection between Graham and King “the agenda of the Lamb.” Using the metaphor of the cross, Rodriguez views Graham as representing the “vertical agenda” of holiness and faith values while King represents the “horizontal agenda” of social justice. The Lamb’s agenda, he says, requires both. This bold invocation of historic figures and the bars of the cross is part of what makes Rodriguez a compelling figure, and why he is viewed as a bridge-builder. But on closer examination there seems to be little of the social justice advocacy of Dr. King in this man’s activities, political and otherwise. Indeed, when we set aside the parsing of the metaphors, we see that he is deeply involved in the promotion of a Christian Right worldview, and is engaged in Republican voter mobilization, the results of which inevitably leave even immigration reform behind.
His group, NHCLC, purports to represent more than 34,000 churches comprising some 16 million people. Founded in 2001 by Latino leaders in the Pentecostal denomination Assemblies of God, the name echoes the Southern Christian Leadership Conference once headed by Dr. King. The organization’s evangelical constituency and leadership are interdenominational, and Pentecostal or charismatic, but the group also seeks to engage charismatic Catholics. Like Rodriguez himself, the organization claims to seek to address a broader agenda than the usual Christian Right fare.
The organization is, however, small and low-budget. While it has many prominent partners and well publicized efforts to promote comprehensive immigration reform, it has few organizational activities. NHCLC’s reach, too, may be exaggerated. Journalist Sarah Posner points out the NHCLC’s numbers may be grossly inflated since only 6.5 million Latinos in the United States, about 13 percent of the country’s Latinos population, identify as evangelical, according to data collected by the Pew Hispanic Center.
But it is also true that the NHCLC’s core constituency is growing. A 2007 Pew study found that Pentecostal and charismatic "renewalism" is three times more prevalent among Latinos than it is among non-Latinos. What’s more, a majority of Latino Catholics describe themselves as charismatics. This makes Rodriguez’s claim to be the spokesman for this growing constituency all the more deserving of greater scrutiny.
Rodriguez's main claim to fame is his work with two presidents towards greater fairness in U.S. immigration policy. He has gone so far as to publicly denounce nativism, xenophobia and mean-spiritedness among elements of the conservative movement and of the Republican Party. However, in addition to conventional Christian and human rights reasons for a more just policy towards immigration policy and immigrants, Rodriguez also has controversial motives. He sees, for example, the immigration of evangelical Christian Latinos as part of the salvation and replenishment of Christian America, and as a bulwark against Islam. Perhaps most revealing is how, for Rodriguez, immigration is nevertheless a decidedly secondary concern. Shortly after the inauguration of President Barack Obama in early 2009, for example, Rodriguez participated in the creation and release of a highly publicized document, Come Let Us Reason Together: A Fresh Look at Shared Cultural Values Between Evangelicals and Progressives. The several signatories announced they had crafted a “Governing Agenda” proposal for the new Democratic president and Congress, including “creating secure and comprehensive immigration reform.” But only a few months later Rodriguez told Charisma magazine that he believed NHCLC had “misplaced its priorities by emphasizing immigration over the sanctity of life and traditional marriage.”
“Immigration is one of God's values,” Rodriguez said. “But when we have to prioritize, if we are faithful to life and marriage, God's going to be faithful to making sure we get comprehensive immigration reform." Rodriguez's comment came on the occasion of his joining Democratic State Senator Reuben Diaz (who is also a Pentecostal minister) in rallying Hispanic Christians against marriage equality in New York.
“This is not an issue of equality,” Rodriguez said regarding marriage equality on a radio show in May 2012. “There is an attempt to silence the voice of Christianity, there is an attempt to silence the voice of truth, of righteousness and Biblical justice.
Although the Lamb’s Agenda is supposed to require both bars of the cross, Rodriguez said, “We must vote vertical. We must look at our legislators and those that represent us on Capitol Hill and say, ‘Religious liberty, the family, biblical marriage and life, must stand protected.”
As off message as it sounds for those who view him as a bridge-builder, Rodriguez's real views should come as no surprise. A frequent headliner at Christian Right political conferences, Rodriguez was featured, for example, at regional election year conferences hosted by veteran Christian Right televangelist James Robison in the summer of 2012. At the Dallas conference, which drew some 7,000 participants, Rodriguez declared: “The 21st century stands poised to experience the greatest transformative Christian movement in our history.” He denounced such demonic spirits as Jezebel, which he says push people into “sexual perversion,” and the spirit of Herod, which he says is responsible for abortion. “This movement will affirm biblical orthodoxy,” he declared. “It will reform the culture. It will transform our political discourse.This article originally appeared in The Public Eye, published by Political Research Associates.