On The Silence Of ‘The Lamb’s Agenda’: An Open Letter to Rev. Samuel Rodriguez

Dear Rev. Rodriguez,

I hope this finds you well.

Some friends made me aware of your statement on the reelection of President Obama. I read it through multiple times, and each time I tried to put my metaphorical finger on what it is that leaves me so mystified and disappointed. My mystification may arise from recalling when you were introduced to the national stage as a centrist evangelical. 

You treat President Obama as an impious abortion enabler. That’s the clear implication of your prayer that he come to recognize God’s image in the “unborn”: you mean to say that his current position is unacceptable. 

You pray that he will “strengthen families,” and later you write of “strengthening marriages,” but of course the president is already strengthening families in multiple ways: through the great moral achievement of the Affordable Care Act, his signing of the Lilly Ledbetter equal pay measure, his embrace of marriage equality, and his very strong commitment to greater access to higher education. As you well know, there are only two ways today through which our young people can advance economically: They must have either a union card or a college degree—or (preferably) both. I believe that our 44th president understands this well. Or is there a particular kind of family you think needs to be strengthened—and that our president is falling short on that agenda?

I believe your viewpoint is clear from what follows. Along with advancing the cause of immigration reform and the alleviation of poverty (which we agree are both “givens” in Mr. Obama’s second term), you expect him to advance the cause of religious liberty—defined by you and your fellows as deference to religious dogma in public policy—and you expect him to “protect our Judeo-Christian value system.”

You mention, rather dramatically, “the agenda of the Lamb.” 

We are both ordained Christian ministers. I do not presume to know what the “agenda of the Lamb” in fact is. But you do presume to know. 

Personally, I do not believe that God-in-Christ is invested in the creation of a “cross-driven movement that will reconcile Billy Graham’s message with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s march.” Personally, I think God-in-Christ still approves Dr. King’s agenda without qualification. Truth be told, I was somewhat surprised that the 94-year-old evangelist would choose this moment in his long life to become overtly partisan in support of Mr. Romney, apparently embracing him as the last white man standing. 

You and I both long for a “new awakening.” The difference is that I believe we did in fact see a new awakening in this election. An awakening to the the need to reject all theocratic language and all theocratic posturing for the sake of authentic religious freedom. 

Forgive me for quoting Maureen Dowd to you (and please do not lose your breakfast over this), but very few people who are paying attention doubt that Ms. Dowd is correct in describing this election as the “death knell for the Republican culture wars”—wars that you appear eager to continue.

American voters—and not just voters located on the two sea coasts—elected a lesbian U.S. senator, the first openly bisexual and three new gay members of Congress, and three states voted to legalize marriage equality, while another rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to outlaw it.

These outcomes are not a matter of the voters failing to understand your message. As your deeply conservative colleague, the Rev. Dr. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, put it: “It’s not that our message—we think abortion is wrong, we think same-sex marriage is wrong—didn’t get out. It did get out.” Rev. Mohler continues: “It’s that the entire moral landscape has changed. An increasingly secularized America understands our positions, and has rejected them.” 

You appear not to grasp this reality in still seeking “sanctification” of the culture and of our politics. 

According to exit polls your own base of support—Latino Protestants—voted for President Obama in numbers almost equal to the proportion of Latino Roman Catholics who voted for him. You may think that this happened only on account of Mr. Obama’s move toward immigration reform and on account of the loathsomeness of Mr. Romney’s “self-deportation” comments. I think you are badly mistaken if you believe that. Your own base is awakening to the idea of the blessed promise of a secular government; one that takes seriously people’s need for education and jobs but leaves it to them to work out their own salvation. I pray you will have the same awakening. 

The view you espouse—deference to Christian doctrine in public policy (and please do kindly stop using the not-useful “Judeo-Christian” tag to cover your actual belief)—is one that now is held mainly by some still-powerful aging white men and by yourself. 

Where does that leave you? As I say, I became aware of you by way of a book that described you as a rising Latino evangelical who could fairly be labeled progressive. It’s not my place to give advice, but in your position I would cut my ties to the declining, rear-guard, and overwhelmingly white theocratic agenda. Spend more time with younger people of color and with immigrant Americans who have more important things to worry about than some imagined/projected “agenda of the Lamb.” It will be good for your career and good for your country. 

Yours in service,

Rev. Peter Laarman 

peterlaarman@gmail.com'

Peter Laarman is a United Church of Christ minister and activist who recently retired as executive director of Progressive Christians Uniting in Los Angeles. He remains involved in numerous justice struggles, in particular a campaign known as Justice Not Jails that calls upon faith communities to critique and combat the system of racialized mass incarceration often referred to as The New Jim Crow.