Pastor Samuel Rodriguez preached at a Boston revival meeting last week — in response to recent mass shootings across the country — under the title “The Plow of Hope,” quoting Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
“We have to keep pushing the plow of hope,” said Rodriguez. “The number one crisis in America is mental illness and young people embracing a virtual world and attempting to bring it into the real world.
“The loss of the most vulnerable speaks to the fact that we live through dark times. There is a collective sense of despair. … This young man (the shooter in Uvalde, Texas) was living in darkness. What defeats darkness is the light.
“We can’t negate the sovereignty of a mighty God,” Rodriguez added. “We must pray with actions. We can’t expect our elected leaders to provide solutions.”
Rodriguez is the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference — the world’s largest Hispanic Christian organization, with more than 42,000 churches in the U.S. — and his influence can be found throughout Latin America. Rodriguez is a regular guest on CNN, FOX News, Univision and Telemundo. He has also been invited to the White House by the last three presidents because he is considered one of the top 100 Christian leaders in America.
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In the 1960s, the church was the epicenter of the African American community. Today it is more daunting for ministers like Rodriguez, a native of Puerto Rico, to have the same influence over the Latino community in the U.S. — but he is making a difference.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Hispanic population reached 62.1 million in 2020, an increase of 23% over the previous decade that outpaced the nation’s 7% overall population growth. According to the Pew Hispanic survey, 83% of Hispanics claim a religious affiliation, and among Latinos, most are Catholic — more than 62%.
These numbers are significant when one looks at the response to the May 24 mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, a majority Hispanic community where 19 children and two teachers died. It was the deadliest incident at a U.S. elementary school since December 14, 2012, when a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.
“It is heart-wrenching what has occurred,” Rodriguez said in an interview. “The words are so few, but God is still in control. We have to see beyond this incident.”
Rodriguez, an author, filmmaker and advisor to the last three presidents, is the leader of a broad-based Hispanic organization with 46,000 churches; he said now is the time to go beyond prayers and talk.
“This is an awakening for us,” said Rodriguez, calling for three things: “Churches should hire a mental health minister; schools should work toward having a single entrance; and thirdly, the age to obtain a gun should be raised to 21. We believe in the Second Amendment, but we must have prudent and common-sense approaches.”
Heber David Paredes — the pastor of Iglesia Roca de la Eternidad in Landover Hills, Maryland, with more than 1,000 members — is a friend of Rodriguez.
“We have to be attuned to the emotional state of our children,” Paredes said. “We have two to three hundred children in our small group, and our leaders are counseling with them. This is unbelievable. We had another last night in a hospital. There is no security anywhere.”
“I am trying to teach people to live in this environment with the peace of God,” Paredes said. “There will always be something to take the peace.”
“The higher you lift Jesus, the lower Dagon has to fall,” Rodriguez boomed. Can we speak to the nation? What happened in Texas, the violence against our children — that Dagon will come down!” Dagon is the name of a deity worshipped in the ancient Middle East, considered a false god by Rodriguez.
“Look at your neighbor and say there is glory inside of me — I am the temple of the Holy Spirit,” said Rodriguez, who wore a T-shirt that displayed the word “Glory.”
And on the eve of Father’s Day, Rodriguez said, “We need dads to come back into the lives of young men and double down on what is wrong.”
Paredes agreed: “The young man in Texas was troubled because he had no mother or father in his life. Who listens to these children when they express the anger that they have?”
This story was originally published by Religion Unplugged.
Hamil R. Harris is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Maryland College Park and senior contributor at ReligionUnplugged. He is also minister at the Glenarden Church of Christ and a police chaplain. A longtime reporter, Harris contributes to outlets such as The Washington Post, USA Today, The Christian Chronicle and the Washington Informer.