Hispanic Evangelicals: The Politics of Proximity

In light of the forthcoming inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, I’ve been asked, “How should Latino evangelicals respond to the new president and his administration?” I do not and cannot speak for all Latino Evangelicals. Nevertheless, I do have some thoughts that I think may be helpful when we deal with political power.

Prayer is Not Partisan

First, I believe that Scripture instructs us to pray for our leaders, that includes President-elect Trump. We should pray that he and his family would be safe and that he would govern well. It is possible to meet and pray for leaders even those with whom you have disagreements. I do NOT oppose those who wish to pray for our country and the new president at the inauguration. I and other Evangelicals have prayed with previous administrations and we should expect others to also do as they deem appropriate. Prayer is not partisan.

Access and Influence

Second, it is no secret that many Hispanic Evangelicals have had major differences with both candidates during this election. A major issue among Hispanic Evangelicals is not necessarily about access to the presidency or any elected office, but rather the influence presidential administrations will allow with that access. Both Democrats and Republicans have a mixed legacy on listening to Latino Evangelicals on a host of issues ranging from life, marriage, religious liberty, poverty reduction, education, immigration and criminal justice reform. l have experienced this ambivalence first-hand. I advised state, local, and national leaders on a whole host of issues with varying degrees of success and failure. As a Hispanic Evangelical leader, I entered those conversations with eyes wide-open knowing that proximity does not always ensure that your priorities or concerns will be addressed. In addition, I knew that refusing to explicitly or tacitly endorse any candidate could cost me a seat at the table. For me, the moral calculus is always ― autonomy over access. Scripture teaches us that this paradox of proximity and influence was the reality for Joseph, Nehemiah, Daniel, and Esther. Understanding this paradox, Hispanic Evangelicals should be willing to meet with presidential candidates and presidents with the condition of being free to openly and respectfully raise our concerns, priorities, and protests. Navigating this paradox is never easy. Sometimes this will put us at odds with power and other times it may align us with governing policies. At every juncture, we must prayerfully consider how to execute our pastoral and prophetic roles.

Third, no one yet knows what influence faith leaders will have on the new Administration. In the Hispanic Evangelical community ― many of us not only publicly disagreed with Secretary Clinton on issues of life, marriage, and religious liberty, we also shared our deep concern around some of the hurtful rhetoric and policy proposals of candidate Trump. Now that he’s president-elect, our hope is that when faith leaders speak to President Trump, he will; be amenable to common-sense immigration reform, abandon any ban on Muslim refugees, advocate for poor and hungry people, and stay clear of misogynistic and xenophobic language. Given the rhetoric of the last 18 months, some in the Hispanic Evangelical community, have pause as to whether or not we should even speak with the president. They are unsure, particularly around immigration, if we will be able to influence some of the proposed policy positions that impact our congregations. Nevertheless, we should make attempts to have these difficult and necessary conversations despite these reservations. There are no guarantees.

People and Principles First

If and when anyone meets with the administration, their primary message should honestly represent the genuine concerns of the people they serve. While I know that proximity does not mean an endorsement, we should also be astute enough to understand that it is often construed and reported in those ways. It’s happened in both Republican and Democratic administrations. Our political system seeks always to define things solely along partisan lines. Hispanic Evangelicals should resist and transcend those attempts at all cost. For the sake of our moral authority we should also be as clear as we can regarding our places of agreement and disagreements with those in political authority. We should remain open to conversation without compromising our Gospel principles. The hope remains that this can be done both inside and outside the administration. In time, we will tell if this hope is well-founded and we will learn how to best navigate this delicate conversation. Our standard should never be political expediency but rather authenticity and integrity.

As for me, my stance remains the same, we should pray for President Trump and his family. We should pray that the in-coming administration would govern wisely. Simultaneously, no matter what the cost, we need to reflect honestly, respectfully, persuasively and with conviction the voices and concerns of the people we serve. We should be willing to hold presidents accountable, affirming policies when appropriate and challenging them whenever necessary. Moreover, we cannot and should not allow our public voice to be determined by partisanship. The Church is not and should never be a branch of any political party nor should it be silent before injustice.

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