Hispanic Evangelical Minister is Challenging Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for New York’s 14th Congressional District

Pastor Fernando Cabrera leads a Sunday morning service at New Life Bronx Church in New York. Photo Courtesy of New Life Bronx Church

Ever since Bronx City Councilman Fernando Cabrera announced his campaign to represent New York’s 14th Congressional District on Oct. 10, he has spent most of his time railing against the democratic socialism claimed by his opponent, rising political star Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“My biggest concern is socialism as being the biggest problem that we’re going to face in America,” the Democrat told Fox News in one of his first television appearances as a candidate, saying the issue was more concerning to him than climate change.

But when Cabrera, 55, isn’t campaigning or serving on the city council, the self-described centrist, pro-capitalist Hispanic evangelical spends his time preaching at New Life Outreach International Church in the Bronx, where he serves as senior pastor.

“Houses of worship are a beacon of hope,” Cabrera told Religion News Service in an interview. “We need somebody in Congress that gets it.”

It’s a race that is shaping up to showcase not only very different kinds of Democratic politics, but also different expressions of faith common among Hispanics in the U.S. — and, according to Cabrera, two different understandings of the role faith plays in the public sphere. It may be a long shot, but the councilman is betting big that the heavily Hispanic district is more moderate than the democratic socialist that currently represents it.

Although sometimes described as Pentecostal, Cabrera said he prefers to call his church “nondenominational.”

“When you say Pentecostal here in New York, especially in our Latino community, it’s somebody who doesn’t wear make up and doesn’t allow a woman to wear pants,” he said, laughing and noting that he grew up Catholic.

The son of a Dominican father and a Puerto Rican mother, Cabrera had an “encounter with God” at age 17 that inspired him to become a pastor, a calling he has pursued ever since. He argued his ministerial experience aids him as a lawmaker, keeping him tied to the community.

“When you are a pastor, it keeps you grounded to the real needs — the burdens, the struggles, the challenges — that our communities are facing,” said Cabrera. “It makes me more sensitive to the challenges that religious communities face.”

He cited his involvement in a 2013 fight to allow churches and other religious communities in New York City “equal access” to gather for worship on public school property when it is not in normal use.

“I don’t want to see the rights of religious people being taken away,” said the father of two.

Cabrera does not see his positions as inviting conflict between church and state, saying, “our Constitution was established to have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.”

He contrasted his approach to that of incumbent Ocasio-Cortez, who, he said, lacks the same “sensitivity” to religious concerns.

By way of example, he criticized Ocasio-Cortez’s response to recent tragedies, alleging they were offensive to religious people.

Cabrera homed in on a tweet Ocasio-Cortez published in response to the March 2019 New Zealand mosque shooting, which included the line “What good are your thoughts & prayers when they don’t even keep the pews safe?”

He said the quip was evidence of Ocasio-Cortez’s “detachment” from “certain rituals, certain practices that religious people have that bring comfort, that bring peace, that actually could bring things that government cannot bring.”

He added: “It just shows me that she has no understanding what prayer means to both … Christians and Muslims.”

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Source: Religion News Service

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