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The strong support President Barack Obama received from Hispanic voters contributed mightily to his reelection. Samuel Rodriguez, 43, is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and, according to The Wall Street Journal, one of America’s seven most influential Hispanic leaders. He is also an ordained Assemblies of God pastor at New Season Christian Worship Center in Sacramento.
When you were growing up, how did your parents—both immigrants from Puerto Rico—teach you about U.S. history and values? My dad, a hard-working Mack truck worker, instilled in me a Calvinistic work ethic. He looked at me and said, “Any dream that you can have in this nation can come to pass if you have faith in Christ and if you have the spirit of entrepreneurship.” We as Americans are Plymouth Rock and Jamestown. That’s our DNA.
Uniting Plymouth Rock and Jamestown—and at age 14 you decided to meld Billy Graham and Martin Luther King Jr.? Prior to one September evening, at 10 p.m., I was a math nerd. Then I saw Billy Graham on television. Something in my heart resonated and said, “That’s the message you want to share.” One hour later, PBS had a special on Martin Luther King Jr. and I saw the “I Have a Dream” speech. My life goal became to reconcile Billy Graham’s salvation message with Dr. King’s march.
Reconciled through the cross? The cross is both vertical and horizontal. Vertically we stand connected to God’s glory, divine principles, eternal truth. Horizontally to our left and right is culture, society. The cross is both righteousness and justice, sanctification and service, covenant and community, Graham and King. White evangelicals have focused primarily on vertical issues, and communities of color that are Bible-believing have focused on horizontal issues.
I don’t believe Hispanics are here to teach America how to dance salsa, merengue, or cha-cha-cha. ... We are here to bring panic to the kingdom of darkness in the name of Jesus Christ.
— Samuel Rodriguez
How do these thoughts affect your political understanding? We’re either dependent on government or dependent on God. We can’t have it both ways. When government grows, in both the private and the public sphere, it pushes other elements out of the way. My parents instilled in me that it’s God first and be careful with entitlements: Don’t depend on anything else but God and the strength that He gives you to work for your family and your beliefs.
You’ve talked about promoting not the donkey agenda or the elephant agenda but “the Lamb’s agenda.” Where does that begin? With life. I’m convinced we’re going to see an even greater pro-life movement than America has seen before. Without life, you can’t embrace liberty, and without liberty you cannot facilitate a platform by which all Americans can pursue happiness.
What’s the role of Hispanic immigrants in promoting the Lamb’s agenda? I don’t believe Hispanics are here to teach America how to dance salsa, merengue, or cha-cha-cha. We’re not here to make anyone press 1 for English or press 2 for Spanish. We are here to bring panic to the kingdom of darkness in the name of Jesus Christ. Close to 70 percent of converts to Christ in the past 10 years have been of Hispanic descent. This community may very well save American evangelicalism in the 21st century.
Are Western values better off in the hands of 100 immigrants from Mexico or 100 professors at Harvard or Yale? The 100 immigrants from Mexico believe in God, in the centrality of Christ, in family, and hard work. Forget about the “silent majority” in Richard Nixon’s strategy: Today’s silent majority is the Hispanic-American electorate, and it is a Christian electorate—pro-life, pro-family, pro-faith, pro-freedom, pro-entrepreneurship. All we have to do is engage it in a sustainable manner, not through token outreach but through participation.
With that as backdrop, how do you come at the immigration debate? As Christians we should oppose illegal immigration because we are a sovereign nation and want to reconcile Leviticus 19—treat the stranger among you as one of your own—with Romans 13, adhere to the rule of law. We want people to respect our laws, especially in the reality of the narco-trafficking war in Mexico. We have to protect our communities and also repudiate all vestiges of xenophobia and nativism.
Congress has gotten nowhere on immigration during the past four years. Should we return to George W. Bush’s second term proposal? And please summarize it for the Patrick Henry College students here who were in middle school then. The proposal was simple: Look at the undocumented, those who came here illegally, and deport those involved in nefarious activity and gangbanging. Deport the bad guys. Then look at those who are working, even if it’s under the radar. Provide a pathway of integration. It wouldn’t be immediate. Immigrants would have to demonstrate proficiency in the English vernacular. They would have to pay a fine. They would have to recognize they came in here illegally and would have to go to the back of the line. But there would be a guaranteed process where they would stay here as residents, eventually, possibly, as citizens.
Can we combine that with border security? We have to secure our borders—and we can do it with infrared satellite technology. If we can read the license plate on the back of a car in Afghanistan, we can stop 100 immigrants crossing over the Rio Grande with backpacks. It’s not a matter of whether we have technology and resources: We do. It’s a matter of will.
What happened to the Bush plan? President Bush had very little political capital to advance this agenda when he presented it toward the end of his second term. It failed. If that would have succeeded, right now you would see a very energized Hispanic conservative electorate pushing back against HHS mandates, pushing back on the growth of government, defending life, defending the family. You would see a wonderful multi-ethnic firewall of righteousness and justice.
Can Republicans revive that understanding? The Republican Party has an opportunity to engage the vast majority of Americans, of all colors and stripes. We can be against amnesty and pro-legal-immigration. We can celebrate the contributions of the Hispanic-American community.
On your Facebook page you say some people are storm-driven and some are destiny-driven. What does that mean, and which are you? Destiny-driven, by faith. We have to be driven by God’s Word, because we each have a God-ordained purpose, so we should never be driven by critics or circumstances. We should be driven by the impetus of the cross. When I wake up in the morning, I don’t say, “I’m a Hispanic first.” I’m an American, and a born-again child of the living God.