There was a time when Rev. Samuel Rodriguez was one of the darlings Inside the Beltway. He was one of the new moderate evangelicals who were said to be displacing the bad old Christian Right, ringing in the end of the culture wars, and inaugurating a shining new era of common ground.
But it was not to be.
Much of what was touted as moderation, was not. The epitome of this was Rick Warren, who was cast as the new Billy Graham. But as it turned out, he was a Christian Right Republican partisan; an anti-gay marriage leader, who later lied about it on Larry King Live; a creationist; held to extreme Austrian school economic views; and was supportive of anti-gay legislation in Africa, until he was exposed and forced into changing his position.
And so on.
And then there was Rev.. Samuel Rodriguez. The national media puffed Rodriguez the way they had Warren. He was a new moderate. A bridge builder. One of the leading spokesmen for Latino Christians, well Latino evangelicals, no really all Latinos.
He was part of the 2009 effort to pass off "abortion reduction" as common ground on abortion, when that was really the strategy of the Religious Right since the 90s.
More recently, reporting primarily by Rachel Tabachnick and Greg Metzger forced him to resign from the Isalmo-phobic OaK Initiative, of which he was a co-founder. The liberal group Faith and Public Life, of which he had once been a member of the advisory board, called on him to further explain himself.
But he never did.
For a long shining moment, Rodriguez was someone two presidents looked to for help in bringing people together on immigration. It was his best moment, but it soon darkened. As I reported in The Public Eye a few weeks ago, he proved himself to be an unreliable political partner, even on his best issue.
Shortly after the inauguration of President 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.
Unsurprisingly, this past year he emerged as an adviser to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and promoted Christian Right voter mobilization efforts. He also served as a headliner at Christian Right political rallies, including one in New Mexico that also featured Republican Lt. Governor John Sanchez and militant anti-abortion leader, Fr. Frank Pavone.
Nevertheless, Rodriguez has been able to sustain most of his high level relationships, including serving on the boards of directors of leading evangelical organizations including Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, Christianity Today magazine, and the National Association of Evangelicals itself.
But the bonds may finally be breaking.
In the wake of a detailed expose by Greg Metzger (also posted here, at Daily Kos) Rev. Derrick Harkins, the Faith Outreach director of the Democratic National Committee has disassociated himself from Rodriguez's organization, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Harkins, who has been featured on the NHCLC web site for years, says he was "surprised" that he was still listed as an adviser, and has asked that his name be removed.
At this writing, Harkins is still listed.