The ubiquitous Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is back in the news. Rodriguez who is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (which seems to exist primarily as a vehicle for promoting Rodriguez in public life) is also a leader in Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, and of course, immigration is currently one of the hottest issues in the nation.
But National Public Radio's syndicated program Latino USA has a segment this week (in which I make a brief appearance) profiling the prominent evangelist. It raises questions about his ostensibly non-partisan and moderate public image, and suggests that he may be not only more Republican and more conservative than he would like to appear to be, but that he is not nearly as representative of Latino evangelicals than he is often presented in the media as being. Indeed, Rodriguez's view that Hispanic immigrants might be he salvation of Christian America and the conservative movement was heartily endorsed by none other than Pat Robertson.
Raising such points was the what my an essay in The Public Eye last Fall was all about. Here are a few excerpts:
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.
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 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.