Hispanic Pastor Calls on Church and Government to Bridge Racial Divide

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There is no easy answer to America’s racial and political divide. But one thing is clear, healing in America will require both the church and government leaders taking action to build bridges in our nation. 

“Silence is not an option. Complacency makes us complicit,” the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and a member of the National Coronavirus Recovery Commission, said in a statement after the killing of George Floyd.

Rodriguez joins the podcast to explain the need for a national commission to address the broken trust between the African American community and law enforcement, and the role of the church during this critical time in history. 

Rodriguez also discusses some of the latest work of The Heritage Foundation’s National Coronavirus Recovery Commission. Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript. 

We also cover these stories:

  • Attorney General William Barr said there are about 500 open investigations looking into crimes committed in the past weeks following riots in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
  • Texas is pumping the brakes on its reopening plan amid a spike in new coronavirus cases.
  • The Supreme Court ruled Thursday 7-2 that people who are seeking asylum in the United States do not have the right to have a hearing in a federal court before being deported.

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Virginia Allen: I am joined by Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and a member of The Heritage Foundation’s National Coronavirus Recovery Commission. Pastor Sam, thanks so much for being here.

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez: Thank you for having me.

Allen: We spoke in April about the Coronavirus Recovery Commission, and I want to talk a little bit more about that in just a moment. But first, I want to talk about the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference’s response to the killing of George Floyd. Tell me about the statement you issued.

Rodriguez: We issued a statement driven by righteous indignation, driven by a sense of collective call and moral impetus to go beyond the rhetoric and demand justice and reform.

And I am extremely pleased at seeing the president sign an executive order that begins the process of reforming our law enforcement, the vast majority of which, of course, we all agree are wonderful public servants indeed. But we must … address the broken trust between communities of color and law enforcement in order for us to have a more civil society and move forward as a nation after this COVID-19 pandemic.

Allen: As we look at that, at moving forward, you were so straightforward in your call to action saying, “Silence is not an option. Complacency makes us complicit.” What actions are you encouraging people to take against racism in our nation?

Rodriguez: Well, first of all, acknowledging the fact that there are still elements of racism. We can’t live in this vast space called denial. We must come to the acknowledgement that even though it’s 2020, unfortunately, the sin of racism still exists in America and around the world for that matter. It requires all of us.

Now, as an American and as a Christian, I do believe that we have the moral imperative, biblically substantiated, to build a firewall of righteousness and justice. Psalm 89:14: Righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne and love and truth are the attendants. They lead the way.

So imagine an America where we are filled and we are driven by righteousness and justice, truth and love. So we must address racism in our generation. We must bring down the Goliath of bigotry with the stone of charity, as I stated in our collective NHCLC statement.

But this requires some practical reforms. Beyond the rhetoric, beyond the sort of the metaphorical big-speaky sermon, what are we looking for? I recommend that every single law enforcement officer would be required to carry and have a body cam. I recommend that chokeholds be prohibited. I recommend that that knee action, that horrific action, gesture taken by that officer be made illegal.

And then, of course, we must go through a more thorough vetting process. We must look at individuals that are attempting to [get into] law enforcement, making certain that there are as much as possible. We don’t understand fully the human heart, and we can’t discern the heart of an individual. But through their actions in their past and make sure that we are purging out individuals who have racist tendencies or worldviews.

Again, the vast majority of law enforcement individuals are wonderful public servants. We must, for the sake of our children and our children’s children, build a firewall against racism and bigotry for generations to come.

Allen: And it’s certainly been encouraging to see President [Donald] Trump and leaders in our Congress like Sen. Tim Scott—

Rodriguez: Tim Scott.

Allen: … and other Republican leaders really take the initiative on this and move forward with banning those things like chokeholds.

I want to ask just on a really kind of a one-on-one level, it’s so important that we’re, obviously, encouraging our political leaders to be making these changes at the top, but also there’s so much just that we can do as people to put those political differences aside and stop and love people. How do we go about finding common ground right now?

Rodriguez: Imago dei. Imago dei is a Latin term for the image of God. It begins with the image of God. If I see my fellow human being as a person created in the image of God, primarily that right there, that lens, that is not only beautiful, it is powerful, transformative. It begins this amazing journey in interacting, loving, and sharing this space we call life with the rest of humanity, where we bypass the myopic nomenclatures and descriptors that attempt to segregate us.

Again, this idea that we wake up in the morning, I don’t wake up in the morning, I say, “Samuel Rodriguez, I am Latino, I’m brown.” I don’t wake up in the morning obsessed or fixated on the color of my skin. I wake up in the morning and the first thing I see as a child of God, I am created in the image of God. I am a Christian. I am an American who happens to be of Hispanic descent.

And if we see ourselves primarily as children of God created in the image of God, then we’re going to do away with the racist elements that still exist in society.

Listen, until we have the New Jerusalem, until we have a God-ordained utopia, there’s always going to be racism because it’s an outcome of the fallen nature of man and it is sinful. It is a sin indeed.

However, as a collective society, we can do our best to push that giant down. And I’m using biblical metaphors, as you can hear, I’m a preacher. We can emerge as the Davids of the 21st century and take that stone of charity and bring that Goliath down.

And I’ll give your audience one idea. I hear these arguments. I pastor a church that’s 40% white, 40% African American, 20% Latino and Asian. The New York Times did feature us about two weeks ago. And in looking at the diversity of our church, I was asked, “Pastor Sam, how do we know whether or not we have any racist elements in us? How do we know?”

And one of my responses is the following, “If you can see your child married to someone of another race, and there are absolutely no qualms, no angst, nothing at all whatsoever, nothing negative in you, you have no hesitation, then you’re on the right track, my friend. But if you have any hesitation, any qualms, any angst, anything to require you to come before the throne room of grace and ask our heavenly Father to purge out whatever myopic and inappropriate worldview or thread may still lie embedded in your heart.”

Allen: That’s a powerful litmus test. Really, so much of what you said, it comes down to focusing on those points, those areas where we have commonality, focusing not on that we look different, but that we’re both children of God, where we relate, where we can connect.

Rodriguez: A radical idea that I’ve never stated in an interview before—and you may want to edit this afterwards … it’s totally at your discretion—I am sick and tired of government, Uncle Sam-exacerbated silos, nomenclatures, and descriptors that continue to separate us.

This obsession with “fill in the boxes, please.” What are you? White, black, brown, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Every single category. Why can’t I just be an American? Why can’t I just be an American?

We continue to exacerbate our differences. We elevate. It’s identity politics on steroids. And there are politicians and community leaders that exacerbate and exploit these differences for political and financial gain. And they live off our differences.

Our commonalities are much more greater than our differences. What we have in common, we are created in the image of God, we are God’s children. We all have a heart, a head, and a hand. We all want our children to do greater things. And we need to focus on what brings us together, without diluting.

Yes, we appreciate diversity. We’re thankful for the tapestry and the mosaic. Amen. But … it’s one nation under God. It’s the different colors of the flag, but it’s still one flag. If we could focus on commonalities, we’ll go a long way in pushing back the constant narrative of strife and discord and division and disruption in our nation.

Allen: Yeah. And we know that in order to get to that place where we are more unified and we’re able to kind of look past differences, that’s going to take both the church and government. It’s a group effort. It’s not exclusive to one or the other.

So as we look at that role that the government needs to play, you wrote on Twitter that you said, “The federal government/DOJ should establish a national commission to address the broken trust between the African American community and law enforcement. What took place with George Floyd must never happen again. Let us come together in the name of Jesus to find solutions.”

So tell me a little bit about the role that you think a commission could play here.

Rodriguez: That commission, and I happen to serve on this wonderful National Coronavirus Recovery Commission of Heritage, which is an amazing, just a blessing indeed and an honor beyond words, but a national commission that will have the support from the executive branch and from the legislative branch will really help this nation come together.

It will serve as an initial reconciliatory prescription, where not only is there a conversation taking place, a conversation with recommendations and the commitment on behalf of our government to implement corresponding recommendations after due diligence.

I think that that right there in itself, what the president did in signing an executive order, it’s amazing and I applaud and commend him for that.

But of course, you and I both know executive orders only last as long as that presidential term. And we really want to codify. We want to make this permanent. And the only way to do that is through a legislative initiative that emerges out of a commission presenting viable recommendations that can be implemented and in a very expedited manner.

And some of the recommendations I laid out previously, again, it can be done. But if we bring stakeholders and shareholders, community leaders to the table, along with law enforcement officials, and look at a way that we can solve this issue, [then] we can move forward.

But a national commission, in my opinion, will go a long way in addressing the current angst in communities of color regarding law enforcement.

And this defunding the police, are you kidding me? Are you truly kidding me? It’s illogical. There’s a lack of cognitive coherency. It makes absolutely no sense.

Well, let me just say it, it’s ridiculous. It will lead to mass murders, anarchy, without a doubt. Instead of defunding, we should be reforming law enforcement, the police, not defunding. By the way, the communities that most demand and need great policing are communities of color in America.

Allen: Well, I think that argument has been so disconcerting, obviously, just in and of itself it’s disconcerting, but it’s come out of a place where we’ve just seen, unfortunately, violence and looting in the streets after the killing of George Floyd. And to think, wow, that there are people that would actually think that defunding the police is a good idea is really just … it’s wild to think of. Please, go ahead.

Rodriguez: … I have concerns on how we actually have validated the argument. Are we supposed to give space to absolutely every absurd idea that emerges? And we collectively, as a nation, primarily through media, and media that has a myopic worldview of a certain agenda, to elevate the idea of defunding the police as a legitimate idea—wow.

Every single God-fearing American that has concern regarding our families should really speak up and go, “How can we validate that sort of notion, that idea?”

Allen: No, I agree. It’s really shocking. And we’re certainly thankful for American leadership that is looking at actual police reforms that will actually work and be effective and strengthen our police force instead of weaken it.

But I do just, in the time that we have left, I want to take a minute in turn to discuss The Heritage Foundation’s National Coronavirus Recovery Commission.

When we spoke in April, the commission had just released its first recommendations. Now you all have released recommendations for all five phases of the plan to protect both lives and livelihoods. And the White House has even received and reviewed those recommendations.

So tell me a little bit about the work that you all have done over the past few months and where things stand right now.

Rodriguez: The leadership, and present company not included, but again, I’m the least of these, but the leadership of this commission, [Heritage Foundation President Kay C. James], everyone in the entire leadership team, just truly brilliant. And I don’t say that because I’m part of the commission and it’s self-serving, but looking from the outside looking in to a great degree.

And I’ve shared some of the reports with permission with very prominent stakeholders in the faith community, and the response has been brilliant, just brilliant, with a couple of exclamation points and emojis of hands up. Because it truly is brilliant.

It’s comprehensive. It’s the most comprehensive plan that addresses both … securing our economy short term, long term, revitalizing America, recovering from this pandemic economically speaking, and saving lives.

So this idea that we create a perpetual dichotomy as it pertains to every subject matter, where it’s either/or, here comes this commission and says, “No, it’s both/and. We can protect lives and we can recover our economy,” not just to survive, by the way. The message to this commission’s report is we … will come back with these recommendations, not just in survival mode, we can come back to thriving mode.

And it’s a powerful prescription indeed, addressing everything, of course, from our infrastructure to even pharmaceuticals from China to America, you name it, the full gamut, to the faith community being recognized as essential in the reintegration of our economy and reactivating our economy across the board, and measures, as it pertains to contact tracing and so forth when breakouts do take place.

So again, a brilliant list of recommendations. And I’m the least of these, but I am honored and blessed to be part of this team and this report.

Allen: And over 30 states have already begun to implement some of the commission’s recommendations. Are we seeing positive impact in those states that have adopted some of the commission’s key recommendations?

Rodriguez: We have indeed. We have seen economic impact, measurably so, in a very expedited manner. And that may be surprising to some, the surprising economic turnaround by states that have implemented some of these recommendations indeed. And even in some that are currently in the past week experiencing an uptick as it pertains to hospitalizations and so forth.

We are even looking at the implementation, some of the recommendations regarding contact tracing and self-quarantining and so forth. And we’re seeing the positive outcomes there.

So again, we’re seeing some great results. I have not heard a negative or questionable outcome because of the implementation of one of our recommendations. Quite the opposite, the recommendations in place, we’re seeing some very positive, measurable outcomes across these 30 states.

Allen: That’s so encouraging. The final phase, Phase Five, provides recommendations to reduce future risks of another pandemic. Tell me about these recommendations and how do we make sure that we’re not susceptible to another virus like COVID-19 in the future?

Rodriguez: Again, there are some actions that we took initially as a nation, as a government, and there are actions that we did not take because we’ve never been down this road before to a great degree. We have to go back to 1918 and the Spanish flu pandemic. And with technology and travel being what it is in this global world, in this global-local sort of hybrid world, it’s a new reality indeed.

These recommendations, I do believe, in that fifth, in the final phase, will enable us to firewall, not perfectly, there is no guarantee, but it enables us to have at least the reserves in place, the infrastructure in place that if a pandemic, and those of us that would be open enough to the idea that a future pandemic may very well take place, at least we will have the infrastructure, we will have the mechanisms from a health perspective level to antibiotics, to the first response sort of instruments necessary in our health care system to implement triage across the board where the unfortunate reality is that we all had to participate in in the past three, four months will not have to be repeated.

So there is a way, and it’s laid out in our final phase, to protect the economy and protect individuals from having to repeat this four months-plus quarantine that we have seen in our collective American landscape and around the world for that matter because we were ill-prepared and we did not have sufficient data to address.

And this final phase equips us with the necessary tools, data, infrastructure that will enable us to address a pandemic in a more expedited manner.

Allen: And to read all the recommendations our listeners can visit coronaviruscommission.com and explore all the work, Pastor Sam, that you and the other commissioners have done. And I do want to ask, if our listeners want to keep up with you, the work that you’re doing, how can they do that?

Rodriguez: Pastorsam.com, pastorsam.com or nhclc.org.

Allen: Perfect. Pastor Sam, thank you so much for your time today. We really appreciate it.

Rodriguez: Well, thank you for having me.

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