Got reform; what about religion? (corrected)

In case you somehow missed it, there were big doings in the nation’s capital over the weekend related to an issue that President Barack Obama promised to make a top priority. I am talking, of course, about … immigration reform.

I mean, nothing else happened in Washington on Sunday, right?


But even as lawmakers passed historic health care legislation, tens of thousands of demonstrators rallied on the National Mall in support of an overhaul of the country’s immigration system. In advance of the rally, The Washington Post published a mostly glowing, 1,300-word profile of a leading Latino evangelical. So here’s the top of the story:

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez wants immigration reform, and believes building bridges across political divides is how to win it.

As president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, he has made himself at home with secular progressives and right-wing evangelicals, with liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans.

Rodriguez, 40, describes the 16 million Latino evangelicals he represents as a mix of “Billy Graham and Martin Luther King Jr. — with a little salsa tossed in.” He sees himself that way, too.

Like most Latino evangelicals, his political alliances are not cemented. As he and several thousand others from his group prepare to descend on Washington Sunday, his message is this: Stand in the way of an overhaul of immigration policy and we will oppose you — Democrat or Republican. Because the way to win, Samuels believes, is to press when pressing is necessary.

The marchers, who will include evangelicals arriving in church vans and buses from, by Rodriguez’s count, 17 states, will demand that President Obama keep his campaign promise to make it possible for many of the nation’s estimated 12 million illegal immigrants to become citizens. They are to meet on the National Mall, hold an interfaith prayer service with 5,000 religious leaders, and protest alongside Hispanic Catholics and a diverse group of what organizers say will be tens of thousands of immigration activists from across the country.

That’s a pretty good start to a potentially meaty religion story. Unfortunately, this piece focuses almost entirely on the politics and neglects important spiritual and theological elements. Religion ghosts, anyone?

For one thing, we have a profile of a reverend with absolutely no details on his religious background — or his personal background, for that matter. We don’t find out if he was raised evangelical or perhaps converted from the Roman Catholic Church. We get no clue about his personal denominational affiliation — is he a Southern Baptist, a Nazarene, a member of an Assembly of God? Was he born in the United States? Or did he immigrate from Mexico or another Latin American country? To me, these seem like relevant questions in such a story.

Moreover, we have an entire story focused on Latino evangelicals supporting immigration reform, but with no exploration of spiritual or theological reasons for such a position. Surely, for an alliance of millions of Christians, this can’t be all about politics, can it? A blog post by USA Today’s Leslie Miller asks the crucial question that the Post neglects: “Is immigration reform a biblical imperative?” A bit more of Miller’s post:

On Sunday, while Congress is voting on health care reform, tens of thousands of religious leaders and groups from across the belief spectrum will be among those gathering a few miles away to march on another issue whose supporters also cite biblical roots — immigration reform.

Priests, ministers, rabbis, imams and other faith leaders from all over the USA will speak at an interfaith prayer service and rally on the National Mall as part of the “March for America: Change Takes Faith and Courage.” Related events before the march include a Roman Catholic Mass in support of immigration reform celebrated that morning by Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles. On Monday, the marchers have meetings at the White House and with Congress.

It certainly sounds like there are religious — and not just political — ingredients to this story.

Finally, I am frustrated that the Post did a story tied to “16 million Latino evangelicals” and quoted only one: Rodriquez. Do all 16 million of them agree with Rodriguez’s political stance and tactics? Is there not a single Latino evangelical anywhere who might add a second voice to this story? The piece itself notes:

In 2000, he took over a small group of pastors and built one of the country’s largest associations of Latino evangelicals, with 25,434 churches.

That description of “one of the country’s largest associations of Latino evangelicals” indicates that other such groups exist. Why not reflect their voices?

I give the Post credit for writing about this prominent religious leader — an angle missed by most of the MSM reports I’ve seen. It’s just too bad that one of the nation’s elite newspapers declined to include any actual religion.

Correction: The original version incorrectly identified the author of the USA Today blog post.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Jerry

    Bobby, This is a very interesting post. I agree with you about Cathy Lynn Grossman’s blog posting. Great religious figures such as Martin Luther King’s speeches were filled with scriptural references and allusions. Perhaps this is true in this situation but those references are not being reported? Or maybe that is not the case. Still, it’s a very interesting question.

  • Julie

    I have seen Rev. Samuel Rodriguez quoted frequently in news stories about Latinos in this country though I know nothing about his background. He gives the reporters the quote that they want — that the future of Latinos in this country is Evangelicalism.

  • Roberto Rivera

    He’s Assemblies of God and has been an AG minister since he was 23. He’s a Puerto Rican (like me) from Bethlehem, PA. Newsweek did a feature on him. He grew up AG.

  • Cathy Grossman

    I’m always delighted when the eagle-eyed staff of GetReligion finds something thoughtful at Faith & Reason but we must give credit where it’s due. Religion editor Leslie Miller wrote the rightly praised immigration item, filling in for me while I was on vacation. Even though my face is at the top, that’s her signer on the item.
    Cathy Grossman

  • Mollie


    The lesson is that you are not allowed to go on vacation!

  • Bobby

    Sorry about the error! I have fixed it in the post.

  • Will

    The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez wants immigration reform, and believes building bridges across political divides is how to win it.

    Those who want fewer restrictions call their position “immigration reform”. Those who want more restrictions call their position “immigration” reform. “Immigration reform” does not mean a damned thing except as an attempt to exert emotional blackmail on those who DARE oppose REFORM by disagreeing with the speaker.

    I remember in the 60s the-people-we-must-not-ever-ever-call-pro-abortion called what they wanted “abortion law reform”.

    “When Johnson called patriotism ‘the last refuge of a scoundrel’, he overlooked the possibilities of the word ‘reform’.” — Roscoe Conkling

  • Julia


    You are really on to something.

    Another example: in most articles I’ve read the term health care reform was assigned to the Democrats’ proposals, but the Republicans’ proposals (that would also have changed the status quo) were routinely described as obstuctionism and blocking reform.

    The issue should be what kind of reform is a particular group proposing. Bestowing the positive-sounding term of reform on only one faction pushing for change is showing bias.