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Corporate Media's Go-To 'Expert' on Latino Evangelicals Actually a Right-Wing Political Operative

Rev. Sam Rodriguez casts himself in the mold of MLK, despite his organizing for right-wing interests, and Islamophobic associations. So why do media treat him seriously?

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This September, Rodriguez was a featured speaker at a capstone political event called “ America for Jesus” that was broadcast and livestreamed nationally from Philadelphia outside Independence Hall. Ostensibly a prayer rally, it is part of a 30-year tradition of similar election season events. Another featured speaker is Lou Engle of The Call, who came to mainstream attention in the documentary Jesus Camp, and played a catalytic role in passing the anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 in California. At a pre-election stadium rally he hosted in San Diego, Engle and others called for Christian "martyrs" to stop marriage equality and abortion. 

Philadelphia’s America for Jesus event is the latest in a series beginning in the 1980s, which brought hundreds of thousands to the Mall for the event “Washington for Jesus” in the run-up to the 1980 and 1988 elections. Televangelist Pat Robertson recalled in a promotional segment for America for Jesus on his Christian Broadcasting Network that the late Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ believed that Ronald Reagan was elected president because of Washington for Jesus in 1980. 

Although Rodriguez tries not to flaunt it, he cannot hide the fact that he is a leader in the New Apostolic Reformation, a movement that is transforming historic Pentecostalism and is playing an outsized role in American politics by building networks that span across denominations and churches.  For example, many NAR leaders, including Rodriguez, helped organize and attended a prayer rally to help launch Texas Governor Rick Perry's, unsuccessful campaign for president in 2011 that drew 30,000 people.

NAR’s political roots go back to the era when Pat Robertson led historically apolitical Pentecostals and charismatics off the political sidelines and into the mainstream of the Republican Party. The relationship with the America for Jesus events epitomizes this long-term trend.

Rodriguez’s efforts to downplay his involvement in NAR not withstanding, he is a frequent headliner at events organized by fellow NAR leaders. His NAR apostolic overseer, Bishop Steve Perea, leads a megachurch in Manteca, California, and has been public about his role.  Rodriguez, in turn, is the overseer of an international network of indeterminate size and scope called the Third Day Believers Network.   

The NAR is seeking to transform traditional Christian denominations into a more powerful social and political force. The leaders of the NAR, who call themselves apostles and prophets, claim authority in and over the church, beyond denominations, and offer what they say are fresh revelations from God to inform what the church should be doing. NAR leaders see themselves as transcending the traditional doctrines and elected leadership of both mainline and evangelical Protestantism. 

C. Peter Wagner, a longtime professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, is the leading figure in the movement. Christians, he declares, are called to take dominion in all areas of life. One expression of this totalist vision is the “seven mountains mandate” through which Christians are to take control of seven areas of life: business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, the family and religion.

Researcher Bruce Wilson points out that Wagner stated at a conference that year: “Dominion has to do with control. Dominion has to do with rulership. Dominion has to do with authority and subduing and it relates to society.  In other words, what the values are in Heaven need to be made manifest here on earth. Dominion means being the head and not the tail. Dominion means ruling as kings.”

Since NAR is a movement without a formal doctrine or structure, and comprising many independent networks, it is fair to say that not all may share Wagner's theocratic fervor, but in fact, many do.

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