50 leaders of the evangelical generation: #25 Samuel Rodriguez. Hispanic advocate

 [I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]

#25. Samuel Rodriguez. Hispanic advocate  (b. 1971) 

The enormous promotional skills of Samuel Rodriguez, the self-anointed “leader of the Hispanic evangelical movement” and “America’s voice for Hispanic Christianity,” will be put to the test over the next few years as he attempts to bridge conservative evangelicals and the emerging group of evangelical Hispanics over the contentious issue of immigration reform.

President of the Hispanic Christian Leadership Council (HCLC)—earlier known as the Hispanic National Association of Evangelicals—Rodriguez wields tremendous influence as one of the leaders of a religious-ethnic religious group being courted by Republicans and Democrats. It is a role the young Assemblies of God pastor clearly relishes, and he has recently demonstrated the skills that will be necessary as a coalition builder on immigration.

Rodriguez gains influence on the right with stellar conservative Christian bona fides. He serves on the board of directors of some of America’s leading evangelical organizations, such as Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, National Association of Evangelicals, and Christianity Today, Inc. He also serves on the advisory board of the National Campaign to Reduce Teen Pregnancy and various pro-life initiatives. In addition, he serves on the steering committee of The Freedom Federation, The Oak Initiative and the General Superintendents’ Cabinet in the Assemblies of God.

Raised in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, by Puerto Rican parents, Rodriguez grew up in an Assemblies of God church (and now pastors one in Sacramento, California). He delivered his first sermon when he was 16 and quickly grew to be a rousing and acclaimed preacher.  “I want to be a voice for our people,” he says.[1] His wife Eva serves as senior pastor of Christian Worship Center.[2]

Rodriguez earned his Master’s degree in educational leadership from Lehigh University and he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in organizational management and behavior. He is serving on President Obama’s White House Task Force on Fatherhood.

His conservative voice often has a slightly different tone than his anglo-evangelical counterparts, but the substance is usually the same. On the war on terror, he said:

“Our moral imperative must drive us to advocate a foreign policy of justice. If we must take the lead on the war on terror, let us simultaneously take the lead on the war on poverty. We can be both Pro Israel and Pro the Palestinian People. Let us help Israel and the Palestinians by both eradicating the terrorist groups while simultaneously building schools, infrastructure, and providing opportunity. Let us replace fear with hope, rockets with opportunity. At the end of the day, let us understand that Islamic religious totalitarianism is the 21st Century version of Hitler’s National Socialism. What do we do with evil? Negotiate compromise, surrender or confront? The answer will determine not only the fate of Israel, but the fate of world peace for years to come.” [3]

But Rodriguez’ marquee issue is immigration, which he calls “a family issue for Hispanics.” In May 2010, Rodriquez orchestrated an unlikely coalition of conservatives that adopted a consensus statement on immigration reform. The group included Matthew Staver of Liberty Counsel, a ministry of Liberty University; Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; and Rick Tyler, the head of Newt Gingrich’s new values-based organization.

CNN reported

 “After securing our borders, we must allow the millions of undocumented and otherwise law-abiding persons living in our midst to come out of the shadows,” reads a recent draft of the document, which is still being finalized. “The pathway for earned legal citizenship or temporary residency should involve a program of legalization for undocumented persons in the United States. …”

 Many conservatives say illegal immigrants should be forced to return to their home countries and start the process of legally coming to the U.S. from scratch.

 Rodriguez, who heads the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference — which represents about 16 million Latino evangelicals in the U.S. — says he’ll soon start presenting the document to Republican leaders like Gingrich, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio in hopes that they sign on.

 “If the conservative evangelical community looks to the Republican Party and says, ‘We demand integration reform, we demand a just assimilation strategy,’ that may be the tipping point in getting substantial Republican support for comprehensive immigration reform,” Rodriguez said. [4]

Rodriquez points out that what commentators call an ”illegal immigrant” is, for Hispanic-evangelicals, beloved Uncle Carlos, a hard-working family man and deacon at the church. It’s hard to build alliances with people who want to put Uncle Carlos in jail. Rodriguez emphasizes that he’s not defending violations of the law. He is all for border control and immigration enforcement. He feels, however, that the argument has become anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic. “I’m very disappointed. We need dialogue on why white evangelicals are so threatened by people who are so fundamentally in accord with their values.”[5]


[1] http://www.newsweek.com/id/81377

[2] http://www.nhclc.org/leader/rev-samuel-rodriguez

[3] http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/panelists/samuel_rodriguez/2009/01/hamas_hezbollah_and_al_qaeda_2.html

[4] http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/05/10/immigration.evangelicals/index.html

[5] http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/september/31.82.html

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About Jim Jewell

I am a writer and consultant on faith and public life, active for many years in management and communications in the evangelical community. I now work as the director of the nonprofit practice at The Valcort Group (www.valcort.com). Everything on this blog, however, is my personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Valcort.
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