'Hispanic Karl Rove' Helps Shape 'Third Way' Democratic Party Platform
As Rachel Laser, Culture Program Director for the Third Way announced during a press conference on October 10th, 2007, "[t]wo years ago, we launched an initiative that few thought could be successful: finding common ground between centrist evangelicals and progressives on the most divisive cultural issues of our times... The Come Let Us Reason Together Governing Agenda represents the fruit of these labors and maps a joint path forward to heal a nation torn apart by the culture wars." In early 2009, days before the inauguration of President Barack Obama, the 'Come Let Us Reason Together' effort re-launched its 'Governing Agenda' with a flourish, by announcing a press teleconference and sending a letter to the new President-Elect and Congressional leaders from both major US political parties which began, "For the last few decades, through both Democratic and Republican administrations, America has been polarized by an angry culture war, fought over such divisive issues as abortion and gay rights."
One of the touted contributors to the re-launched "Governing Agenda", the Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, purports to represent 15 million Hispanic Christians, has actively incited the culture wars, endorses the militant wing of the antiabortion and antigay movement, is affiliated with top leaders and institutions of the hard theocratic Christian right, and has earned a nickname, the "Hispanic Karl Rove." Rodriguez prayed together with Barack Obama, in a special private ceremony prior to the new president's inauguration. Billing itself as "the leading think tank of the moderate wing of the progressive movement," the Third Way is a highly connected inside-the-beltway effort that boasts, as honorary co-chairs, eleven members of the US Congress from the Democratic Party: six House members and five Senators.
The Come Let Us Reason Together agenda was created as a joint effort between the Third Way and Faith in Public Life, a 501c(3) organization which according to its mission statement "is a strategy center advancing faith in the public square as a positive and unifying force for justice, compassion and the common good." The Governing Agenda contains four points: " Reducing abortions (reducing abortion through reducing unintended pregnancies, supporting pregnant women, and increasing support for adoption)", "Supporting employment protections for gay and lesbian people", "Renouncing torture", and "Creating secure and comprehensive immigration reform".
The Third Way / Faith in Public Life initiative has provoked considerable criticism from the liberal and progressive left [1,2,3,4] as well as rebuttals [1,2] of that criticism from Governing Agenda authors.
As journalist Frederick Clarkson and other critics have pointed out, the Governing Agenda approach to reproductive rights seems to derive from a strategy hatched over a decade ago, to reframe the discourse in a way that would exclude, marginalize, and undercut the position that access to reproductive health care is an essential and inalienable right of all American citizens. A decade later, legal abortion is now unavailable across wide swaths of the continental United States. 87% of US counties lack a single abortion provider according to a study from the Guttmacher Institute.
During a January 15, 2009 Faith in Public Life / Third Way press teleconference to herald the Come Let Us Reason Together Governing Agenda, Samuel Rodriguez described an "[e]vangelical agenda that stands committed to building bridges rather than building walls. The 2008 Presidential Elections demonstrate how Hispanic Christians, as the fastest growing religious demographic in our nation, stand poised to facilitate an unprecedented platform for Faith in Public Policy that does not establish camp in the extremes but rather on common ground."
As Rachel Laser noted during the October 2007 press conference heralding the launch of the Third Way / Faith in Public Life "Come Let Us Reason Together" position paper, the phrase "Come Let Us Reason Together" was taken from the Bible's Book of Isaiah. Laser explained that "The title of this paper, 'Come Let Us Reason Together', is a Biblical passage from Isaiah where God calls to his people to reconcile their differences through respectful engagement". It was at best a dubious exegesis; The Book of Isaiah concerns Isaiah's vision from God in which the Lord castigates nations of Israel as sinful, rebellious, and corrupt and promises Isaiah that they will be made pure again but that those who continue to resist and rebel "will be devoured by the sword."
In terms of the American culture wars, the connotations of "Come let us reason together", from the Book of Isaiah, did not suggest evangelical moderation or conciliation at all.
Sammy Rodriguez has been identified as a leader in an allegedly moderate, centrist group of younger Christian conservative leaders dubbed the "new evangelicals." But while the image that the Rev. Rodriguez presents to mainstream media seems much less abrasive than that of leading Christian right culture warriors such as the late Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson or John Hagee, he wears a different demeanor when playing to Christian conservative audiences.
In a November 19, 2006 Utah sermon the Reverend Samuel Rodriguez declared: "We have radical Muslims. Radical homosexuals. Radical abortionists. We need radical, born again, spirit filled Christians to arise ! Do you follow me ?
We don't need any sissy Christians, Oprah Winfrey Christians. We need prophetic, devil stomping, demon rebuking, blood washed, Bible believing, free-from-sin Christians !"
While Samuel Rodriguez could be found, in the lead-up to the 2008 presidential election, praying together in a private service with Barack Obama, he has also described Sarah Palin a "kindred spirit." And Rev. Rodriguez has signed onto a statement, released May 7, 2008 from a group of prominent evangelicals, which lamented the politicization of Christianity. But, Rodriguez is also listed on the advisory board of Lou Engle's TheCall, an effort which is now mainstreaming violent antiabortion rhetoric that was common on the extreme fringe of the militant wing of the antiabortion movement during the 1990's.
Samuel Rodriguez has been a featured speaker at Promise Keepers events and the militaristic teenage Christian rallies held by Ron Luce's Battlecry. As described in an April 2007 Rolling Stone story by Jeff Sharlet, ` "When you enlist in the military, there's a code of honor," Luce preaches, "same as being a follower of Christ." His Christian code requires a "wartime mentality": a "survival orientation" and a readiness to face "real enemies." `
But Sammy Rodriguez is far more than just a motivational speaker at militant charismatic Christian rallies. In his alter ego guise, as a "new evangelical," Rodriguez also writes columns for a joint Newsweek/Washington post blog publication, "On Faith". In a July 28, 2009 On Faith column titled Can Minorities Derail The Same-Sex marriage Express ? Rodriguez asked,
"...the gay minority agenda may end up indefinitely deterred not by the white evangelical Christian right establishment but rather by ethno cultural minorities. In other words, Blacks and Latinos may end up as the proverbial firewall preventing the advancement of the gay and lesbian agenda... Could same-sex marriage push Hispanics, Blacks and other ethnic minorities into the ranks of the Republican Party?"
The discourse was fundamentally disingenuous, because Samuel Rodriguez is a leading political strategist among a group of rising multiethnic leaders on the Christian right who are working to bring about that very possibility.
As a January 29, 2008 Chicago Tribune story observed, "Rodriguez, ... has been dubbed by some Christian leaders the Karl Rove of Hispanic evangelical strategy." When Rodriguez and Karl Rove met in late September 2009 for breakfast, as reported in an October 7, 2008 Newsweek story, Rove quipped, "If you're the Hispanic Karl Rove, then does that make me the Anglo Sam Rodriguez?"
There's good reason for the nickname. In 2000, Rodriguez launched the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) that in 2003 subsequently partnered with the National Association of Evangelicals, then headed by Ted Haggard. In addition, in January 2009, the NHCLC issued a press release announcing it had formed a strategic partnership with Liberty University.
"Our desire is to see Hispanic Born Again Christians mobilized on both the vertical and horizontal planes of the Cross, preaching salvation and transforming their communities. This can only transpire via the platform of Top Tier education, thus, our partnership with Liberty. Liberty is the premier institution for Evangelical and Christian education. It's a natural fit", stated NHCLC President Rodriguez.
Samuel Rodriguez' words implied the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference represents a constituency that holds, on most counts except for immigration, positions similar to those of the classic, hard theocratic religious right. Regardless of the extent to which that is true, Rev. Rodriguez is hard at work, toiling and preaching to make it so for upcoming electoral cycles.
Liberty University has funded Christian Reconstructionist events and teaches a falsified, Christian nationalist version of American history. Liberty has repeatedly invited American history falsificationist David Barton as a speaker and sells Barton's books, which historian Chris Rodda, in her book Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternative Version of American History has demonstrated are packed with history lies.
Liberty University has recently banned its former College Democrat chapter but not the College Republican chapter at the University. The alliance with Liberty University was not the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference's only partnership with an old-line fundamentalist educational institution. In a July 22, 2009 press conference, Rodriguez' NHCLC announced the formation of a strategic partnership with Oral Roberts University.
The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference appears to be working to pull the 15 million Hispanic Christians the group purports to represent steadily to the right. Between the 2000 and 2004 elections, George W. Bush's share of the Hispanic Evangelical vote rose markedly. According to a Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life report, the percentage of Latino Protestants who voted for Bush increased from 33 percent in 2000 to 64 percent in 2004.
During the 2008 election many Hispanic evangelicals, incensed by the GOP's nativist anti-immigrant rhetoric, concerned about the economy, and perhaps inspired by Barack Obama's personal example of ethnic upward-mobility, voted for the Democratic Party. But Samuel Rodriguez has strongly suggested, on numerous occasions, that abortion and gay marriage will figure much more prominently in upcoming, post `08 national elections. Rodriguez is optimally placed to make it happen.
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez' dual ability to function as a fire-breathing partisan of the hard Christian right and yet brand himself, in mainstream media and in liberal and centrist Washington DC policy circles as being a leader of the "evangelical center" is nothing less than astonishing.
Samuel Rodriguez delivered a prayer at a service held immediately prior to Barack Obama's presidential inauguration and he has shared a podium, during a conference on proposed immigration reform legislation, with Ted Kennedy. But in an interview for an article published in the February 2009 issue of Charisma Magazine entitled, "The Faith of Sarah Palin," in which Rodriguez called Sarah Palin a "kindred spirit" Rodriguez stated that "Hispanic Pentecostals are excited about Palin. ... She resonates with us. She understands what it is to have a Charismatic experience."
Rodriguez has been listed as being on the advisory board of Faith in Public Life and played a highly public role in the creation of the "Let Us Reason Together" agenda but he also sits on the advisory board of Lou Engle's TheCall.
At TheCall's capstone rally for the pro-Proposition 8, anti-gay marriage effort in California, held November 1, 2008 at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, Engle fulminated against what he alleged were twin scourges destroying American society, abortion and homosexuality. Lou Engle then went on to call for acts of Christian martyrdom to bring an end to legal abortion.
There can be real-world consequences to such rhetoric:
As CBS's Jeff Glor reported in the wake of the murder of Wichita, Kansas late-term abortion doctor George Tiller, the ex-wife of Scott Roeder, charged in the murder, told Glor that "we did speak with the accused shooter Scott Roeder's ex-wife yesterday. She said was not surprised this happened and that she believed Roeder wanted to be a martyr for the cause." Dr. Tiller was gunned down on Sunday May 31, 2009, in the lobby of the church he attended.
Lou Engle promotes the claim that to be gay is to be demon-possessed, and Engle's son Jesse, who has set up a ministry in San Francisco, specializes in casting out "gay demons". San Francisco, claims Lou Engle, is where "the homosexuals boast the dominion of darkness." Engle is equally forthright about abortion - he has repeatedly forecast that unless legalized abortion is ended America will have a second civil war.
Lou Engle's TheCall played a little noticed but pivotal coordinating role in the anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 effort during the lead up to the November 4th, 2008 presidential election, by setting up eight CA field offices to coordinate get-out-the-vote efforts and statewide church prayer and fasting events held at hundreds or thousands of churches across the state.
Samuel Rodriguez has not been a dispassionate observer of the ongoing, twin campaigns against legal abortion and gay marriage; they are central to an evolving electoral strategy NHCLC president Rodriguez has helped pioneer. As a story by Charisma Magazine's Paul Steven Ghiringhelli, published days after the November 4, 2008 vote that passed Proposition 8 in California detailed,
"Noting that the black and Latino vote was critical for passing Proposition 8, California pastor Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said the ballot measure was a perfect example of the power churches have when they work across ethnic lines.
"Here's what this election demonstrates--white evangelicals by themselves cannot win elections," Rodriguez said. "White evangelicals by themselves cannot preserve a biblical worldview or a biblical agenda within American political and public policy arena. It is impossible. 2008 said it is over." "
Quoted in a March 5, 2009 Charisma Magazine article, Rodriguez had harsh words for the prospect that California's Supreme Court would reject Proposition 8 as unconstitutional:
"Calling California's high court "the personification of an uber/hyper activist and defacto junta," the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the California-based National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said Christians would not let the justices trample on their rights.
"If they overturn the decision, I guarantee you the faith community will not sit idly by and let this take place," he said. "You're going to see a movement emerge out of California a lot more powerful than what you saw last year [lobbying for Proposition 8]."
Samuel Rodriguez has moved on now to the fight against gay marriage in New York State. As journalist Bill Berkowitz observed, in a May 18th, 2009 story,
"Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), and [Ruben] Diaz, a New York state Senator from the Bronx a Pentecostal pastor in that borough, are two key players leading anti-same-sex marriage forces in New York State.
On Sunday, May 17, while much of the "culture war" crowd was focused on events at Notre Dame University -- where President Barack Obama was heartily welcomed by UND graduates and their families -- things were hopping in New York City. Thousands of anti-same-sex marriage activists marched in opposition to Governor David Patterson's gay marriage bill. The Christian Post reported that the mostly Latino crowd, which gathered at the Governor's Manhattan office, "stretched from 35th to 40th Street on 3rd Avenue in New York City."
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is equally passionate in his quest to outlaw abortion, and the national Hispanic Christian leader has vowed to attach the issue to the historic legacy of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement.
As Rodriguez proclaimed in footage shot during the 2008 Republican National Convention, "It's gonna be Billy Graham and Martin Luther King Jr. together in a the blender with a bit of salsa on top. That's the Hispanic evangelical church. It's Billy Graham with MLK, we have a couple of Taco Bells mixed in and that, honestly, is the Hispanic evangelical church."
The prospect of throwing 'the message of Martin Luther King Jr.' and 'the message of Billy Graham' into a blender together with salsa or Taco Bell burritos and then hitting the 'puree' button might seem jarring not only to gay and reproductive rights advocates but also to Jewish veterans of the Civil Rights movement given recently released "Nixon Tapes" audio recordings in which Richard Nixon and Billy Graham discuss Jews.
The conversation, dated February 21, 1973, followed another recorded Graham-Nixon talk a year earlier in which Nixon had railed against alleged Jewish control of the media. In the February 1973 conversation Nixon suggested that Jewish `misbehavior' might lead to another Holocaust:
"Anti-Semitism is stronger than we think. You know, it's unfortunate. But this has happened to the Jews. It happened in Spain, it happened in Germany, it's happening -- and now it's going to happen in America if these people don't start behaving."
Graham then replied, to Nixon,
"The Bible talks about two kinds of Jews. One is called the synagogue of Satan, they're the ones putting out pornographic literature, they're the ones putting out these obscene films."
During the 2008 election, Texas megachurch pastor and Christians United For Israel Founder John Hagee attracted a firestorm of criticism following his high-profile endorsement of GOP Presidential candidate John McCain, especially when a short YouTube video with an audio recording, of statements by Hagee that were widely taken as anti-Semitic, surfaced.
In the audio clip, from a late 2005 sermon, Hagee stated, "Then God sent a hunter. Hitler was a hunter." Hagee claimed that God's divine purpose for Hitler was to drive Europe's Jews towards Palestine, because that was where the deity wanted them to live. After the audio recording was aired on broadcast networks worldwide, McCain renounced Hagee's political endorsement.
Samuel Rodriguez appears to be on good terms with the Reverend John Hagee; Rodriguez recently tapped Hagee's former youth minister, Warren Beemer, to head the international youth ministry of the Third Day Believers Network (3DBN), Rodriguez' global fundamentalist ministry organization.
Before he left to a take a position with Rodriguez' organization, Warren Beemer presided over a Cornerstone Church youth ministry event celebrating the 50th anniversary of John Hagee's career in ministry. In a videotape of the event Beemer, standing before a cheering crowd of Cornerstone Church youth, addressed Reverend Hagee,
"You told me about four years ago to raise up an army of young people that would walk in that sanctuary, under Pastor Matt [John Hagee's son], that he could look at them and send them to any corner of this city, and they would march like an army doing the works of God and seeing the glory of God come to San Antonio."
Presumably, Beemer is now raising up an international youth army for Rodriguez the likes of which John Hagee, the late Jerry Falwell, or Sammy Rodriguez would be proud. It is unlikely such an army will pursue a "common ground" agenda in any meaningful sense of the term except one: it will be multiracial and multiethnic.
The pro-Proposition 8 effort in California was an example of muscle-flexing by an emergent faction of right-wing Christianity, multiethnic and multiracial, which can appear pseudo-progressive. The tendency is now coming to the American political fore, and the likelihood is that the new axis of bigotry will no longer be defined by the old racial and ethnic distinctions that have adhered to fundamentalism and Christian conservatism; the newly emergent Christian right will be defined by its aggressive advocacy for Christian religious supremacy.
Although Hispanic and black American evangelicals pulled strongly for Barack Obama in the 2008 election, another parallel dynamic cut in a different direction: in the 3-state 2008 drive against legalized gay marriage, an emerging ethnically and racially inclusive form of the Christian right flexed newfound electoral muscles and won.
That new face of the politicized Christian conservative movement is not exclusively associated with the Republican Party. Although the GOP may continue on the present course and so consign itself to political irrelevancy, as a dwindling revanchist bastion of retrograde white supremacist bigotry, the GOP may yet rally and hound out its nativist, bigoted elements.
But, as a backup, the Democratic Party would also serve as an adequate vehicle for the Christian theocratic aspirations of so-called "new evangelicals" who appear to be betting that the Party can serve as a fine vehicle for Christian supremacist populism. In that case the Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, no doubt, will make sure the new Christian Democratic Party is rainbow.
'Hispanic Karl Rove' Helps Shape 'Third Way' Democratic Party Platform | 20 comments (20 topical, 0 hidden)
'Hispanic Karl Rove' Helps Shape 'Third Way' Democratic Party Platform | 20 comments (20 topical, 0 hidden)