Gonzalez and other Hispanic pastors across the country seized on the debate to come together as a political force gaining momentum. Hispanic Pentecostals, some experts say, can become an important swing vote in the 2008 elections in key demographic battlegrounds such as Florida, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and North Carolina.
Gonzalez said he was prompted to act by the hostile tone some religious and political leaders took as they discussed immigration. He believes in securing the borders but is critical of the lack of a national policy that takes into consideration the millions of immigrants that are already here.
"What do you do with them? Arrest them?" he asked. "When people come forward in his church to accept Jesus as their savior, I don’t say: ‘Do you have papers?’ " he said. "I’ve been called to help people regardless of whether they are here legally."
The immigration debate soon propelled other pastors from Florida and beyond to become involved. For some, this was a historic departure from a more passive posture. For nearly a century, Hispanic Pentecostals in the U.S. avoided electoral politics. Traditionally conservative on social and family issues such as abortion and homosexuality, Pentecostals broke ranks with other Hispanics and voted Republican in recent elections, according to recent surveys.
But Gonzalez cautioned that Hispanic Pentecostals are "not a monolithic" group. "We Latino evangelicals have been misread by political parties all along," Gonzalez said. "We are conservative on many values. But we have divided opinions on health care, on the death penalty . . ." In fact, Latino Protestants have shifted in their political allegiance in recent years, said John Green of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a nonpartisan research group based in Washington. They voted in growing numbers for Republican candidates in 2000 and 2004 but moved back toward the Democrats in the 2006 midterm congressional elections.
"This is a religious community that moves around politically," Green said.
I don’t think so.