Rodriguez on Nativism in the GOP and Socially Conservative Latinos

On Up With Chris Hayes on MSNBC on Sunday, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference was interviewed about the GOP’s alienation of Latino voters by its nativist immigration rhetoric, as well as the policy positioning of the presidential candidates on immigration. Rodriguez, who supports immigration reform but will not support a bill that includes equality for gay and lesbian bi-national couples, posited that Latinos would soon lead a movement that would reject the GOP’s nativism, but still adhere to social conservative orthodoxy:

At the end of the day, what you’re going to see is the emergence of an independent movement that will be right of center, not hard-right, but right of center, independent movement that will run a counter narrative, or an alternative narrative to the Republican Party and even to the progressive, liberal, the Democratic Party. There’s a brand new movement emerging in America. It’s center-rght, it’s not hard right, it’s that cricle of protection but with social conservative values that do not alienate or polarize. It’s difficult to explain, but it is emerging, and I think the Latino community will emerge as the leaders of that political apparatus in the 21st century. 

What, exactly, does Rodriguez mean by “social conservative values that do not alienate or polarize?” After the 2008 Republican National Convention, Rodriguez told me he was dismayed by the “nativism, xenophobia, and quasi-racist elements embedded in the Republican Party.” But when it comes to those social conservative values, he’s hardly been a model of non-polarizing rhetoric.

Last year, Rodriguez joined other religious right leaders in protesting a new Planned Parenthood facility in Houston, Texas. At the protest Rodriguez said the “spirit of Herod” was present, a reference to the biblical king’s attempt to kill the baby Jesus. Rodriguez had deployed a similar charge against the health care reform bill pending in late 2009 in the Senate, which had, in the religious right’s view, failed to adequately restrict insurance carriers who provided abortion coverage in their plans from participating in the federally-subsidized exchange. Leading a prayer on a webcast with Republican members of Congress and anti-choice activists, Rodriguez said:

Father, the same spirit of Herod who 2000 years ago attempted to exterminate the life of the Messiah today lives even America. The legislation that incorporates death and infanticide all under the canopy of reform. 

At the Planned Parenthood protest, Rodriguez echoed the bogus charge of the religious right that Planned Parenthood deliberately targets minorities for abortions. “Why is the devil so afraid of black babies and brown babies? It’s time to turn the tide. Abortion is anti-Latino, anti-black and anti-life,” he told the crowd, according to an account by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. (For more on the anti-Planned Parenthood activists in Houston, and efforts to bring black and Latino pastors into the movement, see my recent report from Texas.)

Later that year, I watched Rodriguez — who has formed a “strategic partnership” with Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University to train the next generation of Latino leaders — tell the students gathered in the university’s basketball arena that the civil rights issue for the 21st century is abortion. At the Freedom Federation conference held at the university in April 2010, Rodriguez maintained that white evangelicals need black and Latino evangelicals to succeed: “Let me be very blunt here. I don’t believe white evangelicals or white conservatives alone can repudiate the spirit of Herod, the spirit of Sodom and Gomorrah, the spirit of Jezebel.”

Rodriguez may be leading a new movement, but if he is, it’s a pretty narrow one: social issues culture warriors disgusted with the GOP’s other culture war against immigrants.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email