As the fastest growing group of voters in the nation, Hispanic Evangelicals are now considered by many, the quintessential swing group to watch in this year’s elections. In 2004, 2 out of 3 supported President Bush in the national elections, affording him a commanding win. But now, they have taken a wait and see stance, as concerns about the hard line rhetoric on immigration, the economy, the war in Iraq and other pressing issues could become deal breakers, according to Rev. Samuel Rodriguez President and founder of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference – the nation’s largest Hispanic Christian organization, representing about 18,000 or so Evangelical churches.
As a unifying voice, the NHCLC serves a diverse community of Latino Evangelicals 14 million strong, on issues pertaining to family, immigration, economic mobility, education, political empowerment and spiritual/moral enrichment. Historically, the white evangelical church represented the voice of the Christian church, with a clearly defined focus on righteousness issues (i.e. the defense of traditional marriage and the sanctity of life), while the African American church focused on social justice issues, due to the long history of discriminatory practices targeted at its community. But as the emerging church by way of sheer numbers, (by the year 2050, every 1 in 4 Americans will be people of color) Latino evangelicals seek to bring a more reconciliatory and balanced Christian world view that addresses issues of concern for all evangelicals.
“We stand at the equilibrium of both the righteousness and justice platforms”, states Rodriguez. “Our agenda is broad, and includes such issues as alleviating poverty, health care, education reform, climate change, Darfur, the eradication of AIDS and even torture. And yes, the defense of traditional marriage and the sanctity of life, but maybe from a different perspective. As Latinos, we see the preservation of traditional marriage as the antidote to the proliferation of gang violence. We believe, that if mom and dad are in the home, that young man or woman would be hard pressed to engage in any gang activity… and not only that, but their social, economic and educational advancement is directly affected by the presence of both parents in the home. For us the defense of traditional marriage is a matter of survival, community survival that is”. Rodriguez, a first generation American born to Puerto Rican parents, identified by Newsweek Magazine as one of the leaders to watch in 2008, has emerged as a commanding voice for Hispanic evangelicals, and believes, that Latinos will play a key role in electing the next president. As a group, Latinos are a “natural” republican constituency. In general they are conservative, or better yet, traditional in their values, and in the past, have strongly supported the republican party along issues pertaining to family. But now, the administrations failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform combined with the strong vocal opposition from some members of the republican party, has become the great divide between the two, thus placing any prior gains within the Latino constituency up for grabs in the upcoming presidential elections.
“For Latinos, immigration is a family issue”, states Rodriguez. “Most of us, fail to realize that those referred to as illegal immigrants are fathers and uncles of the documented, and very much part of their communities. We are very much in favor of protecting our borders and stopping any and all illegal activity, including illegal immigration, but as you can imagine, it would be very difficult to build alliances with anyone who threatens to deport a family member”.
It is estimated, that 12 million undocumented immigrants and their families will be affected by the absence of a national solution to the problem. And after congress’, third failure to pass a comprehensive reform last spring, some local governments have opted to take matters into their own hands, in many cases, with such measures as banning foreign language signs in their towns to making it illegal to hire or rent to undocumented people, giving way to problems of racial profiling and other discriminatory practices.
“The anti – Latino fervor and demagoguery exposed via – the immigration debate, is an issue of major concern for the Latinos community”, states Rodriguez. “Right now, we are the group of choice for xenophobia and discriminatory racist rhetoric in very much the way that African Americans have experienced from day one. We have never been down this road before, but are now – under the guise of border protection. The rhetoric and verbiage out there is polarizing, there’s truly an anti-Latino sentiment out there. . . that needs to be addressed”.
note: In forthcoming issues will continue to investigate the narrative of the Latino Evangelical in America. We will examine their challenges, concerns and triumphs in hopes to better understand the role this group plays in the intricate fabric of our nation and its impact on American culture.