Rev. Bernice King (R), daughter of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr, smiles following the ceremonial swearing-in of President Barack Obama on her father's bible along with Christine King Farris (C), and the Rev. Samuel Rodriquez as they watch from Ebenezer Baptist Church following the 45th Martin Luther King, Jr. Annual Commemorative Service in Atlanta, Georgia, January 21, 2013. (REUTERS/Tami Chappell)
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."
Click here to read more.