Forget climate change. Pastor-turned-Bronx-councilman Fernando Cabrera spends his days worried about rising Democratic star Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Especially now that he's looking to usurp her seat in Congress.
"My biggest concern is socialism as being the biggest problem that we're going to face in America," declared the 55-year-old centrist Democratic candidate and Hispanic evangelical preacher at the New Life Outreach International Church.
Of course, Cabrera isn't only banking that his pro-capitalist stance will help inoculate against AOC's democratic socialism. In many ways, and like many politicians on both sides of the aisle in this country, he's betting that constituents want more religion in their politics, not less.
To make that point, Cabrera criticized AOC's response to the March 2019 New Zealand mosque shooting, in which she tweeted: "What good are your thoughts & prayers when they don't even keep the pews safe?" For the pastor, the quip betrayed a certain "detachment" from the religious rituals that bring followers a peace and comfort no government can. "It just shows me that she has no understanding what prayer means to both Christians and Muslims. We need somebody in Congress that gets it."
To be fair, AOC has regularly referenced her own Catholic faith, both in Congress and on the campaign trail. She's argued those beliefs helped inform her stance on criminal justice reform, and cited Bible passages to support curbing climate change.
Ever since his own life-altering "encounter with God" at age 17, Cabrera proudly wears his religion on his political sleeve. And as far as conflicts between church and state go, he sees none, even if he's been forced to defend his public record on LGBTQ rights and explain his own personal opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. "Our Constitution was established to have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion," he says.
He is not alone. Many other Hispanic evangelicals - a growing voting bloc in key swing states - have echoed similar conservative stances on social issues. The board of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, on which he sits, recently convened a call-in prayer meeting for him, hosted by Trump faith advisor Rev. Samuel Rodriguez.
Juan Martínez, professor of Hispanic studies and pastoral leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary, made the point that "most Latinos will tend to be socially conservative on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage but will tend to be social liberals on issues like education and immigration, so we've tended to be divided on how we spread the vote." He continued, mentioning that many Hispanic voters cannot be easily boxed into one party. "Those of us who have voted," he says, "have struggled with this for years because the Democrat/Republican way this is broken out doesn't fit us well."
Do Religion and Politics Mix?
What the Cabrera/AOC battle reveals is that religion in politics is clearly not a red versus blue issue anymore. And even though society is becoming more secular on the whole, a great many voters still care about their political representatives' faiths. We may just see how important that is to voters when they cast their votes in the Democratic primary next year.
While there may be some truth to Cabrera's claims that his ministerial experience has brought him closer to the people he hopes to serve, and though there may be some wisdom in having AOC Bible-check her Green New Deal with the hopes of expanding support beyond idealistic millennials, there's still the larger question of how democracy truly benefits when religion and politics become one and the same.
What do you think? Given our country's clear separation of church and state, is it really appropriate for clergypeople to run for office? Or are our leaders better when their political decisions informed by their faith? Do God and government ever truly mix?