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Evangelicals keep faith in Trump to advance religious agenda

Support for President Trump among Evangelicals is at an all-time high. On the National Day of Prayer, William Brangham talks with Rev. Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference about why he says it’s a balancing act and where they differ.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump marked this National Day of Prayer with an event in the Rose Garden, as his support among white evangelicals is at an all-time high.

    The annual event stood in contrast to the other news of the day we have been discussing of Mr. Trump's payments to an adult film actress.

    William Brangham has more.

  • William Brangham:

    Joining me now is a leader amongst American evangelicals, a man who has prayed with and prayed for President Trump.

    Reverend Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and he has served as an adviser in various capacities to Presidents Bush, Obama, and now President Trump.

    Welcome to the "NewsHour."

  • Rev. Samuel Rodriguez:

    Thank you for having me.

  • William Brangham:

    So, the president was here for National Prayer Day. He met with many leaders of the faith community. You are in that inner circle.

    As we were saying before, the president has enormous support among the evangelical community. And I wonder if you could just help me understand, where does that support come from?

  • Rev. Samuel Rodriguez:

    Public policy.

    Evangelicals experienced or felt that, in the past number of years, the past 10 years, issues of religious liberty, issues of advancing their Judeo-Christian value systems stood in a de facto and du jour manner, for that fact, threatened.

    Sisters of the Poor, Hobby Lobby, Supreme Court cases that to evangelicals infringed their ability to advance the Gospel of Jesus. So, all of a sudden, we have President Donald Trump, and the public policy initiatives as it pertains to faith is much more favorable to the evangelical community indeed.

  • William Brangham:

    There's many things on that one side of the ledger that would seem to alienate him from the evangelical community, three marriages, accusations of adultery, bragging about sexual assaults.

    You're arguing that the policy side of the ledger is enough to make people think that things don't matter as much?

  • Rev. Samuel Rodriguez:

    No, I don't think it's ever to a point where it doesn't matter.

    I think it comes to the point where we don't want to write anyone off. You don't want to write off access to a president who can impact religious liberty, who can impact the sanctity of life. So it's a matter of balancing these narratives in a way where we never sacrifice truth on the altar of expediency, but we likewise support policies that reflect our Judeo-Christian value system.

  • William Brangham:

    So, it was something much more fundamental to evangelicals? When they looked at this last election, President Trump vs. Hillary Clinton, they just felt much more fundamental was at stake that made them want to support him?

  • Rev. Samuel Rodriguez:

    Some would argue the future of American Christianity. Some argued…

  • William Brangham:

    Is that right?

  • Rev. Samuel Rodriguez:

    Absolutely.

    It became that sort of canopy. The impetus behind it, putting the personalities aside, the imperative, what's at stake here, put it in perspective, religious liberty, sacrificing your conscience on the altar of politics, government obligating you to somehow put away your belief system if you worked in a hospital, whatever that may be.

    There were a number of issues that prompted 81 percent of evangelicals to support President Trump.

  • William Brangham:

    How much a role did abortion play, do you think?

  • Rev. Samuel Rodriguez:

    Significant.

    And I mean arguably in the top two, right next to religious liberty. Even in the Latino evangelical community, there are 29, 30 percent, whatever number you want to embrace, of Latinos supported President Trump.

    When asked in the exit polling what drove Latinos to support President Trump, it was life.

  • William Brangham:

    There were, as you well know, many people in your own congregation that didn't like your support of the president, largely on the issue of immigration, I believe.

    And I know you have differed with the president on some of his stances on immigration.

  • Rev. Samuel Rodriguez:

    I have.

  • William Brangham:

    What do you say to him?

  • Rev. Samuel Rodriguez:

    In my particular congregation, I pastor a very multiethnic congregation, 40 percent African-American, 40 percent white, 20 percent Asian and Latino.

    So I received — on a stack of Bibles — no pushback in my personal congregation, because they saw there with Obama.

  • William Brangham:

    No pushback to your support of Trump?

  • Rev. Samuel Rodriguez:

    No. I never endorsed Donald Trump or his presidency.

    To me, it's a continuum of George W. Bush, President Obama for eight years, and now President Trump. I disagreed with President Obama on a number of issues, I mean, really respectfully disagreed with him. But I love the man and respect the man, likewise with George W. Bush.

    So, my congregation sees it as continuity in what they would deem as a prophetic role to speak truth to power, to advance an agenda of love, and truth, and grace, for immigration reform, educational equality, preserving life in and out of the womb. To them, there's a continuum taking place here.

  • William Brangham:

    One of the issues with regards to immigration is the issue of DACA and these 700,000 or 800,000 young people that were brought to America as children.

    You described it as morally reprehensible, the way that they are treated now by our legislators.

    When you talk to President Trump about this, what would you say to him about that?

  • Rev. Samuel Rodriguez:

    I am able to speak to the president about these issues, and if not the president, his team.

    And the pushback — not even the pushback — that answer has been, "Reverend, I love these young men and women."

  • William Brangham:

    He has used that language?

  • Rev. Samuel Rodriguez:

    Absolutely.

    As a matter of fact, the president looked at me and said, "I'm a father and a grandfather, Reverend, and I get it. And I don't want to do anything to harm these young men and women," to me.

    So, I heard that from the president of the United States.

  • William Brangham:

    But then how do you also…

  • Rev. Samuel Rodriguez:

    And then you heard him subsequently talk about a love agenda regarding these young men and women.

  • William Brangham:

    How do you reconcile then President Trump talking about a love agenda with regards to DACA with his other rhetoric about immigrants, which many have called toxic rhetoric?

  • Rev. Samuel Rodriguez:

    Yes.

    And on a number of occasions, I have expressed, in a very respectful manner, my displeasure with comments and even wording, phrases that do not line up with what I believe is a viable, sustainable message of love, and hope and compassion.

    So, it's a conundrum. And there seems to be not a dichotomy, but there seems to be this sort of balancing act that takes place.

    And, at the end of the day, what do I care about? Public policy. I care about, what has the president signed in the Rose Garden? Will these men and women who are created in the image of God be deported? Will they be protected? Will there be a pathway for legalization, inevitably for citizenship?

    That's right there is what drives me to do what I do. So, I understand it. It's by the grace of God I'm there. But I have had conversations with the president where he has celebrated, affirmed, validated the immigrant community in America.

  • William Brangham:

    Reverend Rodriguez, thank you very much.

  • Rev. Samuel Rodriguez:

    Thank you for having me.

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