National Latino Evangelical Coalition

Concerning Hispanic evangelicals and the death penalty: Dig a little deeper, please

Concerning Hispanic evangelicals and the death penalty: Dig a little deeper, please

In my days covering the state prison system for The Oklahoman, I witnessed a handful of executions — some high profile and others not.

Given that experience, headlines concerning public support for — and opposition to — capital punishment always catch my attention.

A front-page story by the Houston Chronicle this week tackled a compelling angle: Hispanic evangelicals forming what the newspaper described as a "new front in the battle against the death penalty."

The Chronicle's lede:

For years, Samuel Rodriguez, a California Assemblies of God preacher, accepted both views as gospel truth.

But then came nagging doubts about capital punishment's effectiveness in deterring crime and a growing belief that "African-Americans and Hispanics disproportionately are on the wrong end of the injection." After a decade of soul-searching, Rodriguez reached a startling conclusion: To truly be pro-life means to support life "inside and outside the womb."

Today, Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the nation's largest Hispanic evangelical group, has become emblematic of a new wave of conservative Christians rallying opposition to the death penalty. Rodriguez fought to spare
the life of schizophrenic Texas double-killer Scott Panetti — a federal court stayed the execution — and, in a Time magazine essay, decried a botched Oklahoma execution.

In March, a second Hispanic group, the New York-based National Latino Evangelical Coalition, became the first evangelical association to call for capital punishment's end.

"The idea that the evangelical church gives rubber-stamp approval to the death penalty is no longer applicable," Rodriguez said. "More and more, Bible-believing individuals, theological conservatives, Christ's followers in America, are beginning to sway away from capital punishment."

Keep reading, and the Houston newspaper makes the case that Hispanic evangelicals "are entering a contentious debate that for decades has split American believers":

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