(Photo:Javier Torres Studios Cornerstone Church of San Diego)
Hispanic evangelical leader the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, who co-leads perhaps the largest evangelical network in the world as the result of the recent merger of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and Conela, a Latin America-based organization that serves more than 487,000 Latin churches globally, says the new association doesn't accept the premise that Christianity is spiraling downward.
"We are not drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid that Christianity is in decline, that this is the last hour of the Christian global narrative in a significant matter," Rodriguez told The Christian Post recently in an exclusive interview about the merger that took place on May 1. "We are not drinking the Kool-Aid. As a matter of fact, we have a very strong sense of optimism … we do believe the best is yet to come."
NHCLC/Conela, which is the new name of the group merge, has more than 500,000 churches and "may very well be the largest evangelical network in the world," said Rodriguez, who said he has tapped into current studies by researchers to come to his conclusions.
"It may very well be the largest Protestant network in the world, meaning that after the Catholic Church, this may very well be the largest Christian network organization in the world," he said. "I believe it speaks accolades to the growth of the Latino Christian demographic. I think it speaks accolades to Latino born-again Christians around the world because if this is the largest network in the world and now we are leading the charge of global evangelicalism."
Rodriguez believes that the newly formed organization will create a "firewall against moral relativism." The Christian Post's edited transcript of the interview with Rodriguez is below.
CP: Has the social and political agenda changed as a result of the merger?
Rodriguez: We are going to amplify what we have seen here stateside, elevate what we have seen in Latin America and the confluence of both those objectives will emerge as our new modus operandi. It is critical to note the following: five years ago, Conela adopted our 7 Directives. So, five years ago, Conela began to operate with the optic of reconciling Billy Graham's message and Dr. [Martin Luther] King's march. Five years ago, Conela said, "We love the Lamb's Agenda message." So, it is not a political extremist message, but it is a biblical, Christ-centered bible-based message that reconciles righteousness with justice.
It was that adoption that eventually led to the merger. It doesn't require us reinventing the wheel, it doesn't even require us attempting to somehow redefine the ethos of Conela. Conela already has been functioning with the Lamb's agenda and our 7 Directives, so it's a matter of creating infrastructure and amplifying the media and messaging platforms in Latin America.
If the question is whether or not we are going to be as active on the social political front in Latin America as we are in America, the answer is yes, again, not in the spirit of political advocacy, but in the spirit of prophetic activism.
Let me give you an example. Two weeks ago, in Baja California, the Mexico chapter director met with the governor of Baja California with hundreds of pastors united to discuss the issues of religious liberty, to discuss the issues of the 7 Directives as it pertains to Mexico.
CP: Has some of that restructuring you talked about already taken place?
Rodriguez: Yes, on July 27 we have our next restructuring meeting that will allocate the number of board spaces per region in Latin America. We're probably going to go into a nation by nation board seating arrangement. So, every single nation will have a good representation of the most influential voices within that nation serving on the Conela board.
CP: Who sets the agenda for NHCLC/Conela?
Rodriguez: Myself with Ricardo Luna. Ricardo was the president of Conela. I emerge as the president CEO of NHCLC/Conela and Ricardo becomes the executive director. Ricardo and I are great personal friends and the conduit of our relationship and our friendship, it has been more than a smooth transition. To be very forthright, it has been an amazingly blessed event. I expected a greater amount of tension. I expected some enormous insular structural organizational hiccups to develop or to at least emerge, but it's been one blessed transition. Praise God.
We are in the board restructuring phase right now and a number of events taking place. One in October in Panama and there's one in December with 1,000 pastors in Mexico, there's one taking place in Europe at the beginning of the year.
My objective is to travel around Latin America with Ricardo, get to know the key influential pastors and leaders as we structure this global network and provide the resources that national pastors and regional leaders need to advance the Lamb's agenda.
CP: How homogenous politically and theologically is Conela?
Rodriguez: Great question. Conela actually conducted one of the largest surveys ever in Latin America on faith. They asked Latin Americans [that were] born-again Christians, "What are your priorities spiritually and politically?" And guess what? The 7 Directives of the NHCLC emerged as the seven priorities for Latino born-again Christians. That was the clincher for the Conela executive board. First, they adopted the Lamb's Agenda and it resonated, it landed, and people really embraced it. Then, the survey validated our seven priorities. With those two elements they came to us and said it's time for a merger.
Theologically speaking, we are on the same track. We are committed to biblical orthodoxy. We are committed to biblical truth. We are committed to making sure that truth is never sacrificed on the altar of expediency. We are committed to Billy Graham's message of salvation through Christ alone and through Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s March for Justice. So, we are committed to both righteousness and justice. We are evangelical. We do embrace the Manhattan Declaration. We would sign on to that.
CP: What about education? Raising up pastors? Pastors' colleges?
Rodriguez: We are focusing on, of course, the vertical which is that our number one objective is to see people saved, we're evangelicals. Our number one objective is to see every Spanish speaking person in the world to come to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Now, that's vertical. Horizontally, education… we want to provide resources, including scholarships for Latin American pastors online or in person. We've expanded the alliance for Hispanic Christian education … We've provided digital internet platform in order to engage Latin American pastors with certification systems for processing… We are equipping pastors literally every single day through NHCLC/Conela…
CP: How does the organization raise up leaders to be theologically sound?
Rodriguez: By celebrating, affirming biblical truth. We have our statement of faith that every single pastor has to adhere to and through our national chapters, our city chapters, all around Latin America and the United States, we have gatherings, physical gatherings, and there is a vertical affirmation of biblical truth with a commitment to biblical literacy where we provide devotions and resources, hard copy and digital, and we work with the denominations. Let us not forget, NHCLC/Conela is made up of many denominations, approximately 52 different denominations, plus individual networks and individual megachurch associations. So, already many of these networks and organizations have solidified the theological foundation that the pastors must adhere to, but we are coming in to do support and resourcing.
CP: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Rodriguez: I do believe that the fact that arguably NHCLC/Conela now with 500,000 churches, [and] according to different scholars that I'm researching, this may very well be the largest evangelical network in the world. It may very well be the largest Protestant network in the world, meaning that after the Catholic Church, this may very well be the largest Christian network organization in the world. I believe it speaks accolades to the growth of the Latino Christian demographic. I think it speaks accolades to Latino born-again Christians around the world because if this is the largest network in the world and now we are leading the charge of global evangelicalism, I believe this is the generation that will succeed in reconciling Billy Graham's message and Dr. King's March. Another words, I think that we are on the prefaces of an awakening, of a global revival, and I do believe there will be political, cultural, and social ramifications to the emergence of this movement. So, I believe NHCLC/Conela, really by God's grace alone, and with great humility and due deference, I believe we have an opportunity to make a mark in history, to build a firewall against moral relativism, cultural decadence, and spiritual apathy. I believe NHCLC/Conela globally can lead the way in the Church of Jesus Christ through the body, we can lead the way in building a firewall against moral relativism, cultural decadence, spiritual apathy, and ecclesiastical spiritual lukewarmness. In fact, let me say this forthrightly, we will build that firewall against moral relativism in the 21st century, we will see a new awakening globally, we will successfully pass on the baton of Christianity to the next generation to the Joshuas and Calebs. So, we are not drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid that Christianity is in decline, that this is the last hour of the Christian global narrative in a significant matter. We are not drinking the Kool-Aid. As a matter of fact, we have a very strong sense of optimism … we do believe the best is yet to come.