The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference hosted what it called a “Justice Summit” at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. last week. Among the speakers joining NHCLC President Samuel Rodriguez for the March 13 gathering were Daniel Garza, who runs the Koch brothers’ LIBRE Initiative, and Alfonso Aguilar, a board member of the Alliance Defending Freedom who runs the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles and the International Human Rights Group, which wages culture-war campaigns focusing on such international bodies as the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Rodriguez, who prayed at Trump’s inauguration and has been a guest at Trump White House events, presided. After the morning session at the museum, some participants went to the White House and others to Capitol Hill. According to a press release the group put out afterward, Vice President Mike Pence met with the group and “received a prolonged, standing ovation by promising that once the southern border is secure, the Trump administration would fix ‘this broken immigration system.’”
Rodriguez has a set of quips and one-liners to which he’s very devoted, and a regular listener could almost play bingo waiting for them: “Today’s complacency is tomorrow’s captivity,” “We are what we tolerate,” “Uncle Sam may be our uncle, but he will never be our Heavenly Father.”
Another trademark is Rodriguez’s claim that he and the NHCLC are nonpartisan, committed not to the agenda of the elephant or the donkey, but “the agenda of the lamb.” And it is true that Rodriguez is among a group of evangelicals who have been pushing the Republican Party—in his case for years—to adopt a more compassionate tone and policy agenda on immigration.
Rodriguez said the only way to advance immigration reform was for both sides to be willing to compromise. He said he had worked with James Robison to draft an immigration proposal for the president and delivered it to him when they had dinner at the White House (he did not say when). Rodriguez said his plan would provide citizenship to the DREAMers—people brought to the country as undocumented children and currently protected from deportation by DACA—but would offer legal status but not citizenship to their parents or others in the country illegally. Rodriguez said taking citizenship off the table for undocumented immigrants as a whole recognizes that Republicans fear creating eight to 10 million Democratic voters. He portrayed it as a compromise that could win over the Freedom Caucus. We’ll see.
Rodriguez told another story that helps explain his confidence in his ability to move the administration. He took credit—with some help from the Holy Spirit and Jared Kushner—for getting Trump to sign the criminal justice reform known as the First Step Act. Rodriguez explained that in a May 2018 meeting at the White House, Kushner asked what was on his heart. Rodriguez said that the Holy Spirit “filled me at that moment” and he talked about racial reconciliation and the need to address racial disparities in the justice system. “God gave me something, Jared ran with it, the president signed it, and now it’s the law of the land.” (Of course, the broad bipartisan coalitions working for years to publicize the inequities and harm caused by mass incarceration may have had something to do with it.)
Along the same lines, Rodriguez ally Harry Jackson talked about his participation in an August 1 meeting at the White House with African American pastors. They were criticized for attending, he said, but the next day Trump adjusted his position on minimum sentences. “You can’t be a prophet to the nation if you’re not in the room,” Jackson said.
When it comes to the core culture-war issues that motivate the Religious Right, especially abortion, Rodriguez is a hard liner. “What if we commit ourselves to see an end to abortion in our generation?” he asked. He and other speakers decried pro-choice legislation passed in New York and introduced in other states. “It’s time for the church to stand up,” said. Rodriguez talked about the need to fight for religious liberty as “a firewall against secular totalitarianism.”
Also hammering on a culture war message was Rod Parsley, an Ohio based preacher and one of the non-Latino evangelical leaders Rodriguez had invited to the event. Parsley’s intolerant rhetoric led then-presidential candidate John McCain to reject his endorsement in 2008. Parsley criticized church leaders who want to avoid confrontation by “dwelling in the devil’s demilitarized zone.” Attendees were given copies of Parsley’s latest book, “Still Silent No More”—an update of his 2005 book “Silent No More.” Parsley called the earlier book an “urgent warning to our nation and to its Christian leaders” but said his alerts went largely unheeded. So he’s trying again:
How can I remain silent when the founding faith of our nation is driven from the marketplace of ideas? How can I sit quietly by while the very words our founding fathers intended to protect faith are being used to destroy it, owing to a horrible perversion of language and law? The same First Amendment to our Constitution that bars government from restricting our faith is being currently used to drive Christianity from the national public square. ‘Our society ought to be secular,’ we are told—no prayer in our schools, no God in our pledges, no faith in our politics. All of this we are to accept from the hands of activist judges who repeatedly overturn the will of the people as expressed through their elected representatives.
I will not allow such outrages to go unmarked. Nor will I stand in embarrassed silence while old faiths and new agendas rush in to fill a void left by a supposedly discarded Christianity. I will sound an alarm about Hollywood’s perversion of love and sex and about the murder of the old and the unborn and life. I will not be silent until the media’s high-tech persecution of our faith is exposed and until the schools our tax dollars support are no longer the enemies of everything we teach our children to believe.
Parsley also called on the church to address the issue of poverty, joking that he was raised in a family “too poor to pay attention.”
But he returned to the “conflict for the heart and soul of this nation”—he said “the spirit of death is the spirit of our age and it’s spreading like a plague across America”—and he called for vigilance against “seducing spirits and doctrines of devils” and lifted up “redemptive responsibility in the voting booth.”
The NHCLC, like other Religious Right groups, sees the culture war as a global conflict, which was the focus of remarks by Aguilar, the ADF board member. He said that the gospel is under attack in Latin America, and he decried the “cultural colonialism” represented by U.S. embassies flying the rainbow flag. “We can’t allow regions like Africa or Latin America or Eastern Europe to be secularized,” he said.
“We have to ensure that we work together to establish bastions for the culture of life, for family, for religious freedom in those regions,” he said. “We don’t live in a vacuum. Whatever we do abroad is going to help us here in the United States.”
During the 2016 campaign, Aguilar withdrew his support from Trump over the candidate’s hard-line immigration rhetoric. But at the NHCLC event Aguilar said he is working closely with the Trump administration and its ambassador to the Organization for American States to derail progressive efforts at the OAS and Inter American Commission on Human Rights to protect reproductive rights and promote LGBTQ equality. He said the system has been “totally co-opted by liberal groups, by civil society organizations that are funded by George Soros.”
Aguilar also talked about “opening a new front in the abortion battle.” He said nine U.S. senators, led by Sen. James Lankford, have called on the Secretary of State to stop funding the IACHR and the Inter-American Commission on Women because of their advocacy for reproductive rights. He said Ambassador Trujillo told him the Trump administration is seriously considering cutting funding to the IAHCR. He said it’s important to build more partnerships with high-level politicians—he said Guatemala’s President Jimmy Morales is “truly a man of God” who has nominated an “extraordinary candidate” to the human rights commission—so that “we can take over the OAS” and stop it from “advancing this leftist agenda.” He said, “We have, at the end, to reclaim human rights.”
Also speaking was NHCLC board member Steven Strang, Trump-promoting author and head of the Charisma media platform. Strang spoke a bit about his own Trump books and the prophecies that predicted Trump’s election. “We got Donald Trump elected,” he declared.
Strang said it’s important to “get more people elected.” Among the politicians he cited favorably was Florida state legislator Kimberly Daniels, who is leading efforts in the state to pass Project Blitz legislation designed to undermine church-state separation.
Strang said that at the root of abortion is the sexual revolution. The nation has been shifting left since Woodrow Wilson, he said, and the pace of that change picked up with the Supreme Court’s church-state ruling in the 1960s. Christians didn’t resist those rulings, he said, but they should have. Trump is imperfect, he said, but he asked attendees to imagine who Hillary Clinton would have put on the Supreme Court.
Strang said of the NHCLC, “I see God raising up this organization to be a prophetic voice in our generation, not just to the Hispanic community, but to the entire church.”
Among the other speakers was Kelly Rosati, a former vice president of Focus on the Family. Rosati is an advocate for adoption and she doesn’t sugarcoat her message. She challenged individuals and churches who talk a pro-life game but haven’t stepped up to adopt any of the 100,000 children in foster care.
Dropping by the Museum of the Bible to represent the Trump administration was Frank Brogan, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, who promoted the administration’s proposal for a multi-billion-dollar tax credit program that would funnel money to private schools. Also getting a shout-out was Shannon Royce, a former chief of staff at the Family Research Council who is now the director of the Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives at the Department of Health and Human Services.
The press release distributed after the event said the summit “included the adoption of a historic ‘Justice Manifesto.’” The one-page manifesto was handed out and read aloud, but there was no vote among the participants. Still, NHCLC Executive Vice President Tony Suarez told the Christian Post that it could be “an inflection point for the church.” The manifesto says:
- We believe and affirm that God created men and women in his image and that every human being, without exception, bears the imprint of God, the imago Dei. (Genesis 1: 26-28)
- We believe in the sanctity and dignity of every human life from conception to natural death.
- We commit to speaking up for those who can’t speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8), including unborn children, their mothers, and all vulnerable people whose lives are at risk from violence, preventable disease and anti-life public policy such as abortion and euthanasia.
- We stand in support of women facing unexpected pregnancies with word and deed at the local and national levels, through our churches and in our public policy. We affirm the bipartisan efforts to provide paid family leave so that pregnant mothers can choose life for their babies and so that parents and children will have the time necessary for family flourishing as family is the foundation of society.
- We affirm that as to all these things, through the love of the Father, in the name of the Son, Jesus Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we will not grow weary in well doing (Galatians 6:9)”