09/17/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

"Hispanic Karl Rove" Helps Shape Democratic Party "Centrist" Positions

[note: although six members of the House of Representatives and five US Senators serve as Third Way honorary co-chairs, neither the Third Way or Faith in Public Life, addressed in this story, have any official organizational connection to the Democratic Party]

As a January 29, 2008 Chicago Tribune story observed, "[Reverend Samuel] Rodriguez, ... has been dubbed by some Christian leaders the Karl Rove of Hispanic evangelical strategy." When Rodriguez and Karl Rove met in late September 2008 for breakfast, as reported in an October 7, 2008 Newsweek story, Rove quipped, "If you're the Hispanic Karl Rove, then does that make me the Anglo Sam Rodriguez?"

Does Karl Rove help shape Democratic Party "Third Way" positions on reproductive and gay rights ? Well, no. But the "Hispanic Karl Rove" does. When not having breakfast with Karl Rove or railing against "radical Muslims," "radical homosexuals," "radical abortionists," and "Oprah Winfrey Christians," the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez can be found helping to shape the Third Way / Faith in Public Life "centrist" agenda on culture-war issues, such as gay and reproductive rights, in the "Come Let Us Reason Together Governing Agenda" (CLURT) that was re-released with a flourish last January, 2009.

[Below: audio from a sermon Rev. Samuel Rodriguez gave November 19, 2006, in a Utah church, in which Rodriguez railed against Muslims, homosexuals, abortionists, and "Oprah Winfrey Christians"]

The Third Way / Faith in Public Life initiative has provoked considerable criticism from the liberal and progressive left [1,2,3,4] as well as rebuttals [1,2] of that criticism from Governing Agenda authors. As journalist Frederick Clarkson and other critics have pointed out, the Governing Agenda approach to reproductive rights seems to derive from a strategy hatched over a decade ago, to reframe the discourse in a way that would exclude, marginalize, and undercut the position that access to reproductive health care is an essential and inalienable right of all American citizens. A decade later, legal abortion is now unavailable across wide swaths of the continental United States. Eighty-seven percent of U.S. counties lack a single abortion provider according to a study from the Guttmacher Institute.

"Progressives and evangelicals have begun to build coalitions on issue like the environment and Darfur, but we believe that we can go even further." -- Rachel Laser, Third Way Culture Program Director

"We have radical Muslims. Radical homosexuals. Radical abortionists. We need radical, born again, spirit filled Christians to arise ! Do you follow me ? We don't need any sissy Christians, Oprah Winfrey Christians. We need prophetic, devil stomping, demon rebuking, blood washed, Bible believing, free-from-sin Christians !" -- Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, prominent Come Let Us Reason Together Governing Agenda co-author

Detailed below, Samuel Rodriguez is one of a number of evangelical Christians who are working with Democratic Party "centrist" efforts to establish "common ground" while at the same time also actively inciting the culture wars. Some evangelicals doing this also make appearances on far-right wing radio shows that promote "birther" conspiracy theories.

Rodriguez is extensively tied to and is in fact leading a new Christian right that looks different for being ethnically inclusive but which is if anything more ideologically extreme than the traditional politicized Christian fundamentalism associated with figures such as the late Jerry Falwell.

Sammy Rodriguez is a point man working to formulate and advance what seems to be a two-pronged strategy: 1) colonize and ideologically infiltrate the left, alienate its activist base, and tie the Democratic Party in knots, 2) work to reshape and rebrand the right and the GOP, as an ethnically inclusive, pseudo-progressive "Rainbow" movement. The latter strategy was field tested in the pro-Proposition 8 push last year, in California.

As I noted in an introduction to my new ongoing series, "How The Religious Right is Infiltrating the Democratic Party", Howard Ahmanson, who has been associated with key proponents of Christian Reconstructionism and helped fund the anti-gay marriage Proposition Eight push in California, has joined the Democratic Party. Anecdotal reports suggest Ahmanson is far from alone. In my introduction I wrote:

That would be pragmatic but also visionary. Once upon a time, though it may seem strange to think of it in the year 2009, the Republican Party was moderately progressive. So there's no reason Democrats can't become populist theocrats, especially if they are willing to jettison core principles such as support for secular government and minority rights.

In the first installment of my series, "Hispanic Karl Rove' Helps Shape 'Third Way' Democratic Party Platform, I explore the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, an emerging kingmaker of the evolving new Christian right with an astonishing ability to shape-shift at will, from a fire-breathing partisan for Christian supremacy into the guise of an allegedly centrist "new evangelical."

The Third Way boasts six Congress members and five senators from the Democratic Party as honorary co-chairs and, along with Faith in Public Life, the two inside-the-beltway nonprofit groups are peddling their "Governing Agenda" as a way to move American political discourse beyond the acrimonious deadlock of the "culture wars" but there is one hitch -- a number of the figures who have helped shape the "Come Let Us Reason Together" agenda are activists, identifiably on the hard Christian right, who are helping to provoke the "culture wars." In that light, the claim that the Third Way / FPL effort is a way of conducting outreach to centrist evangelicals looks dubious indeed.

"Come Let Us Reason Together Governing Agenda" co-contributors Dr. Randy Brinson and Dr. Joel Hunter both supported Mike Huckabee's presidential bid, and that's especially notable given Huckabee's proposal for the United States Constitution to be rectified with Bible scripture. And Katie Paris, the Third Way's Communications Director, sits together with Rick Scarborough, an Orly Taitz promoter, on the Advisory Board of Randy Brinson's Redeem The Vote, a nonprofit GOTV effort focused on registering evangelicals who, conveniently, vote for the GOP by about a 2-1 margin.

Brinson and the theocratically-minded Scarborough and Huckabee have recently appeared on Janet Porter's national far-right wing radio show, Faith2action, which also airs "birther" conspiracy theorists such as Orly Taitz and Jerome Corsi. (note: Porter's show is not the only Christian radio show promoting "birther" conspiricism.)

Meanwhile, Samuel Rodriguez is listed on the Advisory Board Lou Engle's The Call. Last November, Engle's group put on the capstone rally for the pro-Proposition Eight push in California. During the event Engle and other speakers railed from onstage against gay marriage and legal abortion which, Engle has forecast, will lead to a second American civil war.

During the event, held November 1st at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, Lou Engle called for acts of Christian martyrdom. There can be real-world consequences to such rhetoric: As CBS's Jeff Glor reported in the wake of the murder of Wichita, Kansas late-term abortion doctor George Tiller, the ex-wife of Scott Roeder, charged in the murder, told Glor that "we did speak with the accused shooter Scott Roeder's ex-wife yesterday. She said was not surprised this happened and that she believed Roeder wanted to be a martyr for the cause." Dr. Tiller was gunned down on Sunday May 31, 2009, in the lobby of the church he attended.

Lou Engle promotes the claim that to be gay is to be demon-possessed, and Engle's son Jesse, who has set up a ministry in San Francisco, specializes in casting out "gay demons." San Francisco, claims Lou Engle, is where "the homosexuals boast the dominion of darkness." Rodriguez is now helping to lead the ongoing national anti-gay marriage campaign.

Rodriguez is Hispanic, so he supports immigration reform. But, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is an emerging key thinker helping to fold Hispanic identity politics into a new GOP strategy that pulls Hispanic, Black, Asian, even Native American evangelical Christians into a "rainbow" rightwing coalition. The strategy has already been field-tested in the 2008 election, with the successful push to pass anti-gay marriage amendments in California, Florida, and Arizona (see: Proposition 8 : A Proving Ground For The New 'Rainbow' Right.)

Through the organization Rodriguez helped found in 2000, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Rodriguez purports to represent 10 million Hispanic evangelicals and 5 million Hispanic charismatic Catholics. Rodriguez' NHCLC has established strategic partnerships with the National Association of Evangelicals, Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, and Oral Roberts University. In a February 2009 Charisma magazine story, Samuel Rodriguez described Sarah Palin as a "kindred spirit."

Rodriguez is a rising young lion of the new Christian Right. He has been dubbed a "new evangelical" but in reality there's not much that distinguishes Rodriguez' positions from those of the late Jerry Falwell. Recently, Samuel Rodriguez has joined a new network of Christian right groups called the Freedom Federation.