A Hispanic Evangelical Goes from Pulpit to Politics

A Hispanic Christian leadership group endorsed on Wednesday an Illinois pastor in the Chicago mayoral race in the hopes of expanding the political voice of the Hispanic evangelical movement.

The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference endorsed Wilfredo De Jesus' bid for Chicago's mayoral seat. De Jesus is the senior pastor of New Life Covenant Church in Humboldt Park.

"Pastor Wilfredo's candidacy speaks to the growth of our community as it pertains to extending our commitment to righteousness and justice beyond the pulpit," NHCLC president the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez said in a statement.

The NHCLC, the largest Latino Christian organization in America, claimed the election of Florida's Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American and self-proclaimed Christian, as victory for Hispanic evangelicals. Now it wants more Hispanic evangelicals to grace the political stage and speak out for millions of America's Latino Christians.

"Across America, more and more Hispanic Christians will seek public office and demonstrate that we offer an agenda that reconciles the message of Dr. Martin Luther King and the justice commitment of Lincoln, with the optimism of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Marco Rubio's victory proves that Hispanics with strong faith commitments can offer viable alternatives to the current polarized political landscape," stated Rodriguez.

The NHCLC says the need for Hispanic evangelical politicians has been proven in how quickly De Jesus was able to collect the signatures needed to petition for candidacy. According his campaign, De Jesus was able to collect the required 12,500 signatures in less than 19 days. Nearly 30 percent of the city's population is Hispanic, according to 2009 U.S. Census.

"Across the country there is an awakening of the Hispanic evangelical," De Jesus stated.

Hispanic evangelicals have long stayed away from the ballot box for fear of mixing spirituality with politics, he explained. But he says things are changing.

"We're more than glory to God people," he highlighted. "We believe God has given us the gift to lead."

Youth leaders are emerging as more Hispanic Christians go to the polls, he also noted.

De Jesus, a Hispanic, was born and raised in Chicago. He became the pastor of NLC, formerly Palestine Christian Temple, after working for the church as an administrative assistant at age 14.

He has worked at the church for 35 years in addition to serving as the vice president of social justice to the NHCLC, executive assistant to Chicago Public Schools' CEO and a political surrogate for Barack Obama during his campaign for the presidency.

His church is now part of a ministry that reaches 11,000 people with two churches in Chicago and another in Peru. De Jesus ministers to 5,000 people, many of whom are also Hispanic, at his church alone.

He believes his position as pastor has prepared him to lead the city.

"As a church we come with light, we come with a conscious to address these issues for everyone," he said.

So it was natural for him to try to address his concerns for education, the economy and crime from a political platform, De Jesus said.

If he wins, he plans to continue to pastor his church. NLC has a full-time team that runs the day-to-day operations.

"The day to day operations of New Life Covenant will continue, and the mayor is off on Sundays. I will continue to preach," said De Jesus.

There 20 candidates vying for mayor, including City Clerk Miguel del Valle and former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel.

The mayoral race goes before the public on Feb. 22, 2011, in a general election.