"He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water." Isaiah 49:10

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Bill Moyers Interview with Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference

February 8, 2008
BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the JOURNAL.
Mike Huckabee came out of super Tuesday wearing the shiny buckle of the Bible Belt. On the strength of born-again evangelical Christians he carried West Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and his home state Arkansas.

NEWS COVERAGE OF HUCKABEE: President of the United States of America. Thank you! God bless you! Thank you!

BILL MOYERS: But elsewhere he didn't do as well. Exit polls show he received only about a third of born-again Christian votes across the country -- about the same as John McCain and Mitt Romney. A strong reminder that evangelicals are a far more diverse group of believers than you might think from just watching Huckabee and his homogenous Southern Baptists.
Hispanic evangelicals, for example. Not only are Hispanics the fastest-growing group of voters, they're the fastest growing group of evangelical Christians. At least 8 million Hispanics identify themselves as evangelicals. In 2004 two out of three of them supported President Bush --almost double the number from the year 2000. But this year their votes are up for grabs, and that's why the reverend Samuel Rodriguez was recently identified by NEWSWEEK magazine as a new leader to watch.

Reverend Rodriguez is President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, which claims 18,000 churches as members. No wonder he's being courted by both Republicans and Democrats. He is here with me now in the studio. Good to have you.

SAM RODRIGUEZ: Thank you for having me

BILL MOYERS: What excites you about this year?

SAM RODRIGUEZ: The 2008 election is the convergence-- it's the nexus of those dynamic threads of the American political experience. It's about sex, gender, Hillary Clinton. It's race, Senator Obama. It's faith, Mike Huckabee, evangelicalism. And it's the military. It's the four dynamic threads of the American political landscape and American popular culture, all coming together in one election cycle. It's an exciting season.

BILL MOYERS: So many Latino evangelicals supported George W. Bush in 2004, that it really is hard for me to think that you're a wild card, that the Latino vote is up for grabs. But in this exciting year, is that the case?

SAM RODRIGUEZ: The Latino vote will decide who the next President of the United States will be.

BILL MOYERS: You said a year ago-- April, I think it was-- that if the immigration bill that was then before Congress didn't pass, it could be that Latinos would vote Democratic in the next three or four election cycles.

SAM RODRIGUEZ: The Republican Party really had it going on. I mean, they really made significant inroads. Forty-four percent of Latinos voted for George W. Bush in the 2004 elections. I mean, - historically, the African-American community has voted Democratic since 1960, since Coretta Scott King and the call-- and it's 1960, African-Americans. The Latino population, 44 percent, Bush 2004-- all of a sudden, the Republican Party is hijacked de facto, by the Sensenbrenner's and Tancredos. By a nativistic…

BILL MOYERS: Congressmen who were very strongly against immigration reform?

SAM RODRIGUEZ: Right. And we're all in favor of border protection and securing the borders, of course. But however, what we actually did see in the Republican Party is the emergence of something that subtle in the Republican Party, the xenophobia, American nativism under the guise of border protection and border security. And the amount of polarization — I'm a generation X'er, born in the great republic of New Jersey — I never would have imaged in my lifetime that I would have to prove my citizenship in order to apply for an apartment in Oklahoma, Texas or Arizona. There's an anti-Latino, a nativism, xenophobic spirit emerging out of the Republican Party. As a result of that, the Republican Party will be hard pressed to engage anything close to 25 percent in the 2008 elections. And they may lose the Latino vote for two or three generations.

BILL MOYERS: Mike Huckabee called you, I understand, and asked you to set up a conference call for him with Latino pastors and theologians. Did you do that?

SAM RODRIGUEZ: We did. Mike Huckabee spoke to the national leadership team of our organization. And Huckabee really presented-- Huckabee's considered by many as a quasi, you know, this moderate, maybe liberal on social justice issues. Huckabee successfully addressed issues of alleviating poverty. Darfur, AIDS — Huckabee's addressing these issues.

BILL MOYERS: And he spoke in Arkansas, he spoke for immigration, right?

SAM RODRIGUEZ: Absolutely. Huckabee is not the personification of the Christian right.

BILL MOYERS: All right. So when he says this, what do you think? Quote: I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution. But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God. And that's what we need to do. To amend the Constitution so it's on God's standards, rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat the family. Now, what would you say about that?

SAM RODRIGUEZ: I have a great amount of affinity towards Governor Huckabee. However, I am more of a fan of religious pluralism in America. The notion that America is a Christian nation-- America is a nation that enables us to really serve God, worship God, and exercise our religious belief with freedom. It's religious pluralism that makes us strong. The issue of-

BILL MOYERS: So you wouldn't want to change the Constitution --to reflect the Biblical-

SAM RODRIGUEZ: Well, it would reflect the Biblical God. Or who's definition of Biblical God? Or, you know, what denomination? That enters into a myriad of other issues. I think what we need to look at is the issue of our lifetime globally, is religious totalitarianism, or religious pluralism. And America really needs to present religious pluralism as a viable alternative, not exceptionalism.

BILL MOYERS: How many Latinos are there like you? That is, born again believers?

SAM RODRIGUEZ: Close to 10 million. If you add on the Catholic charismatic group, which identifies themselves as a born again Christian group, it's close to 15 million. And these voices are emerging in every community. There are so many issues in our society that need to be addressed. Not from a Christian right or a Christian left, but from a Christian center. And I do believe — and it's not a messianic presumptuousness — it's more of, I do believe that we're going to really reconcile the white evangelical platform historically, has been on issues of life and marriage.

BILL MOYERS: You mean abortion and-

SAM RODRIGUEZ: Abortion and traditional marriage. The preservation of traditional marriage.
BILL MOYERS: How do you differ from them? I mean, are you for a-- opposed to same sex marriage?

SAM RODRIGUEZ: We- are committed to the sanctity of life, but it's more that it's from the womb to the tomb. I mean, the life platform can't-

BILL MOYERS: You're against the death penalty?

SAM RODRIGUEZ: Personally, I would be. And we have a problem when it's just a life issue right when it's out of the womb. But health care and education are no longer included in the platform of a life agenda And they need to be. we care for the baby while the baby is in the-- in the womb. But after the baby's born, somehow it's you're on your own. That's not truly part of what we interpret to be the Biblical call. And on the issue of marriage, Latinos would be hard pressed to be this emerging voice, a homophobic voice, or a voice that is anti anything in respect to civil unions or rights in the homosexual community.

The Latino community sees the preservation of traditional marriage as the antidote to the proliferation of gang violence in our communities. We know for a fact that if mom and dad are in the home, that these young men and women are going to be hard pressed to be engaged in gangs. Rather not - they would stay at home, they're academically-- the-- the social, economic and educational advancement is directly related to mom and dad being in the home. So to us, it's not a matter of being anti anything. It's a matter of being-- survival for our community.

BILL MOYERS: What about progressive taxation, torture, all these other issues that we're discussing now in terms of large, under the umbrella, social justice? Would you differ from the white evangelicals on this?

SAM RODRIGUEZ: Yes, we would. Because white evangelicals do not in general-- do not see these issues as important issues. As a matter of fact, they'll see them as-

BILL MOYERS: The religious white evangelicals - there are progressive...

SAM RODRIGUEZ: Religious white evangelicals, evangelicals as defined historically in the past 20 years by the Christian right. It's life, meaning abortion, and it's traditional marriage. What about health care, education? What about alleviating poverty? What about AIDS? What about Darfur? What about climate change?

BILL MOYERS: These are all in your agenda?

SAM RODRIGUEZ: These are all part of the Hispanic evangelical agenda. That's why I really believe that we're going to take the righteousness White evangelical platform, and the justice African-American platform, and we're going to reconcile them in the middle, and brown evangelicalism will contextualize that narrative, will tell the story of a balanced gospel narrative that does not adhere to the — for lack of a better term, you know — apostle Limbaugh and prophet Hannity and Bishop Dobs, but will really look at Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and say, here's what the Bible actually expresses in respect to the issues of our time.

BILL MOYERS: For my viewers that don't have a concordance-- Hannity, Sean Hannity, the talk show host. Limbaugh, Rush Limbaugh, and Dobson, brother Dobson, as you say, who is now endorsing Mike Huckabee, because he thinks McCain is too moderate.

SAM RODRIGUEZ: Again, you know, the question is, who do white evangelicals listen to in respect to applying their faith? Let's look at the issue of immigration reform. The group more committed to deporting 12 million people in America are white evangelicals. Now, we have to-- help me out for a second here. These are-

BILL MOYERS: Religious right?

SAM RODRIGUEZ: Religious white evangelicals. But the exit polls and the polling data indicate out of all the groups most staunchly opposed to immigration reform, white evangelicals are right on-- right there on top.

BILL MOYERS: How do you explain that? They're Christians.

SAM RODRIGUEZ: They are-our brothers and sisters.

BILL MOYERS: So how do you explain it?

SAM RODRIGUEZ: That's-- that's-- they're juxtaposed between this issue of the rule of law, of Romans XIII, and of course, the Leviticus nineteen principle, treating a stranger amongst you as one of yourselves. However, the issue is we are Americans. And it-- I'm a Christian first. I'm a Pentecostal. I'm a born again believer. I'm a follower of the teachings of Christ.

BILL MOYERS: I was going to ask you. How-- when you say, "I'm an evangelical Christian," what do you mean?

SAM RODRIGUEZ: I am a born again believer.

BILL MOYERS: That means?

SAM RODRIGUEZ: To me, evangelicalism means born again believer, one who has a-- has experienced a personal encounter. Their lives have been transformed by their commitment to a crucified and resurrected Christ.

BILL MOYERS: Dobson would say that of himself.
SAM RODRIGUEZ: Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: A lot of-- there's a lot of people on the other side of the political fence.

BILL MOYERS: Who'd say, "I'm a born again, committed believer."
SAM RODRIGUEZ: Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: So where do you-- where does the track switch?

SAM RODRIGUEZ: I'm a Christian first.


SAM RODRIGUEZ: I'm an American second.


SAM RODRIGUEZ: That's where the track switches. I think many white evangelicals-- and I say white, and-- and not condescending just to — just for more descriptors for lack of a better term — white evangelicals have placed on the altar of worship the American culture, Americanism. And it's there, right next to the cross. It's-- and sometimes, it supersedes the power of the cross.

I see the cross as a unifying force, not a force that divides, not a symbol that divides, but brings us together. It's a symbol of tolerance and not intolerance, of compromise and reconciliation. And not of xenophobic, not of rejection or refusal. So I think many white evangelicals really see themselves as Americans first and Christians second. I more adhere to a kingdom culture sort of mindset, a re-- a viable Biblical world view would provoke everyone in the evangelical world to see things through the prism of-- from the 1990s, I mean, everyone wore a little wristband - what would Jesus do? It's truly the heart of Christ. It's love of compassion, it's mercy and it's justice.

BILL MOYERS: Who are your heroes?

SAM RODRIGUEZ: Of course. And I say, of course, because it's just a life in the ministry, even from an academic, from an intellectual viewpoint, other than a religious standpoint. Just the passion of the Christ, his life. His narrative. Christ, Jesus.
SAM RODRIGUEZ: Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr.
BILL MOYERS: Wait a minute. Ronald Reagan?
SAM RODRIGUEZ: Hope. I was born in the summer of '69. And when-- throughout my teenage years-- it was right after Vietnam. Reagan really-- even Senator Obama alluded to this and he was pushed back a bit by President Clinton. But he really, you know, it-- he really gave America this message, or conveyed a message of hope. City on a hill, a better day.
BILL MOYERS: And Kennedy?
SAM RODRIGUEZ: Let's shake it off.
BILL MOYERS: You were born after Kennedy.
SAM RODRIGUEZ: John F. Kennedy-
BILL MOYERS: Five years after he was shot.
SAM RODRIGUEZ: I was a history teacher, and I'm a student of history. John F. Kennedy really personified a transgenerational American experience of hope, of personal responsibility, of civic engagement. Of making sure that we leave behind much more than we ever take.
BILL MOYERS: Martin Luther King?

SAM RODRIGUEZ: Civil rights for the African-American community, for all communities. The nexus of the religious experience with social justice. Coming together, really sharing of America, that any viable movement in this nation, any sort of transformation in this nation needs to incorporate a faith thread. Without faith, there would never have existed an abolitionist movement, or the civil rights movement would never have succeeded. Martin Luther King Jr. really personifies the convergence of these two powerful forces.
What we are lacking in the Latino community are-- are gatekeepers and oracles throughout our country.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean gatekeepers -
SAM RODRIGUEZ: Gatekeepers, oracles, voices that will emerge that contextualize the Latino narrative.
BILL MOYERS: You mean, you need a Jesse Jackson? You need a Martin Luther King?
SAM RODRIGUEZ: I would-- we need-- what we need is not one Martin Luther King, Jr. We need thousands of Martin Luther King, Jrs. We need every community, in every single community, in every city, in every district, for voices to emerge out of the Hispanic American community, and contextualize the narrative of the Hispanic American experience.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean, contextualize the narrative?
SAM RODRIGUEZ: Tell the story, articulate the story.
BILL MOYERS: Eyes on the prize?
SAM RODRIGUEZ: Eyes on the prize. Mobilize the people. We've never been down this road before. You know, do we legitimately need a civil rights movement with the Hispanic American population? I would argue we need a social rights movement.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?
SAM RODRIGUEZ: I-- it would be hard pressed for Samuel Rodriguez to argue that we are experiencing the same amount of racism or bigotry the African-American community. I believe the civil rights movement, in respect to the African-American community, was a unique experience.
However, there is a call for a social rights movement. This large demographic now, in light of the amount of xenophobia and nativism against the Latino community in America, really needs to come together, come around, coalesce around principles. Our principles are faith and family, but there's a strong social justice ethos to our community that drives us. But what really bothers me is, to a degree, Obama should really resonate. Senator Obama should really resonate with the Hispanic American community.
SAM RODRIGUEZ: Not as much. As a matter of fact-
SAM RODRIGUEZ: I believe the Latino community is the wild card in the Democratic presidential nomination process. Of course, Senator Clinton historically has done very well with the Latino community.
BILL MOYERS: She did terrifically in Super Tuesday, two to one in California among your community.
SAM RODRIGUEZ: That's correct. Now--
BILL MOYERS: How do you explain that?
SAM RODRIGUEZ: Well, the Latino vote looks at Clinton-- Clinton, the Clinton brand reminds them of, this is pre-immigration reform debacle.
BILL MOYERS: Pre George W. Bush?

SAM RODRIGUEZ: This is pre George W. Bush, pre immigration, pre Latinos deported, pre the marches. This is the golden age of the Latino middle class. Latino middle class really emerged throughout the 1990s. Economy, we boomed. If the Latino community does not gravitate towards Obama in these last months of the primary season, Senator Clinton will be the candidate of choice for the Democratic Party. And Obama should be resonating. The ethnic minority experience. His Christian commitment and the incorporation of a social justice platform. H Obama should be-- there's a black-brown divide.

BILL MOYERS: There really is? Right.
SAM RODRIGUEZ: There really is.
BILL MOYERS: Explain that to me.
SAM RODRIGUEZ: You can't deny the fact that racist elements are apparent in every single ethnic group or culture. And we can't deny the fact that there is racism in the Latino-- in the Hispanic-American community. And that's the shame.
BILL MOYERS: What's the fight?

SAM RODRIGUEZ: It goes way beyond race. I think there's an issue here of fighting for the same entitlements, fighting for the same piece of turf, for lack of a better term. The same jobs. Immigration reform. We really-- we, meaning the Hispanic-American community, we reached out to the African-American community and said, march with us. I mean, stand by us here. You understand the story better than we do.

BILL MOYERS: Those big demonstrations last year, half a million in Los Angeles.
SAM RODRIGUEZ: Absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: Right. You're saying that the African-American-
SAM RODRIGUEZ: That the African-American community was not as physically present. And you know, the gatekeepers of the African-American community did not go out and hold a press conference, and say, we support our Latino brothers and sisters on this. Is there an issue? Absolutely.

I also understand that there are those in the establishment, in the white establishment, that would love to really focus on the divide between black and brown. I was present when a white politician, in a round table discussion, looked at black evangelical leaders and said, "They are taking away your jobs." They, the Latinos. These immigrants are taking away your jobs. They're taking away your subsidies. They're actually harming your family. They're taking away dollars that should go to educating your kids. Now I heard that. I was there, present, when that rhetoric was presented. So there is an attempt out there to create a wedge. If the African-Americans and the Latino population would ever come together and work in our cities, in our urban areas, we would really bring about a transformational messiology, we would transform our cities. We would transform our nation. Those two-- that partnership is unbelievably powerful, if it would ever emerge. And I'm committed to the emergence of that partnership.

BILL MOYERS: That's your agenda? That's what you want from politics?
SAM RODRIGUEZ: I want the Latino community and the African-American community to come together. And I want us to walk as Peter and John. We may not have-
BILL MOYERS: Peter and John from the New Testament?
SAM RODRIGUEZ: From the New-- Absolutely. And we may not have all the economic resources. I do tell you that. But we don't have silver, we may not have gold. But we have numbers. We have incredible numbers.
BILL MOYERS: So tell me how you think that the Latino evangelical vote can be decisive in the Democratic race and the Republican race.
SAM RODRIGUEZ: In the Republican race, if the Republican Party nominates a candidate that addresses the issue of immigration reform, that really repudiates the xenophobic and nativist threat, and that apologizes.
BILL MOYERS: Well, McCain talks to you. McCain's been-- in fact, he's been criticized by conservatives because he's been moderate on immigration, right?
SAM RODRIGUEZ: Truth be told, McCain has invested more political capital than any other presidential candidate in the 2008 season on the issue of immigration reform.
BILL MOYERS: So that's settled. He is going to be the Republican nominee.

SAM RODRIGUEZ: He is. The question is whether or not McCain will be-- will continue to be committed to an immigration reform platform. I mean, there's an incredible amount of push back from the conservative voters in the Republican Party. And whether or not McCain will stick to his guns and commit himself to an immigration reform platform.

On the other hand, if the Democratic Party presents a candidate that addresses the issues of faith and family within the story of engaging the Latino community and the Latino evangelical community, an attractive candidate would emerge. Senator Clinton did something wonderful prior to the New Hampshire primary. Senator Clinton addressed the issues of abortion. In addressing abortion, she mentioned the fact that we really need to be committed to minimizing the number of abortions and addressing the cause of those abortions. That really-- that resonated within our community. We are a pro-life group, undeniably so. Latinos are more pro-life than any other ethnic group in America. I believe TIME Magazine gave the statistics on that last year. Then, in New Hampshire, Senator Clinton went out. And in those two days prior to the primaries, addressed white single women. And championed herself as the gatekeeper of abortion rights. That's-- that-
BILL MOYERS: And you heard about that?
SAM RODRIGUEZ: It worked in New Hampshire. It did. It got her the vote. It will work against her nationally with the Latino community.
BILL MOYERS: Didn't Tuesday-
SAM RODRIGUEZ: =Well, that's-- well, again. California, the Clinton-- it's immigration and economics. Right now, if you would ask Latino evangelicals, what's your number one issue? Is it abortion, is it marriage? It's immigration. And it's the economy. It's immigration and the economy.
BILL MOYERS: I've read a lot about you, followed you for a while. I know you're trying to write a new story for this country. What's the lead of that story?
SAM RODRIGUEZ: Righteousness and justice. It's justice. This issue. Is America committed to eradicating terror and eradicating Al Qaeda? I would say yes, only if we are as equally committed to eradicating AIDS. We have to be balanced. It can't be either-or. It must be both. If we are committed to some sort of political agenda in respect to economic-- we must be committed to alleviating poverty. There must be an agenda that carries both and doesn't leave absolutely anyone behind. I really do believeit.
Someone recently said, Mr. Rodriguez, what you need to do is tell your people, Latinos, to embrace the American culture, to become American. Does that mean white America? What does it mean to be an American? Anglo-Saxon, be European? To me, an American is any individual who looks at the documents of our founding fathers, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution, and says, "I fundamentally adopt these values. These are my values. I adhere to these values. These are mine." It's not the color of your skin. It's not the language. It's not your accent. It's not your vernacular. It's whether or not those values become your values. That's an American. I call it the American covenant.

My objective is to mobilize the Latino community in America to bring about change in this nation that incorporates righteousness and justice, marries them both, and brings about a spirit of reconciliation where we're no longer polarized between blue and red, black and white, west coast, east coast, academia and the religious faith. We come together in righteousness and justice.

BILL MOYERS: Sam Rodriguez, it's been a pleasure to have you. And I look forward to talk to you again before this year is out. Thank you for having me.

The End of the Republican Barrio

Washington Post OP-ED by Samuel Rodriguez, Edited Version available on Washingtonpost.com

The 2008 Elections and The End of the Republican Barrio?

It’s Immigration Stupid

Hispanic Faith Voters embody the wildcard, and defacto swing vote in the 2008 Presidential elections. While the rest of the county reverts to the 1992 Presidential playbook and argue that this November will primarily center around economic issues (Democrats) and security (Republicans), Hispanic Americans and more significantly, Hispanic faith voters from the barrios of Los Angeles to Spanish Harlem and all points in between vociferously state , “It’s immigration stupid”.

Undoubtedly, the 2008 elections represent a tipping point as it pertains to one of the fastest growing segments of the electorate, Hispanic faith voters. Will these voters continue to gravitate towards the Republican Party as demonstrated in the 2000 and 2004 elections? On the other hand, will this election write the obituary of Hispanic faith voters and the GOP in a manner reminiscent with the 1960 Presidential elections when African American voters began the mass exodus from the GOP (today faithfully supporting Democratic candidates with over 90% of their vote)?

Who is the Hispanic Faith Voter?

Hispanic Faith voters stem from the Evangelical Christian community and the Catholic Charismatic fellowships. For example, a typical voter profile from Florida will include the following descriptors: attends a Pentecostal church, mid 40’s. , middle class and both socially and politically engaged. These are the children of the Reagan revolution, the moral majority and the Pro-Life movement.

While our parents championed the cause of economic viability via supporting the Democratic Party, our generation wanted to connect the dots from the Pulpit to the voting booth. I remember one Sunday afternoon after the Pastor spoke on abortion asking my parents why they supported candidates who championed abortion rights. My same parents who shouted AMEN during the Pastors sermon now eloquently justified their position by stating that these candidates cannot really influence the abortion debate, however, they do champion the cause of the poor while Republicans represent the interests of the rich.

Correspondingly, Hispanic faith voters stem heavily from both Generations X and Y, speak both Spanish and English fluently, resonate with a strong social conservative belief system yet embrace a populist economic policy.

Hispanic Faith Voters and The GOP

Why are these voters important? Without the aforementioned voter, Bush would never have won Florida in 2000 and 2004. Without this voter, who today plays a major role in such swing states such as New Mexico, Florida, Ohio, Arizona, Nevada and others, the Republican Party cannot succeed in a National election.

To comprehend how the Hispanic faith vote may influence the 2008 elections we must first appreciate how the GOP stood ready to capture over 50% of the Latino vote. For example, in 2004, (44%) of Hispanics voted for George W. Bush. A more impressive metric stems from the evangelical wing of the Hispanic populous, where, according to Pew Research, (56%) of Hispanic Protestants( the vast majority embracing an evangelical thread), supported the Republican ticket. In addition, the Pew survey revealed that Latino evangelicals are twice as likely as Latino Catholics to identify with the Republican Party (37% vs. 17%). Moreover, Latino evangelicals also are far more likely than Latino Catholics to describe themselves as conservative (46% vs. 31%).

Parenthetically, this election should, for all practical purposes, continue to increase the GOP’s Hispanic participation. After all the fastest growing segment of America’s evangelical community, Hispanic evangelicals, resonate with the traditional family values platform of the Grand Old Party. Correspondingly, the 2007 Pew survey exposes a constituency more conservative on social values than even their white counterparts. For example in respect to gay marriage (86%) of Hispanic Evangelicals, oppose gay marriage, compared with 67% of white evangelicals. Furthermore, while (61%) of white evangelicals oppose abortion, an overwhelming (77%) of Hispanic, evangelicals repudiate the practice.

Similarly, we cannot deny the Bush Factor. George W. Bush reached out to Hispanics like no other GOP Candidate in history. He matched Bill Clinton’s “I feel your pain” outreach to the Black community, with “I speak your language” mantra. The border state, taco eating, baseball loving, broken Spanish speaking Governor, resonated with the Latino community. He wooed us like no other.

Research scholar Dr. Gaston Espinosa, an expert on Hispanic faith and values voters considers the Bush factor significant.” Hispanic Evangelicals voted for Gore in 2000 but Bush in 2004 because of the proactive outreach Bush made to both Latino Evangelicals and Roman Catholics. Bush saw the Latino Evangelical vote increase by 30% and Latino Catholic by 7% in one election cycle because of his support for faith-based initiatives, prayer in school, school vouchers, and work with Mexican President Vicente Fox, Spanish-language speeches, and targeted outreach to Latino Evangelical and Catholic clergy”, he added.
Moreover, Bush took Reagan’s assessment of Hispanics as natural conservatives to the next level and argued that Hispanics personify the quintessential compassionate conservative idea.

The Tipping Point: Immigration

Then what is the concern? Why would these compassionate conservatives break away from the Republican Party? Immigration. It is not that Hispanic faith voter’s desire or support amnesty. Quit the contrary. Hispanic Christian voters overwhelmingly support a call for an end to illegal immigration and the protection of the borders. The great divide exists in the question of what to do with the 12 million undocumented. While Tom Tancredo and his supporters presented a policy that reinforced a xenophobic and nativist thread hidden in the crevasse of the Republican establishment, Hispanic faith voters fought for immigration reform that reconciled the three formative pillars of our nation: the rule of law, our Judeo/Christian value system and the pursuit of the American Dream.

Meeting with former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Speaker Denny Hastert, Sen. Trent Lott and Sen. John McCain, I expressed two years ago the possible short term and long term ramifications to the relationship between Hispanic faith voters and the GOP if immigration reform legislation did not succeed. With unbridled assurance, I pointed then to the November 2006 elections as a primer of forthcoming elections and predicted a definitive decline in Latino support. Inevitably, the predictions painted an accurate picture of trepidation and angst amongst Hispanic faith voters as GOP support fell from 44% in 2004 to 27% in 2006.

Thus, the question in the hearts and minds of Hispanic faith voters in this unprecedented elections season asks, “Is the Republican Party the party of xenophobia, nativism and Anti-Latino demagoguery or is the GOP the party of faith, family and values regardless of the color of skin, vernacular proficiency or preference of condiments (salsa)”? Should we vote for McCain in light of his support of Comprehensive immigration reform or should Latino Evangelicals shy away from the party that did refused to repudiate the polarizing and vicious rhetoric.

Four years ago, we mobilized and encouraged members in close to 20,000 congregations to analyze candidates according to the traditional evangelical rubric: Life and Marriage. Nevertheless, this year offers a stark difference. Hispanic evangelicals and faith voters recently discovered that our white brothers and sisters who resonate with a Pro-Family agenda also embrace a predominantly anti-immigrant reform agenda. Reina Olmeda, a Pentecostal Latina Pastor, expressed the sentiment of Hispanic evangelicals. “We’re caught between the proverbial rock and the hard place. We either vote for a party that resonates with our beliefs but does not want us or with a party that wants us but does resonate with our beliefs”, she stated

The End of the Republican Barrio

With much trepidation, the Hispanic faith voter looks to the Democratic Party for a viable alternative in this electoral conundrum. Undoubtedly, the Democratic Party stands poised to make significant inroads in the Hispanic values vote since this November 4, 2008 may very well be an extension of June 28, 2007 when immigration reform legislation failed in the Senate. Immigration legislative failure on behalf of the Republican Party nationally equates to Proposition 187 in California where Governor Pete Wilson alienated Hispanic voters and surrendered the legislative branch of the Golden State to the Democratic Party for years to come.

Although Hispanic Evangelicals resonate with the social values platform of the G.O.P, on economic and social justice issues, the Democratic Party can easily capitalize on a kindred constituency. Latino evangelicals do not fall in the same contextual framework of white evangelicals. While white evangelicals, in vast majority, limit their political and social agenda to abortion and marriage issues, Hispanic Evangelicals adhere to a broad agenda that includes Health care reform, education, alleviating poverty, Darfur, Aids, Climate change and immigration reform in addition to marriage and life issues.

Yet the greatest indicator of troubles times as it pertains to Republicans and Hispanic faith voters can best be expressed by the activism of a die hard Republican operative Rev. Mark Gonzalez. Mark represents a walking billboard for the Hispanic versions of Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Council on National Policy and Christian Coalition. Just yesterday, Mark captured the collective disappointment by stating his primary objective is to register voters in the 10 most Hispanic populated states and he does not care if they vote Democratic or Republican as long they vote and demonstrate that Latino Christians represent a deliverable constituency.

At the end of the day, Hispanic Evangelicals may very well embody the quintessential swing vote. Not a constituency married to the Christian right or the Christian left but rather the standard-bearers of Christian equilibrium. While historically since 1960, African Americans vote overwhelmingly Democratic and white evangelicals Republican, Latino Christians may force the both the Democratic Party and the GOP to move towards the center in order to capture the Latino vote.

On November 5, 2008, the headlines across our nation may very well contextualize the story of the first woman, African American or oldest President ever elected. Yet, at the end of the day, an equally important headline stands posed to present the repudiation by the nation’s largest ethnic community of one political party and the embracing of another. These elections may very well embody a point of gravitas in respect to the Hispanic faith community as the Republican Party stands juxtaposed between the end of the Republican barrio and the future of immigration reform.

The Last Evangelical Generation in America

Endangered Species: American Evangelical Youth
How this may be that last Bible believing generation in America

Turn on CNN, Fox News and other major cable outlets and one struggles to identify a single day where religion, particularly evangelicalism, does not appear in the context of politics, morality and upcoming elections. The average viewer could, via the constant inclusion of spiritual verbiage within the American lexicon, assume that evangelicalism and America represent a juxtaposition secured for the 21st century. However, current trends depict a very distinct outcome.

In fact, according to statistics shared by Ron Luce, President of Teen Mania, and author of Battle Cry: Revolution, individuals born in the late 1980’s will most likely be the most biblically illiterate and non-Christian generation in history. “Reality dictates that 4% of the next generation of adults will be bible believing Christians”, declared Luce. “In essence we have 5 Years, since the majority of conversions occur before the age of 20, to reach 71 million young people or this will become a post Christian America in the mold of Post modern Europe”, added the national youth leader.

For instance, although spirituality and mysticism continue to thrive in the MySpace Generation demographic, evangelicalism continues to falter in engaging and attracting America’s youth. “There exists a relational disconnect between Senior Pastors and the young”, explained Luce. Ron adheres to a Next Generation Oriented Church strategy as a viable solution to the crisis. “Listen, what we need to understand is that there exists a language barrier with this generation that continues to insist on religious nomenclatures such as Do you have a personal relationship with Christ when in reality our kids better understand Are you a follower of Jesus”, added Luce.

On the other hand, however egregious the prospect exists for the next Generation of non-ethnic Americans to embrace a bible-believing ethos, ethnic young people may very well salvage the heritage. Warren Beemer, Youth Pastor at Cornerstone Church, in San Antonio, Texas, serves Pastor John Hagee by leading a thriving youth ministry deliberately multi-ethnic and intentionally prophetic. “Ethnic young people demand authenticity, relationship, unity and the supernatural”, declared Beemer.

Warren insists that the next generation cannot experience revival and a modern Jesus movement without a dynamic of miracles, prophetic relevance and purpose filled affinity. “This generation does not want to hear about religion or spiritual-lite messaging, they demand to experience the Power of God”, insisted Beemer.

In particular, immigrant and ethnic youth groups represent the fastest growing constituency in the American Christian next generation demographic. The question arises, why do ethnic youth groups thrive while non-ethnic struggle for relevancy? “Latino, Black and Asian young people arrive with a story of struggle, survivability and faith”, shared Efrain Pineda, National Next Generation Task Force Director for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. “As a result, necessities facilitate an environment for hope, faith and God”, added Pineda.

While Ron Luce believes that engaging 100,000 congregations to double their youth groups via the means of discipleship, offers the best solution to the crisis, other Christian leaders see Pentecostalism, multi-ethnicity and trans generational support mechanisms as the strategy to prevent the 4% outcome. Pineda insists that a generation, which embraces the experiential thread most prominent in the Pentecostal/Charismatic stream of evangelicalism, will continue to grow for the sake of succession and passing the baton to the next. “The fastest growing youth groups and the most passionate on high school and college campuses believe that miracles exists for today and that multi-ethnicity that reflects the Kingdom of God resonates in a demographic that repudiates class warfare and racism”, explained the young pastor.

Moreover, all three aforementioned youth leaders subscribe around the nexus of trans-generational support mechanisms. Simply stated, today’s adults must actively influence the next generation with relationships, relevant language and authentic demonstration of Christ filled living all the meanwhile, as Ron Luce demanded, and “Senior Pastors make it hard for young people in their communities to go to hell”.

Correspondingly what America needs is a bridal generation to arise, a generation preparing the way for the bridegroom. As a result, generations that will run and not grow weary, see visions and overcome the evil one will most likely lead evangelicalism in the 21st Century. Throughout the biblical narrative, the young, as illustrated in Acts 5 removed the dead items from the temple. Once again, our Nation calls for a generation that will reconcile the races, defend the faith of our fathers, advance a platform of righteousness and justice and finally, remove the dead items from the temple we call American Christianity.

At the end of the day, the term evangelical may disappear from the thesaurus of religious acumen, but what matters most is that the next generation proudly demonstrates to the world that in America, hope and faith still thrive by the lives of the young who call themselves “Followers of Christ”.

Sam Rodriguez is an award winning writer who also serves as President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference which is the National Hispanic Association of Evangelicals serving approximately 15 million Hispanic believers in issues of leadership, fellowship, networking, partnerships and public policy.

Tipping Point

Tipping Point
How Pentecostalism must embrace Ethnic Diversity

A tipping point by its very definition encompasses the idea of a previously rare phenomenon becoming rapidly and dramatically more common. It could very well apply to the occurrences in Exhibit Hall A of The Indianapolis Convention Center on a hot and humid August day in Indiana. On that day, The General Council of the Assemblies of God, The World’s largest Pentecostal Fellowship, meet in its business session to elect the executive officers of the fellowship. The movement just elected George O. Wood to succeed Thomas Trask who led the fellowship for 14 years. Yet the most telling election was yet to come.

Undoubtedly, Thomas Trask will go down in Church history not only as one of the most successful Pentecostal leaders with millions of new adherents, members and churches around the world added to the fellowship and more importantly to the Kingdom of God, but also as an agent of reconciliation between the races. Trask not only reaffirmed the Pentecostal commitment to Holiness, Biblical orthodoxy, and Spirit Filled living, but he added an element necessary for the fellowship’s viability in a 21st century world; diversity.

Hence the tipping point. On that humid Friday afternoon, the fellowship for the very first time, elected to the board of administration or its executive leadership an African American, Zollie Smith. Smith, a former police officer/Detective; U.S. Postal Inspector; and Airborne Infantryman in the Vietnam War, where he received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star as a result of his services, personify perseverance and spiritual courage. Upon election, Zollie Smith addressed the body and recalled the days of lying wounded on the battlefield of Vietnam and his moments of angst with the fellowship. “On many occasions I wanted to quit and give up on the Assemblies because I felt there was no place for me, but to the young people under 40 and the women, your gift will make room for you, you must persevere, you must pray, you must be consistent, let everyone know you have a mandate from Almighty God..”, exhorted Smith.

The historical moment created a wave of enthusiasm and hope that finally the Pentecostal community would understand that the Upper Room did not separate us but rather it was the biblical convocation of all races, languages and cultures for the purpose of building one Kingdom, His Kingdom. Out of all the evangelical streams, if there is one that should embrace multi-ethnicity it should be the Pentecostal/Charismatic community. Dr. Jesse Miranda, Executive Presbyter and the Commissioner of Ethnicity for the Fellowship applauded the election. “This is a giant step in complying with the vision of the book of Revelation. After 100 years of the Azusa Street Revival where the cry was heard that the blood of Jesus has washed the color-line, the Assemblies of God is complying to fulfill this claim” declared Miranda.

Miranda, who also oversees the World Hispanic Evangelical Alliance for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference believes that although Hispanics have been widely accepted since 1916 and more so since 1995 when he was elected the first Executive Presbyter of color, the Black membership have not had the same privilege. “Because of the historic Black-White tension this is a giant step toward diversity” he added. In addition, Dr. Miranda believes it’s time to go beyond elections. “The issue now for ethnics to move beyond mere representation to effective influence and for Anglo leadership to seek and gain cultural competency toward achieving what we represent in God's Kingdom - a cooperative fellowship” concluded Miranda.

Other prominent leaders view the election as the beginning of a new era for Pentecostalism in America. “I firmly believe that it is a step forward in the right direction because the Assemblies of God is no longer talking or simply writing (Enrichment Summer of 2007) about embracing Diversity but rather putting it to practice”, stated Rev. Felix Posos, Superintendent Emeritus of the Northern Pacific Latin American District of The Assemblies of God and Chairman of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Rev. Dennis Rivera, Assembly of God Superintendent for the Central Latin American District sees the election as a victory for all ethnic communities. “We have a face that will give us greater access to the executive leadership of the movement”, declared Rivera.

At the end of the day, diversity is not a Republican or Democratic issue. It is above all, a Kingdom issue. “…Men from every tribe, and tongue and people and nation and thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God”, Revelation 5: 9, 10. As churches, denominations and fellowship embrace ethnic diversity simultaneously they embrace the Kingdom of God. Prayerfully, the day will come where the next generation will not know what a black, brown or white church may be, but certainly they will know what a Kingdom church embodies; all races, tongues and people worshipping one God.

Sam Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference which is the National Hispanic Association of Evangelicals serving approximately 15 million Hispanic believers in issues of leadership, fellowship, networking, partnerships and public policy

Revival or Reformation: How the Latino Church is Transforming Christianity

Revival or Reformation
How the Latino church is transforming Christianity

To say that the Latino Pentecostal community is impacting America would be an understatement. The ethnic church, particularly the Hispanic segment, leads a reformation that at the end of the day will provoke Catholics to be more Charismatic, Evangelicals to embrace diverse worship, and main-line denominations to return to biblical orthodoxy. Latinos exhibit little interest in capturing a former Glory and reviving old models, patterns, and narratives that died or faded. Rather, the Hispanic Church seeks to present a distinctive brand of Christianity, a 21st century reformation.

Worship Reformation with Sabor
Rev. Saturnino Gonzalez pastors a Hispanic Mega Church in Orlando, Florida. The 4,000 member congregation exhibits the very DNA of a church committed to reforming the collective body. “I do not lose my culture when I come to Christ, I incorporate it”, stated Gonzalez. Accordingly, Pastor Nino, as his congregants call him, believes that Worship is the key to ministering and attracting Hispanics and that the Latino community is transforming how America worships. “We are adding sabor or flavor to the songs we sing and how we praise”, explained Gonzalez. The Recent Pew Research validates that very point. According to the research Religious expressions associated with the Pentecostal and charismatic movements are a key attribute of worship for Hispanics in all the major religious traditions -- far more so than among non-Latinos. Moreover, the growth of the Hispanic population is leading to the emergence of Latino-oriented churches across the country.

Catholic Reformation with Tongues
When Martin Luther posted his grievances on the doors in Wittenberg, the Protestant Reformation began. Today, Latinos lead a new reformation but not by opposing the Catholic church but by injecting it with a Charismatic/Pentecostal Thread. Above all, the most striking fact is that there are more Latino Catholics who speak in other tongues or identify themselves with a Pentecostal/Charismatic experience than non Catholics. Pew surveyed over 4,000 Latinos and discovered that Renewalist Christianity, which places special emphasis on God's ongoing, day-to-day intervention in human affairs through the person of the Holy Spirit, is having a major impact on Hispanic Christianity. Among Latino Protestants, renewalism is more than twice as prevalent as among their non-Latino counterparts. A majority (54%) of Hispanic Catholics describe themselves as charismatic Christians, making them more than four times as likely as non-Latino Catholics to identify with renewalist Christianity. The implications of this are particularly important for the Catholic Church, given that the rapidly growing Latino flock is practicing a distinctive form of Catholicism. Recently, Pope Benedict addressed the Brazilian faithful and identified Evangelicalism as the greatest threat to Catholicism. How does this change the way Evangelicals perceive Catholics? “As a Latino Pentecostal, I grew up believing that Catholics were doomed to hell because of the idolatry and prayers to Mary. Today, I understand that the majority of those same Latino Catholics pray in tongues like I do, worship with the same enthusiasm and desire the same personal distinctive relationship with Christ we all long for”, explained Rev. Israel Bermudez, Associate Pastor of the Pentecostal Church of God in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. According to Bermudez, this phenomenon facilitates the bridging of the gap between Catholics and Evangelicals. Catholics no longer represent the anathema to evangelicalism. In the Latino Community, Evangelicals and Catholics are Charismatic brothers.

Biblical Reformation with Orthodoxy
As Latinos become card carrying members of congregations, one distinctive contextualizes the impetus and bases for the faith experience; biblical orthodoxy. “Hispanic Christians believe that the word of God is the final authority. Any deviation is deemed as heretical and unacceptable”, stated Dr. Angel Nunez, Senior Pastor of a Multi-cultural congregation in Baltimore, Maryland. Nunez added that while the Anglo church debates whether miracles, healings and Pentecostal experiences exists today, the Latino church sees these arguments as futile because they exists in the daily narrative of Hispanic believer. “We do not need someone to water down the Gospel for us. We don’t need the Gospel to be presented as for the spiritually impaired, we need rhema word that will reveal biblical truths and transformative principles”, added Nunez.

In conclusion, Revivals demand the resurrection of dead and forsaken models, patterns and experiences. Reformations demand a declaration, an abrupt and confrontational demand against the status quo. Today, across America, the ethnic church approaches the Wittenberg doors of America’s religious institutions and posts the demands for Worship that will lift the soul, experiences that will empower The Spirit and a biblical journey that will catapult a life. While the non ethnic church seeks to revive the old, the ethnic church arises and declares “Behold, I do a New Thing.. Saith The Lord.”

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is the President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, The Hispanic NAE, serving 15 million Latino Born Again Christians and 18,000 Churches by providing Leadership, Fellowship, Networking, Partnerships and Public Policy Advocacy.
Press Release

Contact: For Immediate Release
Diana Arenas March 4, 2008
Press and Media Director, NHCLC

National Hispanic Evangelical Leader, Rev. Wilfredo DeJesus, Meets with Obama, Hispanics embracing “change” message

(Washington D.C) The Vice President of Social Justice for the nation’s largest Hispanic Christian organization, The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, meet with Democratic Presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama last Friday and discussed the importance of justice values in the Latino community. Rev. Wilfredo De Jesus, Senior Pastor of New Life Covenant Church in Chicago, Illinois, joined a contingency of Hispanic pastors and clergy from Texas with the purpose of discussing with the Senator some of the concerns within the Hispanic evangelical community. “The meeting went very well and the Senator really understands the importance of justice issues such as Health Care, Education and Immigration within the Hispanic faith community”, declared DeJesus.
The meeting represents the importance of Latino Evangelicals in the 2008 election as a significant wildcard, primarily in swing states such as Florida, Nevada, Arizona, Ohio and Pennsylvania. “Latino Evangelicals want to confront any notion of a black/brown divide”, stated Dr. Jesse Miranda, NHCLC Global Chairman. “Hispanics need to vote for the candidates that best reflects our values”, he added.

The Senator received from Rev. DeJesus an invitation to attend the annual Board Convention of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference on April 15th in Chicago. Serving 18,000 churches and close to 15million Born Again Christians, the organization currently directs a voter registration campaign in order to present a deliverable constituency that will activate the Latino faith vote to address issues such as immigration reform. “Hispanic Born Again believers are the quintessential values voters that reconcile a platform of righteousness and justice”, proclaimed Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, Conference President.
The convention is set to follow a historic April 2nd meeting in Dallas, Texas where Hispanic Evangelicals and African American Evangelicals will come together for a historic unprecedented meeting to address the black/brown divide and establish collaborative relationships that may very well impact not only the 2008 elections but the future of American cities and race relations.
“Pastor DeJesus’s meeting with the Senator a long with the April meetings coalesce around communities embracing a change message that invigorates our nation with hope”, explained Rev. Felix Poso, National Chairman.” Rev. DeJesus, one of America’s most successful and important Pastors, carries the burden of addressing the Justice issues for the Hispanic faith community” he added.
Rev. DeJesus concluded his meeting with Senator Obama in a traditional Hispanic Evangelical Manner by praying and laying his hands upon the Presidential hopeful.