What can the faith of the migrant teach us about a living theology? The resilience and communal outlook of immigrants offers a way of seeing human relationships—political, social, religious—as porous and permeable, meant to encounter God in the other, welcoming each other in love and hospitality. Francisco Lozada (Brite Divinity School) joins Evan Rosa to reflect on his experiences at U.S.-Mexico borderlands, leading travel seminars and teaching about immigration and justice from a theological framework—they discuss the influence of liberation theology's guiding principle of the preferential option for the poor, the centrality of history in understanding immigration, the problem of American xenophobia, and the racialization of U.S. immigration policy.
This episode was made possible in part by the generous support of the Tyndale House Foundation. For more information, visit tyndale.foundation.
"Building bridges, not walls."
"God doesn't see borders. In my theological thinking, I don't imagine a God or theologize a God asking, "show me your papers." God's asking different questions: Did you feed me, did you give me something to drink, did you clothe me?
During this trip to Nogales, we came across a group of students and they were celebrating mass. We were walking right by them. We were on the U.S. side, they were on the Mexican side, and they asked, do we want to celebrate mass there? And what I see that moment is, that mass, that prayer was a form or expression of resistance, of pushing back there. There are no borders between us.
Prayer doesn't see borders. Faith doesn't see borders. That's the power religion. I think the power of theology, the power of prayer, is that it works—not always, but in its true sense—it works to build bridges, not walls." (Francisco Lozada, from the interview)
Introduction (Evan Rosa)
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
"The New Colossus" Emma Lazarus, 1883
The generous spirit, the welcome for the wandering, taking in the homeless stranger, the refugee—these words that inscribe the Statue of Liberty offer a hopeful image of an America with open arms, a beacon of hospitality and safety in a dangerous world. How do we square this symbol of welcoming freedom with the reality of immigration policy today? Detention centers crowded with young children separated from their families, exploitation of undocumented migrants for agricultural labor, billions of dollars spent on "the wall," the false nativism of fair-skinned European-American immigrants.
Alongside the ideals of The New Colossus embracing the "tired, poor, huddled masses," a history of racial purity, exclusion, xenophobia, and fear can be seen in immigration policy, from the Chinese Exclusion Act just four years before the dedication of Lady Liberty, to the discriminatory immigration quotas of the Johnson-Reed Act in 1924, all the way up to the Muslim Travel Ban of 2017.
In the spring of 2018, approximately 5,500 children were separated from their families by Trump's zero tolerance policy. 1,700 children still live in detention centers, 3 years later.
But how does this balance with the rights of a nation to enforce and manage its political borders? How should those borders be enforced justly? How should we prioritize national security and cultural integrity with the call to welcome the tempest-tost stranger through our "golden doors"?
Well, beyond the dizzying political and moral questions that we have with us always, Francisco Lozada is thinking theologically about immigration and the migrant experience. He is the Charles Fischer Catholic Professor of New Testament and Latinx Studies at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas.
Lozada draws on his experiences at U.S.-Mexico borderlands, leading travel seminars and teaching about immigration and justice from a theological framework. In this episode we discuss the influence of liberation theology's guiding principle of the preferential option for the poor, the centrality of history in understanding immigration, the problem of American xenophobia, the racialization of U.S. immigration policy, and the ways Jesus, himself a migrant and refugee, crosses borders and boundaries throughout the Gospel narrative.
Thanks for listening.
Francisco Lozada, Jr. is the Charles Fischer Catholic Professor of New Testament and Latinx Studies at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas. He holds a doctorate in New Testament and Early Christianity from Vanderbilt University. He is a past co-chair of the Johannine Literature Section (SBL), past chair of the Program Committee of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), and a past member of SBL Council. He is a past president of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States, a past steering committee member of the Bible, Indigenous Group of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), and past co-chair of the Latino/a and Latin American Biblical Interpretation Consultation (SBL). He also serves on the board of directors for the Hispanic Summer Program, and mentored several doctoral students with the Hispanic Theological Initiative (HTI). Dr. Lozada’s most recent publications concern cultural and ideological interpretation while exploring how the Bible is employed and deployed in ethnic/racial communities. As a teacher, he co-led immersion travel seminars to Guatemala to explore colonial/postcolonial issues and, most recently, to El Paso, TX, and Nogales, AZ, to study life and society in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Click here to check out his personal website.