PE News reports that for the first time, a Pentecostal pastor is going to participate in a presidential inauguration. Samuel Rodriguez, an Assemblies of God senior pastor at New Season Christian Worship Center in Sacramento, California, will do a reading and invocation as Donald Trump officially become President of the United States this Friday.
Other clergy that will lead prayer on Inauguration Day will be Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham who has expressed that it thanks to God that Trump became President; Paula White, a televangelist who claims that she led Trump into a genuine born-again experience last year; but also Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan who has criticized Trump’s immigration policy, as well as Jewish rabbi Marvin Hier.
Samuel Rodriguez is presiding the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), the largest organization for Hispanic Evangelicals in the United States. In September last year, NHCLC criticized Trump when he said that every undocumented migrant should be deported in a speech.
However, after his election, Rodriguez welcomed Trump’s changed rhetoric concerning children to undocumented migrants after the President-elect had met President Barack Obama. According to PE News, he even partnered with Trump’s campaign to promote Hispanic interests and racial unity.
In spite of this, Rodriguez emphasizes that his participation on Inauguration Day is not an endorsement of Trump, but merely a chance to preach the Gospel. He says: “Without a doubt is one of the greatest privileges I have ever received in my life. It’s a God-graced opportunity that one cannot turn down.” Dennis Rivera, director of the Assemblies of God Office of Hispanic Relations, says “Sam Rodriguez’s commitment is to the agenda of the Lamb, not the elephant or the donkey.”
But is it really that simple? Had it been any other Presidential candidate, few would have batted an eye. But Trump has infamously said that Mexican immigrants are criminals, rapists and killers (and when asked for evidence for the rapist claim he just said “Who (else) is doing the raping?”); he has said that two Trump supporters who assaulted and beat an Hispanic homeless man because they wanted him to be deported, were “passionate”; and furthermore he has accused people of being hostile towards him just because of their ethnicity while also showing insensitivity and lack of respect in his few attempts to reach out to Hispanic voters. And in matter of policy, Trump has promised to deport hundreds of thousands of Hispanic immigrants – some of which have lived in the United States almost all their lives – which puts many of them in danger.
Rodriguez surely knows of all this, and if he is as outraged by these things as we are, which is likely, but has decided to try to change it by pushing Trump in the right direction through partnership rather than just condemning him from afar, that’s a brave and honorable decision. But it’s also dangerous, and can easily be misinterpreted. Undoubtedly Trump, his campaign and supporters will use Rodriguez’ participation as an alibi for Trump being non-racist and a good President. If Trump then proceeds with deporting Hispanics and making lives worse for them, Rodriguez must condemn such actions strongly.
Micael Grenholm is editor at PCPJ. He lives in a Jesus Army community in the UK.