How to ‘Persevere With Power’ in These Dark Times

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Looking at the country today, it’s easy to fall into despair. As the radical left pushes policies and ideas leading to the degradation of our nation, it’s hard not to lose hope.

But the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, says there’s a way to keep going in the face of encroaching darkness: Rely on your own faith and fortitude.

“Your battle is truly between destiny and drama,” Rodriguez says. “And when your hunger for righteousness is greater than your fear of criticism, nothing can stop you. When your integrity is more important to you than your influence, nothing can stop you.”

Rodriguez joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss his new book “Persevere With Power” and to give our listeners the hope they may need to get through these troubled times.

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Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.

Doug Blair: Our guest today is the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, former member of The Heritage Foundation’s National Coronavirus Recovery Commission, and author of the new book “Persevere With Power.” Reverend, thank you so much for joining us today.

Samuel Rodriguez: Thank you for having me.

Blair: Now, before we get into your newest book, I want our listeners to get to know you better. I read in this fascinating Daily Beast article that you delivered your first sermon at 16, and then kind of went from there in your faith journey and in your journey as a reverend. Could you give our listeners a brief background on how you got to where you are today?

Rodriguez: Indeed. I was raised in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, hence I have a Messianism complex, Bethlehem. My dad was a Mack truck worker, a blue-collar union guy, but raised me with a great Calvinist work ethic in that region of our nation, the Lehigh Valley. My mom was a homemaker.

I grew up as an evangelical Trekkie. I attended church. They weren’t pastors, but they loved Jesus. So we went to church every Sunday, but I was so enamored with “Star Trek.” I was born with an inclination for mathematics and I was a math nerd who loved “Star Trek,” who loved Jesus. That sort of blender recipe produced Samuel Rodriguez.

And I began preaching at the age of 16—strong calling, things opened up, invites emerged, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Blair: That is a fascinating story. So onto your book, you advertise it as inspired by the story of Elijah and Elisha’s faithfulness. Would you mind giving us a brief summary of the story of Elijah and Elisha?

Rodriguez: Yeah. Those that are not privy to this amazing story that should be produced into a 21st-century contextualized movie, we find a man named Elisha pushing a plow, literally working on the farm, when the most famous voice, the influencer of his day and age—how about that? The influencer, someone who everyone would know, his name is Elijah. He came over, he placed his mantle, his cloak, upon the shoulders of the plow-pusher and walked away.

That’s 1 Kings 19:19, for those that want to cross-reference. I use that as a metaphor. For every plow-pusher out there in the audience, every single person that knows what it is to push life’s proverbial plow—be it in home, marriage, ministry calling, be it in relationships with their children in their health, in their community, how about this, in their generation, and even in our blessed nation—if you know what it is to push the plow, then without a doubt there is a biblical promise that you will receive a mantle of promotion.

And that is undergirded with a verse from Galatians 6:9, which states, “Do not grow weary of doing the right thing. At the appropriate time, you will reap a harvest of blessings,” with the caveat, if you never give up.

That’s what drove me to write the book, to combat some ideologies and constructs that are currently permeating our landscape, that resonate and are reminiscent of the spirit of Jezebel, Ahab, and Baal, which were these three figures, one of them is more of a false God, the other two are individuals that actually lived, that really promoted the first cancel culture. That’s Jezebel. Boy, would she ever cancel you in more ways than one.

So, I push back on these ideas in the book that currently permeate our landscape with the idea that if you continue to push the plow, you will receive a mantle of promotion and change the world around you.

Blair: So, in terms of these dark times that you’ve mentioned in the summary for your book and you mentioned just now, is cancel culture one of them? What are some of the other dark things that you’re referencing in the book?

Rodriguez: Oh, absolutely. There is an ideology right now, of course, cancel culture, but any ideology, any human construct which teaches our children or our children’s children that they are automatically born deficient is antithetical to Scripture, antithetical to the primary teaching of both the Old and the New Testament, that every single human being—without exception—carries the image of God.

And so, we’re privy to that. We’re privy to the current reality with teachings like [critical race theory] and others, and an attempt even to begin in the slippery slope of legalizing pedophilia.

Some of your listeners may not be privy to the fact that while we were going through COVID in my blessed home state of California, the Legislature here, our body, signed by the governor in California, did away with some of the consequences from individuals that would automatically end up on a sex offender registry during COVID if they would have sex with a minor.

And they even use hypotheticals. A 24-year-old could have sex with a 14-year-old and no longer would automatically appear on a sex offender registry. It’s the beginning of that slippery slope.

There are ideologies permeating our culture that we can’t deny. It’s not conspiracy theory. It’s a matter of fact. And what we need to do is activate what I call the spirit of Elijah.

Elijah was a very courageous and convicted individual. He had the tenacity, he had the wherewithal, the fortitude, the acumen to confront Jezebel. And this is what I teach in the book. Today’s complacency is tomorrow’s captivity. Complacency leads to captivity. Will we be complacent in our generation?

In the book, I even talk about [how] we are what we tolerate. That comes from the Bible in Revelation 2:20. There is a cross-referencing of Jezebel, who lived many years before. And in that cross-referencing, the angel of the Lord tells John, “You have tolerated,” speaking to one of the seven churches in the Book of Revelation. “This one thing I have against you, you tolerate Jezebel.”

So, they were guilty of tolerating, not endorsing. Because we have people who say, “Look, I don’t believe in that teaching. I don’t believe in that ideology.” Yeah, but we tolerate, we permit our school boards, our schools, our national landscape to be filled with thoughts, expressions, ideologies, and constructs that captivate entire generations.

So, we are to push back on these with truth and love, righteousness and justice, but we are to definitely act like Elijah did and confront it. This idea of perpetual conflict avoidance is no longer a viable option for us.

“This idea of perpetual conflict avoidance is no longer a viable option for us,” says Pastor Samuel Rodriguez, pictured here during worship. (Photo: Pastor Sam Photo Archives)

Blair: Now, given that a lot of this book seems to be drawn from the Bible and has these biblical themes, is this book specifically targeted toward Christians or can people who come from different faith traditions or even the nonreligious, would they be able to take something from this book?

Rodriguez: The answer is, it is targeting absolutely everyone. If you are Jewish or Christian, it’s from the Old Testament, you will truly appreciate and embrace it immediately because you’re privy to some of these narratives and sort of meta threads. But if you’re a nonbeliever, I believe you will wholeheartedly be inspired and at least informed of some of the ideas that are currently permeating our cultural landscape and will give you ammunition.

This is not a whining book. This is not a “woe is me,” fetal position, “the world is over,” doomsday book. It’s more of an empowering, “Hey, you’ve been pushing life’s proverbial plow. Now there is a mantle of promotion truly coming your way. And by the way, if you do this right, you will not be defined by what you push. You will be defined by what you carry.”

So you will be inspired not only to confront Jezebel, but to confront even the issues in your own life.

In the book, I lay out this sort of rubric. I talk about the fact that the battle is actually between your mind and your mantle. I use the mantle as a cloak, a promotion. The battle is between your mind and your mantle. Your battle is truly between destiny and drama. And when your hunger for righteousness is greater than your fear of criticism, nothing can stop you. When your integrity is more important to you than your influence, nothing can stop you.

Blair: Switching gears, like I mentioned at the top, you were a former member of The Heritage Foundation’s National Coronavirus Recovery Commission and you served as a representative of the faith community. Now, during the pandemic, we saw that there was often tension between how religious groups and secular groups were treated by multiple different government bodies. Would you be able to dive a little bit more into what you did on the National Coronavirus Recovery Commission?

Rodriguez: We were able to help to assist—an amazing team, by the way—to draft policies. These policies subsequently ended up in the hands of President [Donald] Trump and these policies enabled the White House to create and to present executive decision statements that—and actually not only to the White House, but even to the Department of Justice—enabling them to confront some of these restrictive, Orwellian, totalitarian exercises that took place across the board.

So we literally wrote policy that empowered and enabled religious faith leaders to continue to do the good work they do across the board in taking care of the poor, the marginalized, the needy, and helping out with spiritual health and the mental health of their parishioners and their adherence.

So I am honored. One of the great, achievement may be a strong term, but one of the great privileges I’ve had is serving on that board and that commission.

Blair: Well, it was wonderful to have you on it and The Heritage Foundation thanks you very much. But I’m very curious that now that the pandemic seems to be waning and it seems to be kind of on its way out, how are faith communities recovering from the effects of the pandemic? And I guess, are they recovering from the effects of the pandemic?

Rodriguez: Churches suffered, primarily in those restrictive, totalitarian, authoritarian, quasi-communistic, socialist states. And what are they doing now? They’re trying to come out of it.

I’ve asked questions to pastors in these respective states. We actually have calls, Zoom calls and so forth, and they’re going, “Hey, Sam, we haven’t recovered. We’re at 60%, 70%, 50%.” Some of them 35%. Some of them are at a point where we’re going to have to pivot and move to another state with ministry. Because it was just … egregious, the impact, but by the grace of God, some of them were able to overcome.

And with help from pastors and leaders and networks and denominations, they’ve been able to just weather the storm, and hopefully and prayerfully, they will see a full recovery of the impact they had in their respective communities prior to COVID.

Blair: Seeing as we are kind of recovering from this and that, there is, in certain places, government was aggressively tamping down on religious communities. What advice do you have for some of those places that are trying to come back together after two years of COVID-19? What should they be doing?

Rodriguez: Right now, what they need to be doing right now is networking. There are a group of individuals and pastors and leaders. There are viable resources out there ready to help pastors survive, not just numerically, but financially, to help them at least come out of this and to do ministry in their respective communities.

We hate to see ministries wrap up, to close shop in any neighborhood, in any community. And the idea that now we’re digital and we’re online, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, from the Jewish faith to the Christian faith, and I’m privy to other faith narratives and major faith narratives, there’s absolutely nothing that will replace gathering.

Faith is about family. It’s about fellowship. It literally is about us coming together and worshiping the Lord. So, this idea of exclusive digital alternative replacement is not in the long term sustainable or viable.

So yes, there are resources out there. They can reach out extensively. They could always reach out to our organization, which is the nhclc.org. We’re helping out pastors who suffered through COVID and, just again, providing not just financial resources, but even mental health awareness, some tools that we have with networks that we’re in partnership with.

“Faith is about family. It’s about fellowship,” says Pastor Samuel Rodriguez. “So, this idea of exclusive digital alternative replacement is not in the long term sustainable or viable.” (Photo: Pastor Sam Photo Archives)

Blair: Now, as a fun sort of final topic to discuss with you—I thought this was so fascinating—when I was doing research for this interview, I came across a story about [how] you are the executive producer on a movie called “Flamin’ Hot” about the Frito-Lay janitor who invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. And I think that’s just so great. So would you be able to tell our listeners a little bit about why that story attracted you and why you felt that it needed a movie?

Rodriguez: Indeed, it’s coming up. By the grace of God, I was the executive producer. It was my idea to produce a movie called “Breakthrough,” which won the Dove Award and was nominated for an Academy Award for best song, by the way. And it was a great faith film with a lot of traction in 2019.

The Flamin’ Hot story, I know the man. The man serves on our board. And when I heard his story of how here’s a guy who never graduated from high school, who has a faith encounter with God, and his wife goes to a prayer service and says, “Lord, can you help us, give us an idea that will get us out of poverty?” And all of a sudden, boom, he gets the idea. He’s the first person to ever develop or present the idea of, what happens when you get a chip and you put some salsa salts on top? That’s Flamin’ Hot, baby.

And this is the early ’80s, but the story is remarkable. Everything from the president of PepsiCo flying him in to the boardroom—and the man never wore a tie in his life. This is way before PowerPoint. This is the ’80s. These are handwritten sort of marketing slides. Never even understood what the word “marketing” meant. Not a high school graduate.

If you hear the story, you’re going to go like, “This is either one humongous, big comedy sketch or this is a real-life story that is funny, hilarious, inspiring.” And if this man could become the North American vice president for PepsiCo for multicultural affairs and became the godfather of Latino marketing around the world, man, if God can do it with him, God can do it with me. All things are possible.

Blair: That is such an awesome story. I love it. So very quickly, when do we expect this movie to come out?

Rodriguez: Easter 2022.

Blair: Easter 2022. All right. I will look forward to it. One last point, if our listeners would like to check out your book, if they want to check out “Persevere With Power” and then some of your other books, where should they go and what should they be checking out?

Rodriguez: Amazon.com, Books-A-Million. They’re available at Walmart, Target, the usual spots. And of course, the brick and mortar bookstores that are still open somewhere out there. But please, engage it. It will bless you and inspire you, indeed.

Blair: Well, Reverend, thank you so much for your time. That was Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, former member of The Heritage Foundation’s National Coronavirus Recovery Commission, and author of the new book “Persevere With Power.” Reverend, it’s always a pleasure having you on the show.

Rodriguez: Thank you for having me. Many blessings to you. Thank you.

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