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Samuel Rodriguez will not solve the GOP’s Latino problem

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With Republican Beltwaydom now agreeing that something must be done to bring Hispanics into the GOP tent, eyes have turned to Rev. Samuel Rodriguez as the Great Brown Hope. I fear the hope is misplaced.

Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, an organization that "not only strives to serve the 16 million Evangelical Hispanics in America but also, the NHCLC strives to serve the entire 40 million plus Latino Community." It sees itself as the Hispanic equivalent of the National Association of Evangelicals. Let's start with the numbers.

The best estimate we have--from Trinity's 2008 American Religious Identification Survey--is that non-Catholic Christians constitute 22 percent of the adult Latino population. According to the Census, there are now 50 million Latinos in the U.S. There's no way that there are more than 10 million evangelicals among them, given that a significant portion of the 22 percent are mainline Protestants, Mormons, and others outside the evangelical fold.

In terms of the electorate, of the 12 million Latinos who voted last week, the number of evangelicals would have been closer to two million than three.

Rodriguez and company could argue that the evangelical segment of the Latino population is growing, but that's not the case. While the number of non-Catholic Christian Latinos nearly doubled between 1990 and 2008, their proportion of the Latino population actually declined slightly relative to Latino Catholics. The big proportional growth came from the Latino Nones, who increased their share of the pie from six to 12 percent--3.8 million adults who identify with the Democrats over the Republicans by a 5-1 ratio.

Latino Nones will hardly be sympathetic to the evangelical values message, but neither will the other non-evangelicals. There is a fond Republican notion that Latinos are traditional folk susceptible to GOP social conservatism. Not true. They are actually more likely to support same-sex marraige and abortion rights than other Americans.

For his part, Rodriguez is far from a spiritually irenic figure. As the liberal blogger Greg Metzger points out, he has dabbled in Islamophobia and declines to cooperate with Catholics. His Christian Americanism harks back to the heyday of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

No doubt, Rodriguez will serve as the poster boy for a Republican Party that understands it must embrace comprehensive immigration reform or give up all hope of recapturing the presidency. But as someone to lead Latinos into the Promised Land of Republicanism? Forget about it. 

Topics: Politics, Government & Politics


  1. thank you for this short piece-as someone who studies Latino/a religion for a living, I have been saying this for years! Much needed corrective to years of journalism that has never challenged Rodriguez’ claims.

  2. Well said, Mark. As you note, I have focused much of my work on Rodriguez in areas that many in the media ignore (Lisa Miller in particular), namely his actual words and policy positions on the environment, Islam, Christian Americanism, Tea Party economics, etc. He is not only a social conservative, but if his words and institutional leadership is to be believed, he is a Hard Right culture warrior. The bottom line is that Rodriguez hardly fits the profile of someone who would help the GOP reach beyond the Latino base it already has because he is disconnected from the mainstream of Latino thought and when not speaking to national media elites he is as radical a speaker as one would expect from a strong supporter/leader of Rick Perry’s prayer rally. This doesn’t mean that he won’t try to speak a good “moderate” or even progressive line when the moment seems to call for it, but a close examination of his views shows where his real commitments are. For a clear example of how this doublespeak plays out in his public work, see my piece on Rodriguez’s environmental record:

  3. Yes, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is far from irenic. In late 2006, he told members of a Utah church,

    “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 !”

    Rodriguez extensive ties to C. Peter Wagner’s New Apostolic Reformation ( Rodriguez even addresses NAR prophet and apostle Cindy Jacobs as “mama Cindy” - see ) are also noteworthy, because of the NAR’s doctrine believers should burn, flush down toilets, smash, or otherwise dispose of scripture and artifacts associated with competing religions and belief systems ( see: ).

  4. Another wee point - the NHCLC now claims to represent “over 20 million Hispanic evangelicals”. So, where do the additional 10 million come from ? Well, in the past the NHCLC has claimed to represent 5 million charismatic Catholic Hispanics, along with 10 million Hispanic evangelicals. But that still leaves 5 million unaccounted for.

    And, how is it, exactly, that Rodriguez gets to “represent” these enormous demographic groups? Simply by saying he does? If so, perhaps I too can get my own column in the Washington Post, by declaring myself head of a new organization that “represents” millions of liberal Democrats.

  5. According to the truthiness norms of Fox News, Rodriguez is the voice of non-Catholic Hispanics. Case closed. This cannot be rejected or even questioned. The other media will fall in line, asking Rodriguez to appear when they want a non-Democratic Hispanic.

  6. John, the even more troubling point is that at many points and in many media outlets Rodriguez is presented as a kind of post-partisan evangelical, very open to progressive political goals. In fact, until my post last week the Democratic National Committee’s Faith Outreach Director was listed on the Board of Advisors of Rodriguez’s NHCLC. See his resignation/disassociation letter at this post:

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