Samuel Rodriguez on Trump, Racism and Healing the Divide
On Tuesday, August 22, before sitting with LIFE Today to discuss his new book When Faith Catches Fire, Pastor Samuel Rodriguez laid some heavy thoughts on The Stream’s Randy Robison about President Trump, the allegation of racism and the one road to healing our national divide.
Randy Robison: Sammy, you’ve been adviser to Presidents Bush and Obama, and now President Trump. I’ve got a tough question for you. I’ve been watching the news lately. Is the media right? Is Donald Trump a white supremacist?
Samuel Rodriguez: No. The answer is no. President Trump is not a white supremacist. I mean, he’s married to an immigrant. Intellectually speaking, from a logical continuum, you can’t have a child who is from an immigrant mother and be anti-immigrant. So it’s just intellectually naive. Right?
President Trump has a commitment and it’s not just rhetoric: He really wants to make America, in his terms, “great again.” He really wants to reinforce the values that made it exceptional: God over man, man over government. That powerful value, that rights are given by God. Number two, limit the government. The more government grows the more man’s personal liberties are cast aside, and our dependency becomes on government, not on our own God-given abilities.
And so I understand his compassion, his commitment to the worker, to the middle class, to the working class. And to even lifting up those who are impoverished in the inner cities of America.
Robison: That would come as a surprise to many who watch the news.
Rodriguez: President Trump is a businessman. He is not a polished politician. I have not agreed with every single word that has come out of President Trump’s mouth. At all. Neither did I agree with President Obama. But I respected the office when President Obama was in office, and I prayed for him daily. And I honored him in deed. I took it personal when people would say “We’re not even praying for this President. There is no way we can even ask God to bless this President.” I find that to be anti-Christian.
With President Trump there are a number of things that he has stated, maybe a couple of tweets, a number of tweets, his articulation regarding certain issues have not been as nuanced or as compassionate as I would have framed it.
Nevertheless, I have sat down with this man, I have met with this man, and I have had conversations with this man. And I can tell you he is really committed to making America great again.
Robison: For everyone?
Rodriguez: For everyone. Now, I’m Samuel Rodriguez. I’m not Samuel Rogers. I’m not Samuel Smith. I’m Samuel Rodriguez. That “Rodriguez,” that Latino last name, that Spanish last name, has a lot of implications. Why would he invite me to participate in his swearing in ceremony? Why does he grant me access to the White House, to the Oval Office? All of these questions have to be asked. So this is not a man that has the white supremacy thing. It’s not an accurate portrayal.
He’s a tough man. We know his demeanor, right? I mean, it’s really tough, that sort of rugged, “nothing can touch me, nothing can bruise me.” But after conversation with him I would beg to differ.
He’s a grandfather. And he’s a father. And on a number of occasions, you have seen this man moved by incidents that happen here in America and around the world, especially when it has implications for the next generation.
So I believe in his heart of hearts all these different descriptions and nomaclatures about whether or not he is a supremacist or a racist, I think at the end of the day his spirit is grieved and going “I can’t believe that.”
Robison: My dad has served all races all over the world. But now when he asks for people to pray for President Trump and pray he receives wisdom, and I see him get called a racist.
Rodriguez: How can we be racists asking people to engage Scripture, “pray for those who are in government authority over you in government”? It is our mandate, our biblical mandate to pray for those that are over us in government.
Robison: As ridiculous as all the allegations can be, the issue of racial reconciliation is real. How do we go about best getting rid of the divide?
Rodriguez: We are divided. We haven’t been this divided since the late 1960s. And some have argued we haven’t been this divided since the Civil War. And there are many reasons for this racial angst. Some of the reasons have legitimacy connected to them, and some do not.
Some actually stem from media-exacerbated hyperbole for the purpose of benefiting and profiting from constant strife. And it is unfortunate that communities of color — African-Americans and Latinos — are being exploited for the purpose of advancing a political agenda or ideology. Or for perpetual strife. Because there is money, there are ratings that come out of constant anarchy and chaos and fragmentation. It’s just unfortunate.
But there are legitimate reasons. For example, the issue of criminal justice reform. There are questions in communities of color about “liberty and justice for all,” whether or not Lady Liberty is truly aligned and the law is applied equally across the board. So there is anxiety in ethnic communities. But it’s a long way in its unfolding. It’s not just something overnight. It’s not just Charlottesville or another incident. And it’s been a trajectory now for a number of years.
But here’s the problem. The problem is we continue to fragment ourselves. When we are continually looking at our differences we will never find our commonality.
Robison: So what’s the solution?
Rodriguez: We are all created in the image of God. That Latin phrase Imago Dei. If we begin every single day understanding that we all as Americans, as human beings, are created in the image of God. And I am going to treat you with mutual love and respect even when I disagree with you because you carry the image of God.
So when I wake up in the morning how do I first identify myself? Is it as Latino, is it as white, black? No! I am a Christian. My first identifying monitor every single morning is, “I am a child of God, redeemed by the vicarious atoning work of Jesus.” Because of the work of Jesus I am born again. I am saved. I am a Christian first. I am an American. I am blessed and grateful to God for being an American, born in New Jersey, but raised in Pennsylvania.
I am an American of Latino and Spanish descent, indeed. Proud of that heritage likewise. But that’s my pecking order. My caramel skin color does not define me first and foremost. It’s not my pigmentation. It’s my spirituality, it’s my soul connecting to God. The fact that I carry the image of God gives me purpose for my life. And I want to be a blessing to everyone I meet.
So I want to do away with my silo. And without diluting my appreciation for my heritage I want to celebrate the fact that I am a child of God, created in the image of God and I want to change the world along with my fellow man. It sounds utopic to a great degree, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.