Ever since the dramatic Republican sweep of evangelical voters in 2004, many new, well-funded initiatives have arisen targeting evangelicals for liberal political initiatives. Potentially at stake is the political allegiance of America's largest religious demographic.
One of the latest efforts is the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, founded in 2010, which announced a new national voter registration drive on January 10 at a Miami press conference. A number of prominent liberal Anglo evangelicals have endorsed it. And the coalition claims support from major evangelical denominations like the Church of the Nazarene and the Assemblies of God not ordinarily associated with liberal political causes.
Although Republicans typically get 30-40 percent of Hispanics as a whole, evangelical Hispanics more often vote Republican, especially in presidential elections. The coalition reports that about 7 million U.S. Latinos are evangelical. Unmentioned by the coalition is that Latino evangelicals tend to be strongly conservative on social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, much more so than Catholic Hispanics.
It's unsurprising that the coalition, when citing its key issues, omitted abortion and marriage. Instead it cites "poverty, comprehensive immigration reform and education equality." Although mostly evading specifics, the coalition favors liberalized immigration policies and seems to favor conventional liberal big government programs on poverty and education. "We're going to vote our conscience and we're going to vote around these three issues," promised one coalition official at the Miami event. In the coming weeks the coalition will also debut voter registration events in various key swing states.
Evidently the coalition will be rhetorically bold. "We're in favor of immigration reform and we want it now," emphatically declared Rev. Gabriel Salguero, the coalition's president, according to Fox News Latino about the Miami event. Salguero claims to represent 3,000 Hispanic evangelical congregations. According to the coalition's website: "We believe in respect for the rule of law, but we also believe that we are to oppose laws and systems that harm and oppress people, particularly the most vulnerable." For starters, the coalition wants the DREAM Act, which would legalize the children of illegal immigrants. And it wants to overturn immigration law enforcement measures in Arizona and Alabama. Ultimately, it wants a full path for legalization of illegals as advocated in several failed federal legislative attempts at Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
But immigration is not the coalition's only issue, of course. In November, Rev. Salguero joined with labor unions at a Living Wage New York City Campaign rally at famously liberal Riverside Church. It was largely an angry jamboree against New York Mayor Bloomberg, who opposes the Living Wage demand aimed at city contractors. "They say evangelicals are often on the wrong side of things," Salguero noted in the majestic gothic sanctuary built with largesse from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. as a temple for Social Gospel Protestantism. "But I want the unions and the church to know. There's some new evangelicals rising," he announced to applause and whoops from the placard wielding audience of 2,000 activists. "And we're going to be on the right side of history."
Salguero recalled to the approving crowd that although a Pentecostal minister, he had been educated at theologically revisionist Union Seminary, another 20th century beneficiary of Rockefeller dollars to promote liberal theology. "I'm not confused, I'm just integrated," he described to more applause, the audience maybe unaware that Union has fallen from its previous prestigious heights of influence.
"Anybody that's read the Bible has seen this before," Salguero sermonized, remembering Pharaoh's "exploiting labor" in ancient Egypt. Appealing to Christians, Jews, Muslims and atheists as he pivoted off the Exodus story, he proclaimed, "We're not going to stand for less straw and more bricks!" And the pastor asked from the pulpit: "Are there any midwives in the house?" He further queried of the frenzied crowd: "What do midwives say? They say, 'Push!'" With evidently the Hebrew midwives who protected baby Moses in mind, Salguero again shouted to his rapt and cheering listeners: "Push! Push!," imploring them to become "midwives for justice."
At the more recent Miami event, a Pentecostal young adult minister explained the coalition's voter drive is aimed especially at young evangelicals. "I believe our young people are getting ready to dive into biblical justice," she opined. "They're ready to go outside the four walls of the church and do whatever it takes to grow in Christ and do what Christ calls us to do."
Prominent Anglo endorsers of the coalition, as advertised on its website, include Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action, Florida megachurch pastor (and spiritual advisor to President Obama) Joel Hunter of the National Association of Evangelicals, Evangelical Left ethicist David Gushee of the New Evangelical Partnership, welfare state lobbyist David Beckmann of Bread for the World and Reformed Church in America chief officer Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, who's long been prominent within the National Council of Churches.
How successful will the National Latino Evangelical Coalition be in shifting Latino evangelicals leftward? Most Latin evangelical congregations are non-political and very theologically conservative. Whether a pastor trained at an ultra-liberal seminary and aligned with the old Religious Left will be a successful organizer is dubious.
The officials of mostly Anglo, conservative evangelical denominations backing the coalition probably believe their exertions will enhance spiritual outreach among Latinos. But substituting the traditional Gospel with leftist politics was a poison pill among declining Mainline Protestants, whose elites also disastrously sought to be on the "right side of history." Rank and file evangelicals, Anglo and Latino, are unlikely to resonate with fervid appeals to political entitlement. But as with earlier generations of once ascendant Mainline Protestant elites, image conscious evangelical elites may unwisely seek to align their churches with "history."