The headline in Religión Digital that crossed my screen -- Zapatero, teólogo de la liberación -- seemed too good to pass up. The author, José Manuel Vidal, raves about Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's speech at the National Prayer Breakfast last week, praising in particular Zapatero's choice of a reading from Deuteronomy 24:14-15: "You shall not defraud a poor and needy hired servant, whether he be one of your own countrymen or one of the aliens who live in your communities. You shall pay him each day's wages before sundown on the day itself, since he is poor and looks forward to them..." Zapatero, who is basically an atheist, stops before he gets to the end of the verse: "Otherwise he will cry to the LORD against you, and you will be held guilty."
I wish I could be as thrilled as this journalist. Certainly this is a passage that we use a lot in support of worker and immigrant rights, the New American Bible's unfortunate translation choice in the word "aliens" notwithstanding. I would like to think that perhaps Zapatero was trying to help those of us in the religious community who are trying to get President Obama to focus on immigration reform. But I looked at the speech carefully, and critically:
Zapatero's speech rubs me the wrong way from the start, when he says: "permítanme que les hable en castellano, en la lengua en la que por primera vez se rezó al Dios del Evangelio en esta tierra." This is just wretched theology and not especially helpful for those who are trying to do inculturated pastoral work in indigenous communities in the Americas. God is God and people prayed to God in Nahuatl, Quechua, Mapuche, Mayan, Guarani, Navaho, Seminole, and any number of other tongues, long before the conquistadores and their Castillan Spanish came along. He reminds me of the Spanish priest who spoke to a group of catechists here and bragged about how Spain had given them their faith and their language, as if they were nothing before the Europeans came along. One catechist, a Peruvian historian of Incan descent, nearly walked out. It is impossible to really be a liberation theologian and be that eurocentric. Widespread Catholic evangelization came to Mexico when Our Blessed Mother appeared at Tepeyac, speaking to the people in their tongue, not in an alien language.
Zapatero goes on to praise his country: "Una Nación también diversa, forjada en la diversidad y renovada en su diversidad. Una Nación también americana, “la más multicultural de las tierras de Europa, (la) España celta e ibera, fenicia, griega, romana, judía, árabe y cristiana” -sobre todo cristiana-, como la ha caracterizado desde Latinoamérica Carlos Fuentes...No dejemos de velar por la buena integración de quienes han venido a trabajar y a convivir a nuestros países...España ya fue en el pasado ejemplo de convivencia entre las tres religiones del Libro: Judaísmo, Cristianismo e Islam. Y hoy defiende en el mundo la tolerancia religiosa y el respeto a la diferencia; el diálogo, la convivencia de las culturas, la Alianza de las civilizaciones." But those who know Spanish history and the current situation in that country are well aware that this fantasy of one nation with many ethnic, religious and racial groups all blissfully coexisting is just that: fantasy. And Zapatero's stress on "sobre todo cristiana" reveals his unspoken definition of "buena integración": "they" will become like "us". This is not liberation theology, where differences are celebrated and everyone is sister and brother whether they come wearing a cross, a yarmulke, or a burqa.
As we said, Zapatero is essentially an atheist and the "god" in his speech is "freedom" which he extols at length. It is a freedom that knows no higher authority than the self: "Mi plegaria quiere reivindicar igualmente el derecho de cada persona, en cualquier lugar del mundo, a su autonomía moral, a su propia búsqueda del bien. Hoy mi plegaria quiere reivindicar la libertad de todos para vivir su propia vida, para vivir con la persona amada y para crear y cuidar a su entorno familiar, mereciendo respeto por ello." The right to "moral autonomy", to "one's own search for what is right", "to live one's own life", "to live with the person one loves" and have that be respected...One can't help but wonder how the conservative Catholics and evangelical Christians who normally attend the prayer breakfast reacted to these words. This may be "liberation", but it is not "THEOlogy".
The speech was criticized in Spain both from the left and from the right. Historian and radio personality César Vidal, moderator of "Es la noche de César", opined flatly that "Deuteronomy could not be more contrary to Zapatero's way of thinking." He cites the Book's words against homosexuality as against Zapatero's support for gay marriage.
Writing in his "In saecula saeculorum" column in La Vanguardia, journalist Oriol Domingo questions Zapatero's sincerity. He asks again and again why Zapatero would pray and quote from the Bible in Washington when he doesn't do so in his own country. Is Zapatero even aware, asks Domingo, that many Spaniards are no longer biblically literate, something which Domingo feels highlights the faults in his nation's education system?
Theologian Juan José Tamayo generally praised Zapatero's choice of Biblical text but adds:
Pero eso no significa dar un cheque en blanco a Zapatero. Su discurso no puede quedarse en meras palabras. Le compromete personal y políticamente, ¡y mucho!, si no quiere ser acusado de inconsecuente. Le obliga a la hospitalidad con los inmigrantes y a la no discriminación de los "sin papeles", a eliminar de la Ley de Extranjería ciertos tonos xenófobos, a incumplir la normativa europea en materia de inmigración, claramente lesiva de los derechos de los migrantes, a mejorar las condiciones de vida de la clase trabajadora, de las personas desempleadas, a no revisar a la baja las pensiones de la clase trabajadora. Le obliga a asegurar la satisfacción de las necesidades básicas de la población migrante: residencia estable, vivienda digna, trabajo, alimentación, salud, acceso a la educación y a la cultura en las mismas condiciones que los nativos. Sin olvidar el reconocimiento de los derechos políticos.
Zapatero, says Tamayo, "doesn't get a blank check." Having spoken, he now needs to look at elements in Spanish law and society that discriminate against immigrants; he needs to make good on his commitment to improve the living conditions of those at the bottom of the social ladder. "No es lo mismo predicar que trigo dar". "Preaching," says Tamayo, quoting a famous Spanish saying, "is not the same as producing wheat." And it is also not liberation theology where preaching and praxis go hand in hand.