What do Latino evangelical voters want?

JOE SKIPPER REUTERS Republican candidate for U.S. president and former Gov. Mitt Romney (R) greets guests at a campaign appearance … Continued

JOE SKIPPER

REUTERS

Republican candidate for U.S. president and former Gov. Mitt Romney (R) greets guests at a campaign appearance at Conchita Foods Inc. in Miami, Florida November 29, 2011. Romney received endorsements from three influential Cuban-American Republicans in a move aimed at boosting his support among conservatives and Hispanic voters.

It may come as a surprise to you to learn that Hispanic evangelicals are a key constituency in swing states. The Jan 31 Florida primary has hastened an all-out blitz for this group’s attention. What do Hispanic evangelicals want from a presidential candidate?

Since our coalition of Latino evangelicals launched a national voter registration campaign, I have fielded multiple interviews about this growing–and increasingly politically influential–demographic. As many have noted, historically, Hispanic evangelicals are social conservatives that simultaneously advocate for issues of justice for the most vulnerable. Anyone who ignores this reality, particularly in swing states like Nevada, Florida, Colorado, New Mexico and Ohio, has not understood this emerging and increasingly vocal group. As a group, we are quintessential independent voters.

In 2004, George W. Bush won the majority of Hispanic evangelicals and in 2008 Barack Obama won that vote by a slim majority. Now in 2012, politicians, pundits, and prognosticators want to know which way we will lean. I’d like to recommend a way forward.

Hispanic evangelicals are not a monolith. Moreover, it would be the height of hubris for anyone to claim to speak for the 10 million or so Latino evangelicals. I personally agree with David Neff of “Christianity Today” that we as evangelicals should resist the temptation to try to be kingmakers. There is much seduction in the “will to power” and we should run away as fast as they can from this temptation. Martin Luther King, Jr. was correct, when he wrote: “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, it must be the guide and critic of the state and never its tool”(Strength to Love, 1963). Hispanic evangelicals should simultaneously bring moral and public pressure to bear on behalf of legislation we feel is consonant with our conscience and convictions. Our community should work hard to develop our own national agenda that holds all candidates accountable. In short, we should shy away from endorsing candidates –while backing agendas that are consonant with our worldview.

So what are Hispanic evangelicals passionate about? In 2012, many Latinos in Pentecostal and evangelical congregations have divided allegiances. On the top of their mutual agendas is humane, common sense immigration reform. This is a moral and family values issue. We take “welcome the stranger and love your neighbor” seriously. We are looking for legislation that provides an earned path to citizenship and keeps families together. This type of legislation has been endorsed by presidents from Reagan to Obama and yet nothing has changed. Both parties have lacked the political will to make policy changes that will impact Latino families in profound ways.

To say Latino evangelicals are disappointed by this inaction is a severe understatement. Moreover, the rhetoric by some GOP candidates to veto a DREAM Act or to not provide a path to earned citizenship for the 12 million illegal and undocumented immigrants is raising the ire of many Latino pastors. Our message to the GOP is to stop the anti-immigrant rhetoric. Meanwhile, this present administration’s spike in deportations has left us disillusioned with the left. In short, Hispanic evangelicals want real solutions now and they want both parties to be accountable.

On the social issues Latino evangelicals overwhelmingly hold to a pro-life and pro-marriage platform. This is no secret. Latino evangelicals have historically been social conservatives on the issues of marriage and what Catholics call a “seamless garment” of life. This means that many Latino evangelicals advocate for a broad agenda that protects children–both before birth and after. We are thoroughly concerned about the health of the most vulnerable.

While Hispanic evangelicals are for the most part social conservatives, they also value the power of good governance on behalf of the ones Jesus called, “the least of these.” Many Hispanic evangelicals, myself included, signed-on to the Circle of Protection to protect programs for the poorest and most vulnerable in our country. In addition, we realize that the global economic recession has displaced thousands of Latinos from homes in the foreclosure crisis. Latinos look for a government that understands that among the things the Constitution calls for is that the government “promote the general welfare.” This is at the heart of Latino evangelicals’ advocacy for anti-poverty programs at home and abroad, immigration reform, and educational equity. Pew researchers have said that Latino evangelicals are “big government social conservatives.” I would say we are people who seek the common good.

What we have said at the National Latino Evangelical Coalition is that we should have a broad national agenda. This agenda should require us to look at the entire platform of an individual or party. We are praying for a comprehensive prophetic witness that speaks from our biblical convictions and on behalf of the people we serve.

For 2012, many questions remain. Which of these priorities which will win the day? Will our community prioritize the classic social issues or will we reflect a comprehensive agenda that weighs all these things in our voting? I cannot speak with certainty, but I do hope that Latino evangelicals are asking these questions over kitchen tables and from pulpits across the nation. Our world deserves a deliberative Latino evangelical constituency that thinks critically and votes from an informed perspective. When asked, “For whom are Hispanic evangelicals voting?” I hope we answer, “For righteousness, justice, and the common good.”

Rev. Gabriel Salguero is president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition.

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