Corporate Media's Go-To 'Expert' on Latino Evangelicals Actually a Right-Wing Political Operative
This article originally appeared at Public Eye, the Web site of Political Research Associates.
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.