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Culture Q&A

A call to thrive

A pastoral perspective on faith, politics, Hispanic values, and moving beyond survival mode

Illustration by Zé Otavio

Samuel Rodriguez, 51, is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and an Assemblies of God pastor in Sacramento, Calif. Here are edited excerpts of our Dec. 18 conversation. 

Wearing both hats—senior pastor of New Season Christian Worship Center and very much involved in politics—seems hard. How did that work out in 2020? Our church is about 40 percent white, 40 percent African American, 20 percent Latino and Asian. The protests after the George Floyd incident that morphed into riots placed me in a very precarious situation because we confronted an issue of injustice, but I refused to bow to a movement that was out of alignment with the Word of God. 

You refer to Psalm 89, with its melding of righteousness, justice, love, and faithfulness. Every person is created in God’s image, so I repudiate all vestiges of bigotry and racism, but in American streets I saw the spirit of Malcolm X, not Micah. We saw burning, riots, vandalism, physical assaults on innocent individuals eating at restaurants or shops: Completely out of alignment with the Word of God.

When you’re so politically involved, how do you explain to your congregation that the gospel is primary and politics secondary? I explain to them that the gospel compels us to address issues that may have political implications, but we are not to be politically driven. I constantly tell my church we can’t be married to the agenda of the donkey or the elephant—we must exclusively be married to the agenda of the Lamb. I am 100 percent pro-life—I believe it’s one of the most critical issues of our lifetime. I am likewise committed to preserving religious liberty and supporting not social justice but Biblical justice, righteousness applied in our public sphere.

What percentage of your church members do you think voted Republican in the last election? We did not do a survey. My speculation would be 75-80 percent. A strong part of our African American leaders are staunch pro-lifers. They can’t vote for a party that advances the abortion narrative. They voted for life, religious liberty, and Biblical justice, not necessarily for the Trump personality. We say no to socialism, which is antithetical to a Biblical worldview. 

The Hispanic electorate will reinvigorate the conservative movement. The Latino community is the vaccine against socialism in America.

Cuban Americans who saw socialism close-up tend to vote Republican. What about Venezuelans, as more have come to this country after experiencing Chávez and Maduro? Yes, and not only Venezuelans: Bolivians and Nicaraguans have seen the same thing. 

What about immigrants from Mexico? Mexican values are not cartel values. Mexicans are some of the hardest-working individuals on the planet—12- to 14-hour workdays, strong faith, familia. That sounds like the values that made this nation exceptional—hard work, faith, and family. The idea that Mexican Americans or Hispanics generally would end up in perpetuity as a solid voting constituency for the Democratic Party is untrue. The Hispanic electorate will reinvigorate the conservative movement. The Latino community is the vaccine against socialism in America.

What do you recommend concerning the roughly 11 million people who are in the United States illegally? Let’s legalize with a green card those who have been here in this country for many years, who are hard-working, not criminals, not dependent on government subsidies or entitlements, not living off welfare. Let’s let their children who came here through no fault of their own become citizens.

Did most Hispanics in California vote against resuming affirmative action there? Yes. They don’t want to go back to discriminatory practices where we elevate one race over the other. That proposition came out at the same time the San Diego school district decided African American students did not have it within them, culturally speaking, to hand in their homework on time: Handing in work on time is supposedly a racist, Anglo-Saxon, Caucasian, Western world motif. That’s racism. 

If you tell kids—whatever their color and ethnicity—that “it doesn’t matter when you hand in your homework,” many will hand it in late, and they’ll do worse in life. This idea that handing your work in on time, or that the language of Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare, is inherently racist—these notions are absurd. They’re part of a deconstructive modus operandi pushed by leftist extremists with a Marxist worldview. It’s antithetical to Scripture. The Latino community pushed back. 

Hispanics are now 34 percent of all University of California admissions, up from 14 percent a quarter century ago, without affirmative action. Government tells me, “You are, in perpetuity, a victim. You’re second-class. You can’t make it on the God-given gifts and abilities that are in you. You can’t make it without government.” Uncle Sam is just an uncle. He will never be my Heavenly Father. I would like to see every Hispanic, every African American push back on the notion that without government we can’t thrive. Yes, we can. 

What’s the potential within the Hispanic community to support school choice arguments? We do have “systemic racism”: It’s what the school district of Los Angeles and other school districts practice. We have a system in place where Latinos and African Americans and kids in the inner city are learning Dora the Explorer, when their counterparts in the suburbs are learning Chaucer and Milton. We socially promote people who are not academically advancing. We care more about political correctness than we do about STEM—science, technology, engineering, math. We’re harming beautiful African American and Latino young men and women with a public educational system that is completely morally reprehensible. We need school choice. Hispanics want more charter schools, more Christian schools, more private schools.

You write in your new book, From Survive to Thrive, “Our trials can become opportunities for God’s light to shine through the cracks of our brokenness.” In discussing Psalm 23, you write, “When I walk through the darkest valley,” not “if.” Is the gospel of suffering still strong in Hispanic churches, or is the prosperity gospel making inroads? The prosperity gospel message has had an impact in the Hispanic church, but I want to define the term. There is no gospel of prosperity. There is the gospel of Jesus Christ—the vicarious, atoning work of Jesus, the finished work on the cross, His resurrection, His ascension, and the birth of the Church. The notion that if you’re a Christian you should be rich and prospering is hard to swallow. If you say brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are not good Christians because they’re not rich, that’s heresy. But Psalm 1 does say, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked. … In all that he does, he prospers.” So does God want you to prosper? Yes. Should making money and owning homes be the marker of a Christian walk? Absolutely not, and what we’re seeing in the Latino community is a middle ground. 

Which is … Latinos saying that suffering solidifies and validates Christianity—that in the midst of our suffering, we count our faith for joy. Our hope is in Christ who works all things for good. We likewise see the Hispanic community saying “I’m not going to measure my Christianity by my Maserati or Mercedes-Benz” —that’s silly—“but God does want me to live a life where I can prosper spiritually, mentally, relationally, and become a blessing to people.” 

I wonder about your redefining of the Greek word makarios from “blessed” to “happy”? I don’t believe in a theology of happiness where we are driven to be happy. But the joy of the Lord, if properly in place in your life, will prompt you to exhibit an emotional return on that investment of joy that was paid for on the cross, so even in the most difficult circumstances you will be happy. It’s not happiness independent of God-ordained joy, but joy as a byproduct of God’s indwelling through His Spirit. 

Later in the book you talk about how your victories will exceed your defeats. How do you know that? The moment you receive Christ as your Lord and Savior, the victory of the cross literally trumps all of the defeats in your past. It’s equivalent to losing every other game you ever played in your past, and somehow you ended up in the Super Bowl by the grace of God, and you win. All your defeats cannot compare to a personal relationship with Christ where you have eternal life, as in John 3:16, John 10:10, and 2 Corinthians 5:17.

You write, “God is looking for thrivers, his champions who dare fight for justice.” Does that sound like God is looking for cool people and then signing them up? Is God looking for thrivers? Sure, He’s looking for the blind to give them sight. He’s looking for the lame to tell them to stand up, take up your mat, and start walking. He’s looking for the lost sheep. But He’s also looking for those willing to come out of perpetual survival mode. Thrivers are individuals who come out of the desert and step into the land of milk and honey knowing there are giants we have to bring down for the sake of our children and our children’s children. 

Where do we see people doing that in America today? Many examples. Those who are fighting for life and ending this abortion obsession in America are what I call modern day Gideons, thrivers who said, “No, I’m not just going to survive. I’m going to thrive for the sake of my children and my children’s children.”

—For a previous Rodriguez interview, see “The Lamb’s agenda,” Dec. 1, 2012

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How to meet kids’ spiritual needs while homeschooling

Practical tips on spiritual training for home-educated children

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The COVID-19 pandemic has produced many first-time homeschool parents. This edited Q&A is the fourth in a series in which we pose questions about home education to several experts. In this installment, Kristyn Getty, John Kwasny, Cathy Duffy, and Mystie Winckler describe how best to help and encourage homeschoolers. (Click here for a short biography of each.)

Kristyn, how can singing help grow kids’ faith? 

Kristyn: In the way that we teach our kids to pray and read the Word, I think we should teach our kids to sing. Scripture time and again calls us to sing. So it’s an important part of raising our kids in the Lord.

Many parents might say, Yeah, but I’m tired. I don’t want another thing to do.

Well, hymn singing can replace other things. We used to read the Jesus Storybook Bible at night, but we found out that it works better for us to read the Bible in the morning. In the evening, I play hymns on my phone as my kids go to bed. It goes a long way to filling them up with the Bible.

How do you choose your hymns?

When our girls were small, we started learning a hymn a month. We sing it together over the course of a month and learn as much as we can. Some hymns they love, like “Softly and Tenderly” and “His Mercy Is More.” I think we only memorized one line of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” But we’ll come back to it.

Our hymn this month is “Abide With Me.” Last night, I went through the first verse with them. I said, “Gracie, what does abide mean? What does it mean to be helpless?” We talked about those ideas, we sang it together, and I played it while they fell asleep. I like to make sure we pray with them. But one night recently I said, “We’re singing the doxology, and we’re calling it a day.” Sometimes that’s all I reach for when it’s been a hard day.

So when you sing with your kids at night, you’re giving them a touchstone for years to come. You’re giving them vocabulary.

Kristyn: And words to pray. We often pray in the language of our hymns. What we sing is so important to our spiritual development. How we understand the faith. How we share it and speak about it. I try to find songs that develop a Christian worldview. Songs that present God as creator. Songs that present the gospel story and the hope of heaven. I also look for songs that connect theology to everyday life and are fun to sing. Hymns like “Hallelujah Thine the Glory.” Or “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” I love telling my kids, “I sang that song when I was a little girl. Granny and Grandad sang that at their wedding. Now you’re going to sing it, and as you go through your life, you’ll add your stories and remember God’s faithfulness, too.”

Thanks for those suggestions, and for the many resources on your website that can help parents find good hymns. I’d like to talk now about mornings. How can families start the day well?

John: We start our breakfast with a short devotional. We don’t try to make that full-fledged Bible time. Just a short reading to make sure we’re joining hands and praying for 10 minutes for all the people in our lives. We keep it simple.

Mystie: We do something we call “Morning Time.” We sit down together. We read the proverb of the day. We sing the songs from church so that the children can participate in worship. We sometimes learn a catechism, and we read through story Bibles, that sort of thing. Doing this over the last 14 years, I find it so beautiful to review and remember those basic truths.

What about the rest of the day? How can we strengthen kids’ faith while they learn at home and online?

Cathy: Stop to pray in the middle of the day when something happens. That’s so important. It teaches them prayer is part of life. It’s not something we have to keep for after school.

John: Sometimes homeschool parents will have greater freedom to choose resources written from a Christian worldview. I was the worldview specialist at our Christian school, and when I talked to the teachers, I used a simple analogy. I’d say, “You’re putting a set of glasses on your students. Those glasses will either help your kids see the world through a Biblical worldview or a secular worldview.” So, think bigger about homeschooling and get resources that fit your values. Maybe consider an at-home Bible curriculum like the one I wrote.

Cathy, you’ve helped families find resources to fit their values for many years. How do you do that?

Cathy: I published several books for years. In them, I tried to help parents find educational resources to fit their teaching style, their children’s learning style, even their religious and political perspectives. Today, all of that is on my website.

So, how can families learn more about a Christian worldview?

Cathy: The Apologia series on worldview called Who Is God? is great for Protestant families. The family-friendly stories and instruction mixed together are very strongly Scriptural. If you’re Catholic, you can use something like Connecting With History. That’s strongly worldview-based.

Mystie: Reading books aloud can be helpful, too. If you read something like Little House on the Prairie to your kids, you’re going to see different reasons people make decisions. That helps you start thinking about why you make decisions and your own assumptions. Sometimes by approaching worldview in story form, you can receive it and think about it in a deeper way.

Cathy: I’m just starting a book club with my niece in Tennessee. She’s going to read Breaking Stalin’s Nose. I really love teaching worldview, and literature is a great way to do it. But it depends on you as the parent recognizing worldview and teachable points within a story. That’s where the series I mentioned can help. There are short-term studies as well as extensive ministries. Summit Ministries does nothing but worldview.

Even with the best resources, homeschooling involves setbacks and hard days. We’ll talk more about that next time. For now, any final advice?

Kristyn: We’re all struggling, and this is an incredibly unusual time. But I’d also say, don’t be scared to do these things with your kids. This is a season God has placed my kids under my roof, and we’re going to sing. We’re going to read the Bible. Both Keith and I think it’s important they learn these things, particularly now when our kids can’t go to Sunday school. So, we try to be consistent, knowing we’ll have to ask forgiveness. And I think over the long journey, the cream will rise to the top.

—Read the previous installment in this Q&A series on homeschooling: “How to help homeschoolers


Panelists for this article:

Kristyn Getty is a Christian songwriter, recording artist, and worship leader. She and her husband, Keith, have written many hymns and perform at venues around the world, including their annual Sing! conference in Nashville. They occasionally homeschool several of their four young children in Nashville and Northern Ireland. Find out more about their latest album, Evensong, at Gettymusic.com.

John Kwasny serves as director of Christian education and children’s ministries at Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church in Ridgeland, Miss. He is also the director of One Story Ministries, authoring curriculum for children and youth such as Investigating God’s Word ... at Home. In addition to his five years as a Biblical counselor in private practice, John and his wife have homeschooled eight children over the last 23 years. 

Cathy Duffy began reviewing curriculum for her own kids. Her research led to several popular books including 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum. See Cathy’s latest top picks as well as thousands of curriculum reviews at her website, Cathy Duffy Reviews. Cathy homeschooled three boys and now resides in California. 

Mystie Winckler founded the website Simply Convivial, a resource offering gospel-centered homemaking and homeschooling self-paced courses. Learn more about Mystie through her Help for Homemakers YouTube channel. Mystie homeschools five children and lives with her husband, Matt, in Washington state.

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A story to tell

Jeri Chase Ferris aims to inspire a younger generation of readers through biographies of people who made a difference

Illustration by John Jay Cabuay

Jeri Chase Ferris is the author of 11 biographies for children. She writes especially about minority figures and women. Her 2012 picture book, Noah Webster and His Words, won the 2013 Golden Kite Award for Best Nonfiction from the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. She’s also penned biographies of Biddy Mason, arctic explorer Matthew Henson, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Abigail Adams.

Tell me about your childhood. Well, I grew up in Lincoln, Neb., on the farm. My best friend was my horse. I had an Arabian mare, and my second-best friend was my duck. I was very introverted and practically lived in the local library on the edge of town. I rode my horse there, and I’d tie her outside while I went in to get my books.

Did you always want to write? I grew up a reader, never thought of writing. In the third grade I wrote what I thought was a wonderful story. I found it recently, and it’s really awful. It’s filled with grammatical mistakes, spelling mistakes. I remember my third-grade teacher said, You will never be a writer. Today, teachers would never say anything like that to kids, but that really stuck with me. 

Were you interested in history? No. I was interested in horses and ducks. I fell in love with history, but it was much later, when I was getting my master’s degree in history and education. I began seeing people made history, then I got interested in it. That’s why I write about the people who made a difference. Because when kids get into the story of a person, they’ll understand what that person did. 

What made you interested in writing about women and minority figures? I taught for 30 years in inner-city Los Angeles, and my kids were all black. I looked very seriously for books, for role models for my kids: not just sports figures, but people who have really made a difference in our country, in our world. I couldn’t find any. So I took a class in writing at UCLA, and my thesis for the class was a biography of Harriet Tubman. That became my first published book in 1988. It is still in print. 

How did that work? I found a publisher that realized there was a need for these books. So I signed a contract for four biographies with this publisher. 

How do you decide who to write about? I write about minority figures or women, people who have done great things. If it’s a person who’s done questionable things, or someone I just don’t like, I don’t write about that person. I have fallen in love with all of the people I’ve written about. 

I want kids to know when they read about my people, my people made mistakes. I make mistakes. Kids are gonna make mistakes, but they can go on and make a difference in 
our world.

Why Noah Webster? He’s not a woman or a minority. Why did I write about a white man? Everybody knows Webster’s dictionary, but nobody knows what else Noah Webster did for our country. 

You quote Webster saying, “We aren’t to think of ourselves as people of one state but as Americans.” Why is that important? In 1785 we did not yet have a president. The 13 states were very competitive, very divisive. So Noah was afraid America would fall into 13 pieces. He wrote his first book, The Blue Back Speller, because people were spelling words all different ways. He wanted to have a uniformity for American children, for American spellers. He wrote reading books, history books, spelling books, even health books. The dictionary was a 20-year project. All these other things he did first were important in uniting our country.

How do you do your research? I love the research. I always go back to where the person lived. I go to the historical societies. I contact the specialists. For Matthew Henson I contacted the people who knew about Arctic exploration and the people who might have been connected with him. 

How about secondary sources? You have to go to primary sources. When I researched the book on the first female Native American doctor, one secondary source said she graduated at the top of her class in medical school. I thought, Wow, that’s terrific. Let me write this down. Then I thought, Wait a minute, I better check. I contacted the medical school, and it had her grades from 1880. She did well, she had 90s, but she was not at the top of her class. If I had copied that other source, I would have been wrong. That’s why you have to go to a primary source. 

What’s one thing you want children to learn from your books? I want kids to know when they read about my people, my people made mistakes. I make mistakes. Kids are gonna make mistakes, but they can go on and make a difference in our world. That’s what I want them to get. When I talk to kids about the era of slavery and how slave owners didn’t want their slaves to learn to read, I tell them once you know how to read, you can learn everything. I really want them to get that.

You sometimes talk to the descendants of your subjects. Biddy Mason was a slave in Mississippi. She walked behind her master’s wagons and ended up in Southern California. She got her freedom and became one of the richest women in Southern California. She didn’t buy silk dresses and big hats and sit home and eat chocolates. She went to the prisons, started schools, and she did everything with open hands. That’s her theme. Because she was a slave, she never learned to read. She had three children and was very involved in getting them to school. Last year, I met her great-great-great-great-granddaughter at the University of Southern California, where I was speaking about Biddy Mason. I met this woman, Dr. Robynn Cox, a professor at USC. It almost made me cry. I thought how proud Biddy would be. 

We find our passion, and we develop that passion, and we use that passion to make the world a better place.

Do you look for ways to highlight the Christian faith of your subjects? Oh, I do. For example, Harriet Tubman brought 300 people safely out of slavery, and someone asked her at the end of her life, How did you do that? And she said, “I went only where the Lord led me.” I thought that was a great comment. And Sojourner Truth—that was not her slave name. After she gained her freedom, she said, “I’m not gonna use my slave name. I am a sojourner. So my name will be Sojourner, but I don’t have a master anymore. I don’t have a last name anymore. I do have a master. God is my master. And His name is Truth.” So that’s where her name came from.

A lot of parents want to tell their children that we live in a great country. And yet when you read about people like Matthew Henson, you see the great injustices done to him. What would you say to parents who don’t understand how you can both show the injustice of the past and also say this is a great country? How do you thread that needle? Well, how do we learn? We learn from our mistakes. Those attitudes of the past were definitely mistakes. That was part of our country. We cannot deny it, and we shouldn’t deny it because what we’re doing now is correcting these things. I have a book on Marian Anderson, one of the greatest contraltos of her day. She was not allowed to dine in a restaurant. She was not allowed to ride in a regular elevator. If she was speaking at a conference, she had to go up in the freight elevator. This is unimaginable to us. It really is. And yet these things happened, but she persevered. And what Marian Anderson said at the end of her life was, “What I had was singing.” That’s the title of the book, actually, What I Had Was Singing. So we find our passion, and we develop that passion, and we use that passion to make the world a better place.

Do you think if you hadn’t had the experience teaching in inner-city schools, you would have been drawn to stories of the unrecognized and unappreciated? I wouldn’t have seen the lack, the need for the role models for my kids. I’m reading a book right now on race. And a woman in this book said we white people have a “free pass.” I’d never thought of that term before. We have a free pass in our society. These people I write about did not have a free pass in American society.

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