“Bipartisan” Evangelical Rev. Rodriguez Conservative Even on Immigration

About Frederick Clarkson

RodriguezGreat value is placed on being bipartisan in Washington, D.C., today.  Or, at least, appearing bipartisan.  That may be part of the secret of the remarkable success of Christian Right leader Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), who manages to appear bipartisan without actually being bipartisan. Rodriguez claims he supports the “agenda of the Lamb” (a biblical metaphor for Jesus) rather than the Democratic donkey or the Republican elephant, a self-portrayal the media eats up, but his version always turns out to be conservative and Republican–as illustrated by the latest revelations about his role in immigration reform.

Early in the first Obama administration, Rodriguez was presented as one of a new breed of moderate evangelical leaders who, along with Rick Warren, would displace the Christian Right old guard. Neither managed to maintain the facade. Warren exited stage right after being repeatedly exposed, as Rob Boston put it, as “Jerry Falwell in a Hawaiian shirt,” including for his role attacking LGBTQ rights in Uganda, as exposed by PRA’s Globalizing the Culture Wars. Meanwhile, Rodriguez was abandoned by liberals and the Democratic Party in the wake of his strident anti-Muslim, anti-abortion, anti-marriage equality, and overtly pro-Republican politics.

Yet Rodriguez has survived, largely in the media, as a figure who transcends racial, religious and political divides on immigration reform. But even on immigration, his signature issue across two presidential administrations, he has a controversial and decidedly conservative record. In 2009, he publicly deprioritized immigration reform (as I report in The Public Eye), declaring that if we got it right on abortion and marriage, God would take care of immigration. Now that immigration has moved to the center of public policy discussion, it is worth surfacing more of his record.

In June 2012, a new grouping called the Evangelical Immigration Table made news by offering a set of principles that a range of evangelical leaders hoped Congress would consider as they dealt with immigration reform. Leaders of “The Table” include such conservatives as Rodriguez, Leith Anderson of the National Association of Evangelicals, and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, as well as Jim Wallis of Sojourners. The same month, a group called “Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR) with the same stated principles and some of the same leaders (including Rodriguez) launched a website, although they had already been active for two years.

CCIR revealed in a statement emailed to members of Rodriguez’s NHCLC shortly after the November 2012 election that for two years they had been helping Republican Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and John McCain (R-AZ) craft the ACHIEVE Act, introduced as an answer to the Democrat’s DREAM Act.  The statement praising the Republican Senators was signed by Rodriguez, Land, CCIR President Robert Gittelson, and Mathew Staver of Liberty University (founded by right-wing televangelist Jerry Falwell). Thus, while presenting himself as bipartisan, behind the scenes Rodriguez was working with GOP Senators on a partisan, and much weaker bill.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), speaking for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, rejected the ACHIEVE Act, calling it “too little, too late.”

The CCIR statement was not Rodriguez’s only post-election Republican outburst.

Throughout an interview with other conservative evangelical leaders on the Christian radio program BreakPoint on November 8th, Rodriguez unambiguously spoke of “we” when referring to conservative, Christian, Republicanism.

“I am a staunchly prolife, pro-marriage, limited government person,” he declared while discussing how many ethnic Americans supported president Obama because he was the first African American president. But Rodriguez assured us that soon the “anomaly” of his presidency will be over. What’s more, he insisted that circumstances could change to the point where “[i]f the Republican conservative movement can rebrand itself to be a party of justice and freedom, then we can make significant inroads in ethnic communities and the next generation.” Later in the interview he suggested that if that happens, “we are going to see a fresh Christian conservative movement in America.”

Frederick Clarkson, a Senior Research Analyst at Political Research Associates, has written about politics and religion for more than three decades. He is the author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy and editor of Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America. Follow him on Twitter at @FredClarkson.