Reverend Samuel Rodriguez is the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference with over half a million churches as members. He is also a sophisticated political analyst and a self-described ‘math nerd’. His new book, Be Light, came as the result of a personal crisis in which he realized that he had been spending too much time thinking, preaching about darkness. According to Pastor Sam, God led him to shift the emphasis of his life from a darkness focus to a light focus for the remainder of his days.
Exposing darkness is honorable, and yet at the same time toxic, work. Peter Thiel says that if you must have enemies it’s important to choose your enemies well because you’re going to spend a lot of time with them. What you spend time with, even in opposition, you become like. I think Pastor Sam is right that my tribe and his, religious conservatives, are spending far too much time peering into the social, cultural, political, and economic darkness. Never in the history of the world has darkness ever been stared out of existence. No one has ever uncast a shadow by talking about how bad shadows are. The only thing which ever has, or ever could, dispel darkness is light. Before light comes, darkness is literally nothing. There is no void or vacuum which cannot be defeated by being filled with something. Darkness is absence and as St. Augustine said, evil is not a new or different kind of being, it is a privation of being. Evil is not a thing, it is a non-thing where a thing should be.
The evil which Pastor Sam sees now is the evil of fragmentation. Rich vs. Poor. Black and brown vs. white. Young vs. old. This is, as Pastor Sam says, ‘darkness’ M.O.’. And it seems to be getting worse, like it was, say, in the late ’60s and ’70s. Economic stagnation frays the social fabric. Violent clashes between police and protesters send out a signal of a culture, or at least parts of it, which are in a state of dissolution. Surprisingly, to Pastor Sam all of these things are reasons for hope. According to him, the problems of the ’70s became the catalyst which launched two great movements for renewal: the modern evangelical movement which came out of the Jesus People brought spiritual renewal to tens of millions, and the Reagan Revolution (which rode alongside that revival) brought political and then consequently economic renewal.
When darkness grows, people naturally get frightened. Terrorism, authoritarian progressive and nationalist ideologies, decline in the rule of law in high places of government and down at street level as well, a lack of respect for religious as well as economic freedom – all of these things tend to grow well together. Like noxious bacteria, they thrive in the dark.
Pastor Sam thinks it’s time to turn on the lights. I think so too.
I spent an hour with Pastor Sam recently via Skype. You can listen to the complete interview here, or read a partial transcript below. Both are edited for clarity.
BOWYER: I’m talking today with Pastor Samuel Rodriguez.
Pastor Samuel (Pastor Sam as he’s known to his parishioners) is an extremely important leader in the religious community in America, in the Evangelical Christian community, and in the Latino community at the same time.