Yesterday I posted the first half of an interview with Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, on the Hispanic electorate and its positions on moral-social issues.
Rodriguez, like the community he represents, is hard to pigeonhole. While his advocacy on comprehensive immigration reform and social justice issues earned him credit with the Left, his defense of the rights of the unborn and the traditional definition of marriage, among other things, have earned him the admiration of the Right. What earns him the praise of the Right, however, generally incurs the anger of the Left, and vice versa. So Rodriguez has had his share of detractors. Sometimes it seems that he’s merely guilty of not agreeing with the Left. Yet some legitimate questions have been asked, and I wanted to give Rev. Rodriguez an opportunity to speak to them himself.
I will offer my own opinion on this interview and the issues it raises on Monday (hint: my answer to the question posed in this title is a resounding no), but for now I offer the interview without comments.
As both political parties appreciate the importance of the Hispanic vote, is the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference well positioned to serve as a guide to and representative for the interests of Hispanic Christians? What is the NHCLC’s role?
I think we are well positioned for a number of reasons. We are not partisan. You’ve heard this before from me, but I’ll repeat it because it’s important: We’re not married to the donkey or the elephant but to the Lamb’s agenda — and exclusively to the Lamb’s agenda. Because of that, we stay commmitted to an irenic, reconciliatory outreach to all segments of our nation and all segments of the American landscape. We want to look at a new narrative of evangelicalism, one that’s less hostile, less confrontational and more full of civility. We want to speak the truth in love, without sacrificing truth on the altar of political expediency. We really seek reconcile Billy Graham’s message with Dr King’s march for justice. We think we can be both Billy Graham and Dr. King. That’s what drives me every day, and that’s the objective of the organization.
So, because of our irenic spirit, I think we offer a conversation between the Republican party and the conservative movement and the Hispanic community not for the purpose of accomplishing political goals, but more for the purpose of creating an avenue by which Latinos can influence both political parties. I don’t want to see Latinos married to one political ideology. I want us to be independent of political manipulation. I want us to be able to speak prophetically into both parties, and do things with holiness and humility and integrity.
What do you say to those on the Left who argue that Samuel Rodriguez, when he appears at the Obama White House, is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, because he’s actually a culture-war extremist?
Well, I’m not on board with the left’s agenda. I’m not on board the extreme Right agenda. I’m not on board anyone’s agenda. I’m a Christian and I’m committed to biblical truth.
It’s the Left, by the way, that’s criticizing. The intolerance embedded in the hard Left is as venomous as the bigotry embedded in the hard Right. It’s amazing. On both extremes, you have this cancer of intolerance. What they fear are voices that really offer a reconcilliatory platform without sacrificing truth.
I’m staunchly pro-life. I will not sacrifice that commitment. I believe in the image of God in every single human being. And because of my commitment to the image of God in every single human being, I am one hundred percent staunchly pro-life. That offends people. Now, in no form or shape to I discard or disrespect those who disagree with me, but that conviction drives me to want to reconcile, to appreciate the beauty and purpose of every single human being on this planet. They see it as a political issue. I see it as a biblical issue.
What the Democrats and Republicans have to ask is: Is the Democratic party equal to the Hard Right? Is the Democratic Party the party of John F Kennedy, the party of President Obama’s prayer breakfast for Easter — or is it the party that, for a few hours in the Democratic convention, intentionally or unintentionally, extracted God from its charter?
The Republican Party, likewise, needs to ask whether they’re equal to the Hard Right. Is the Right committed to conserving White America? What do they want to see? Do they have a problem with immigration because America is becoming too brown? Both parties on the extremes have dangerous elements.
I’m not the first Christian leader ever to be criticized. It’s the price you have to pay when you speak the truth with love. The question is how do you respond. Do I respond with equal amounts of anger and venom? I’m not going to cross that line. We’re going to continue to stand fast to our commitments, our core values. We’re not going to water down what we believe. We’re going to continue to push forward the Lamb’s agenda. At the end of the day, I think we’re going to see a better nation because of it.
Some who criticize you seem upset primarily that you agree with them on one set of issues but disagree on another set of issues, or else because they find Charismatic Christianity unsettling. But there’s one issue where I’d particularly like to hear your thoughts. It sounds obscure, but the question has been used to cast doubt on your integrity. It has to do with pressing, on the one hand, for better EPA regulation of mercury in our drinking water — and on the other hand working hand in hand with the American Power Alliance, signing onto an amicus brief together, against regulations aimed at reducing mercury poisoning. Could you clarify that?
At the same time, we were invited by a group, via the conduit of CORE, the Congress on Racial Equality, who was with us on the issue of immigration reform. And back when energy prices really spiked, they wanted the NHCLC to partner with them on trying to lower energy prices for communities of color, particularly in the inner cities.
We did our due diligence in our office. With integrity I can tell you, we don’t remember absolutely anyone authorizing anything having to do with the NHCLC signing any document or co-filing any sort of amicus brief. That would have to go through our legal department and an approval process — approving any sort of signing onto an amicus brief filing in favor of something that would contradict a policy that we had already took. Obviously, we would be contradicting ourselves.
So we addressed that internally, and we created some safeguards. We took it to the executive committee of our board and we created some parameters from a governance standpoint to make sure that would not happen again. I can also tell you that I discussed it with the individuals whose actions put us in these difficult circumstances and they apologized. They said, you’re right, we just made an assumption that if we were working together to lower energy prices for Latinos and people of color, that we would count on your endorsement for all of our endeavors. And that was not the case.
I also wanted to raise a question that’s been raising by Mark Silk and Greg Metzger, having to do with fostering Islamophobia. What are your views regarding the dangers of Islam overseas and here at home?
I can tell you right off the bat that those accusations are totally inaccurate. I won’t deny the fact that there was a sermon I preached where I talked about radical ideologies. I talked about radical Islam, radical activists, and why are Christians sometimes so apathetic while other groups are not at all hesitant to advance the cause they hold near and dear? Why are we as Christians so reluctant to bear witness to what Christ did on his cross?
By the way, I’m not justifying this under the Pentecostal/Charismatic canopy, but I am a Pentecostal/Charismatic preacher. And there is a strong emotional component to the preaching mechanism. It’s part of our DNA. I have written articles in favor of what I call “the idea of American exceptionalism,” which is really religious pluralism. In the world of religious totalitarianism, the antidote is religious pluralism. So here, in brother Samuel Rodriguez, you have someone who has sat down with Muslim leaders in the Middle East and in Bethlehem. I have sat down with leaders in Palestine, and I have sat down with Muslim leaders here in America. I do not want the Muslim community in any way, form or shape, persecuted or discriminated against. First, because it’s wrong biblically. And secondly, because if it’s them today, it’s us tomorrow.
We understand that there are consequences to intolerance, and I repudiate all intolerance. So in no way, form or shape will I embrace any idea that we have ever preached Islamophobia.
One of the individuals behind the articles you mention — and I say this without any hesitation — has a very discriminating, very bigoted anti-Pentecostal, and in my opinion anti-Latino, presentation. Looking at other articles this individual has written, he explicitly went after the Pentecostal/Charismatic community and tarnished the group as a bunch of lunatics. Well, the majority of Latinos in America are Charismatics, Catholic or Protestant; it’s the majority of Christians in Africa, and the fastest-growing religious group in South America. So by the end of the 21st century, the majority of Christians in the world may very well be Charismatics. So I guess we would live in a world of Christian lunatics.
So this person, in my opinion, loses any sort of legitimacy as a commentator on issues of the public sphere.
Notwithstanding, again, our commitment is to present a gospel message that is reconciliatory. I don’t even see a thread in the Latino community that is Islamophobic. Even with the issue of gay marriage, we were among the first organizations to address the issue of the persecution and prosecution of gays in third-world countries. We looked at ourselves and said evangelicals should take the lead globally in addressing this issue. We were privy to the fact that some Muslim nations, and some so-called Christian nations in Africa, were beginning to persecute and prosecute gays and lesbians because of their sexual orientation. In some of those Muslim nations, they would not only be persecuted but executed. We stood up and said, not only is this wrong, but we need to stand up and defend that community around the world because that’s what Jesus would do.
So again, without sacrificing Biblical values, we need to repudiate all levels of extremism, from the Left and Right. A lot of this criticism really comes from an agenda-driven motive that wants to silence the voices of those that do not agree perfectly with their doctrine or their view of the world.
Thanks for your time, Rev. Rodriguez. Is there anything else, following from the election, that you’d like to get across?
Well, I do believe this is the Latino season in America and the Latino faith community has a significant role to play in healing our nation and helping both parties transcend extreme political ideology, to broaden their optics to people of faith and people of color and to righteousness and justice issues.
NOTE: See part 1 of the interview, The Hispanic Moment.