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Latino minister fires up Ebenezer on King Day
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is the first Latino to give the keynote address at Atlanta's MLK Jr. commemorative service.
January 21st, 2013
05:55 PM ET

Latino minister fires up Ebenezer on King Day

By Moni Basu, CNN

Atlanta (CNN) – In all the 45 years of a commemorative service on the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., there had never been a Latino delivering the keynote address.

That changed Monday as the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez took the podium and belted out a sermon that would have surely made King proud. His message was sown together with the language of faith and justice:

"Justice is not the purpose of big government. Justice is the passion of a big God," he told the crowd at Ebenezer Baptist Church in downtown Atlanta.

"Justice is not a political term to be exploited but a prophetic term to be lived out."

For Rodriguez, an evangelical minister and the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the invitation to speak in King's church on the day America reserves to honor its greatest civil rights activist is a lifelong dream come true.

He brought to Ebenezer's storied pulpit a message distinctly his own.

"For I come to you today as a child of God, a child of immigrants and a child of Dr. King's Dream," he said. "For that matter, I am often asked what is a Hispanic born-again Christian? How will you define your community?"

The answer, he told the roaring crowd, lies in a simple recipe: A Hispanic Christian is what you get when you take Billy Graham and King and put them in a blender. Then you put a little salsa on top.

People laughed. But Rodriguez was not shy about his concerns for the Latino community. He is a crusader for immigration reform.

"Silence is not an option when 30 million of our brothers and sisters live in poverty," he said. "Silence is not an option when 11 million undocumented individuals continue to live in the shadows. And by the way, they are undocumented and not illegal. Because a human being  made in the image of God cannot be illegal."

Immigration is a politically contentious issue, dividing Republicans and Democrats across America. King's daughter Bernice King, who is the chief executive officer for The King Center, introduced Rodriguez as nonpartisan.

Rodriguez repeated one of his favorite lines in reiterating that his movement is very much in line with King's: It is not an agenda of the donkey or of the elephant but of the lamb, as in the lamb of God.

"Justice does not belong to the left or to the right," Rodriguez said. "Justice flows from high for the purpose of lifting up the low."

To that, a man at the back of the church yelled, "Preach, preach!"

Rodriguez had arrived in the house of the man he has idolized since childhood.

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soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. russell

    Apparently, whatever justice is, it is not a word to be defined. I think the rather angry looking Reverend Rodriguez would define justice as 'me getting what I want." And what he wants is basically "your stuff." Justice, Reverend, is when the Law of God is upheld. The entire civil rights movement is by definition a movement that sees civil government, which is to say man, as the source and origin of law. The whole system of thought is antinomian and thus hostile to God's Law, and hence, anti-justice.

    January 23, 2013 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jorge

      No amount of assumption, conflation and garrulous rhetoric discredits the basic decency of what the Reverend said. You cite the Law of God (as interpreted by you) as a proof against civil rights, yet fail to consider that this "Law of God," expediently interpreted by others, was the immediate cause for unjust persecution and prosecution of Jesus Christ and his followers as well as countless others throughout the following centuries. Which is truly more antinomian???

      January 24, 2013 at 9:00 am | Report abuse |
  2. Name*mike

    It's not about being black white or latino..I'm latino and I love black women. Martin luther king loved everybody so let's show love not hate regardless of what race u are mua mua mua I love all of u...

    January 22, 2013 at 5:35 am | Report abuse |
    • meifumado

      Do we really know that MLK loved everybody?
      I highly doubt this, He was a man like any other with loves and hates

      January 22, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. ed

    if i were black i would be very upset that they are letting a latino who knows nothing of the black mans struggles speak at this event.

    January 22, 2013 at 4:21 am | Report abuse |
    • M

      Did you even read the article? Should you even eat Mexican food if you're not Mexican?

      January 22, 2013 at 6:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Mario

      Ed, of course you don't really care about his message and MKL day. You are here only to provoke and light up the fire.

      January 22, 2013 at 6:46 am | Report abuse |
    • cken

      A hundred years ago blacks knew of struggles, however if you were born in the last 50 years the black man's struggles were no greater than any other race.

      January 24, 2013 at 12:13 am | Report abuse |
  4. retphxfire

    We need faith, yes, but we also need the words and inspiration from non-religious ideas. Dr. King's message wasn't always about how only finding justice through God, a conservative God, but that justice comes from simple questions and understanding. He made us see how hating something or someone without knowing anything about them didn't make sense, there is justice for no one if at least one of us has none....Dr. King was a made with 'heart of grace', but he never made me feel that I was only deserving if my spiritual faith echoed his. I wish we still had men like Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. No one comes close today.

    January 22, 2013 at 3:29 am | Report abuse |
  5. gilbymour

    He never said any of those things Rafacito.

    January 22, 2013 at 1:27 am | Report abuse |
  6. Lesley

    Powerful and inspiring!

    January 21, 2013 at 11:11 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Name*penguin

    Unfortunately, the world has seen the "justice" religion has brought far too many times

    January 21, 2013 at 10:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • neal kelley

      religion is simply a tool that a person use to express his understanding of God.. if that person has demented mind.. then his expression of what he thinks God wants him to do is also demented.. if the person is of moral character then his expression of God through the use of religion will be just and moral.. it is not God or religion that is of fault.. it is simply MAN.. does not matter if you believe God is real or not.. it is a matter of faith.. so don't put what humans have done with religion as a fault on the beliefs that has inspired and comforted billions...

      January 22, 2013 at 2:59 am | Report abuse |
      • meifumado

        Comforted and killed and tortured you mean

        January 22, 2013 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  8. sabina barnes

    What a wonderful message, let us all come together. Let our president and vice president get us through the next for years, let today be a celebration, of hope and trust our commander is pres barack obama.

    January 21, 2013 at 10:28 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Shalom

    Wonderful!

    January 21, 2013 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |