comments powered by Disqus
Jeff WaltonApril 28, 2012
Identifying her cause as humanitarian rather than political, an ordained elder from the Rio Grande Annual Conference spoke Friday at United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, advocating for systemic change and loosened immigration policies.
The Rev. Lorenza Andrade-Smith spoke about her most recent pastoral assignment: beginning two years purposefully living on the streets, seeking to identify with immigrants and those in poverty situations. Proclaiming that she has travelled the migrant trails from Central America and been arrested for sleeping at a San Antonio park in front of the Alamo, the Texas clergywoman considers it all a part of identifying with migrants.
Migration, Andrade-Smith pronounced, was “a God event.” Migration that is physical -- and spiritual.
“From Genesis to Revelation we speak of immigration and migration,” she sermonized. “We are created to migrate towards God.”
Dressed Friday in a brown cargo-pocketed and homespun floor-length skirt tied with a long cincture, Andrade-Smith didn’t even need her oversized cross to look monastic as she addressed a lunchtime gathering of the Common Witness Coalition, an umbrella group of left-leaning unofficial caucuses within Methodism.
Already on the ground for three nights in Tampa – literally sleeping on a bench next to the convention center and later adjacent to the Common Witness Coalition’s meeting tent across the street -- Andrade-Smith has already had run-ins with convention security staff. First, the Texas clergywoman was told to move elsewhere while attempting to stay the night on convention grounds, later she was rebuffed for entering the building without shoes.
Unfazed, Andrade-Smith aimed to continue on without shoes, potentially for the whole 10-day conference. The lack of footwear, she offered, was a spiritual discipline intended to bring awareness to those without shoes in developing nations. She isn’t new to run-ins with the law, either. In 2010 Andrade-Smith was arrested for an act of civil disobedience in support of the DREAM Act – legislation that would allow persons brought into the country illegally as minors to enter an amnesty path to citizenship. Hunger strikes, sit-ins and “spiritual” fasts have been part of her advocacy. The San Antonio police, she reports, have a warrant out for her arrest due to her refusal to pay a fine for another night sleeping in a public place.
Andrade-Smith’s advocacy has been for what she terms systemic changes among those who are marginalized. Arguing that people in poverty situations are criminalized, Andrade-Smith charged that private organizations were making “billions of dollars” from detention facilities.
“When the justice system is seeking money and you cannot pay for it, you are criminalized,” Andrade-Smith asserted. “Poverty is merely a symptom of larger systemic issues moving throughout our world.”
Asked about Arizona’s SB 1050 law that gives local law enforcement the authority to detain those suspected of being in the country illegally, Andrade-Smith bemoaned that, on a recent trip to Mexico, she found that Americans were already being identified with the state law.
“This legislation affects the humanitarian issue of the children of God across the globe,” the pastor claimed. “We are being known throughout the globe for the precedent established by this law.”
Andrade-Smith called for United Methodists to speak about the law in pulpits and in schools. Saying that she didn’t know how a Supreme Court challenge to the law would turn out, she did assert that it Americans would be noticed around the world if the ruling allowed parts of the law to go forward.
“All of us fit into marginalized groups, because the common shared place is that we all suffer,” Andrade-Smith assessed.
Upon hearing that a petition in support of the DREAM Act passed out of a GBCS committee earlier that day, Andrade-Smith declared that “the DREAM Act is something that will change the landscape of this country.”
“Continue to hold the DREAM Act in prayer. Continue to fast,” Andrade-Smith requested.
Asked about plans beyond the two years after her current ministry appointment to the streets concludes, the Texas clergywoman responded: “I haven’t thought beyond this year.”
The Institute on Religion & Democracy
1023 15th Street NW, Suite 601, Washington, DC 20005-2601
P: (202) 682-4131 F: (202) 682-4136