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Ahead of Midterms, Faith Plays Central Role in Republican Efforts To Win Latino Votes

“I tend to vote based on my values, but when you hear a Pentecostal pastor say ‘values,’ people tend to think I’m talking about abortion or gay marriage,” Rincon said. “There are more things in the Bible than that. It’s about the poor, serving the community … instead of pushing a political agenda.”

As the midterms approach, Rincon said he tells his largely Latino immigrant congregants, most of them from Central America, that they should focus on a wide range of issues and consider “everything that the Bible says.” His own congregants are influenced on social media by other Latino evangelicals who vote Republican and push what they refer to as “God’s agenda,” Rincon said.

The Rev. Elizabeth Rios. Photo courtesy of Plant4Harvest

The Rev. Elizabeth Rios. Photo courtesy of Plant4Harvest

For the Rev. Elizabeth Rios, who previously pastored a Pentecostal church in Florida, influential Latino evangelical leaders who have supported Trump “just don’t know their Bible.” There’s a problem with Christian education in this country and “a lack of discipleship,” Rios said.

That’s problematic, she said, particularly because Latinos “honor the pastor and faith leaders … a lot of them just don’t question them.”

As a response, Rios started Passion2Plant, a network that trains Black and brown faith leaders to start “holistically-minded, justice-oriented churches” in urban communities. The idea emerged amid the 2016 presidential election.

“We have all these churches that are regurgitating Western theology bathed in white supremacy, and we’re just repeating what we’ve been taught,” said Rios, who serves on the board of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition.

“If we had more justice-oriented churches in our country, there wouldn’t have been a President Trump,” Rios said. “To this day, he’s a real threat.”

To Rios, a “justice-oriented church” goes beyond hosting a monthly food pantry. She said it’s about making decisions “based on what we believe is the Imago Dei that everybody is made in the image of God.” Rios, a New York City native who is Afro-Boricua, challenges her Pentecostal community to do better when it comes to LGBTQ people and to go beyond “we hate the sin, love the sinner.” And, she said, “abortion shouldn’t be the catchall for everything.”

Rios will continue identifying as evangelical, despite conservative Latino evangelicals who, she feels, have co-opted the term.

“We believe in all the gifts of the Spirit just like most, but we also stand up for justice without doubt, without fear of being kicked out of our denomination.”

This article originally appeared here