Last month the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference announced that it was merging with Conela, a Latin America-based organization, to become “the world’s largest Hispanic Evangelical association” claiming to represent more than 500,000 churches. As Kyle reported, Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver had encouraged the NHCLC’s Samuel Rodriguez to expand into Latin America after Staver’s visit to Peru, where he encouraged legislators to resist legal equality for gay people and same-sex couples.
The wildly anti-gay Matt Barber, also with Liberty Counsel, praised the merger as a way for the NHCLC to join the Religious Right’s global war against LGBT equality:
"And so NHCLC," Barber said, "is really putting up a firewall to protect Latin America from, unfortunately, this cancerous invasion of immorality and [this] exporting [of] radical homosexual activism and radical pro-abortion activism, ultimately a culture of death.”
In a new interview with the Christian Post, Rodriguez uses similar language about creating a “firewall against moral relativism” and discloses some details about the merger and the combined group’s plans. Rodriguez is the CEO of the new merged NHCLC/Conela, while Conela’s former President Ricardo Luna is the executive director.
Rodriguez says Conela had already adopted NHCLC’s agenda and so the new group can go to work immediately building out an infrastructure in Latin America.
Conela already has been functioning with the Lamb's agenda and our 7 Directives, so it's a matter of creating infrastructure and amplifying the media and messaging platforms in Latin America.
If the question is whether or not we are going to be as active on the social political front in Latin America as we are in America, the answer is yes, again, not in the spirit of political advocacy, but in the spirit of prophetic activism.
Let me give you an example. Two weeks ago, in Baja California, the Mexico chapter director met with the governor of Baja California with hundreds of pastors united to discuss the issues of religious liberty, to discuss the issues of the 7 Directives as it pertains to Mexico.
He says they’re still working out the structural details.
We are in the board restructuring phase right now and a number of events taking place. One in October in Panama and there's one in December with 1,000 pastors in Mexico, there's one taking place in Europe at the beginning of the year.
My objective is to travel around Latin America with Ricardo, get to know the key influential pastors and leaders as we structure this global network and provide the resources that national pastors and regional leaders need to advance the Lamb's agenda.
Rodriguez, in spite of his media treatment as an evangelical moderate, made crystal clear that his organization is part of the Religious Right political movement when it reached a formal agreement to make the far-right Liberty Counsel the NHCLC’s official legislative and policy arm, and when Staver became a board member and chief legal counsel to the group.
Rodriguez’s rhetoric doesn’t seem to be changing.
Theologically speaking, we are on the same track. We are committed to biblical orthodoxy. We are committed to biblical truth. We are committed to making sure that truth is never sacrificed on the altar of expediency. We are committed to Billy Graham's message of salvation through Christ alone and through Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s March for Justice. So, we are committed to both righteousness and justice. We are evangelical. We do embrace the Manhattan Declaration. We would sign on to that.
Merging Billy Graham with Martin Luther King is the standard rhetoric of Rodriguez’s stump speech. Rodriguez has built allies among more progressive Christians by advocating for immigration reform and signing on to the Circle of Protection, a call from religious leaders not to sacrifice programs for the poor in order to reduce the deficit. But Rodriguez has also signed onto right-wing declarations that oppose progressive taxation, and embraced right-wing rhetoric about people being “enslaved” by government and “uber-entitlements.” And, of course, he is utterly opposed to marriage equality and legal access to abortion.
Rodriguez is connected to the dominionist New Apostolic Reformation and was a founding board member of the Oak Initiative, though he resigned after being confronted about the group’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and activities. He clearly has big ambitions for the new group.
"We are not drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid that Christianity is in decline, that this is the last hour of the Christian global narrative in a significant matter," Rodriguez told The Christian Post recently in an exclusive interview about the merger that took place on May 1. "We are not drinking the Kool-Aid. As a matter of fact, we have a very strong sense of optimism … we do believe the best is yet to come….
"It may very well be the largest Protestant network in the world, meaning that after the Catholic Church, this may very well be the largest Christian network organization in the world," he said. "I believe it speaks accolades to the growth of the Latino Christian demographic. I think it speaks accolades to Latino born-again Christians around the world because if this is the largest network in the world and now we are leading the charge of global evangelicalism."