A world apart

Reconciliation is better foreign policy than punishment, Cuban, U.S. theologians agree

December 21, 2011

Cuban Presbyterian theologian Reinerio Arce

Cuban Presbyterian theologian Reinerio Arce —Jerry L. Van Marter


The U.S. blockade of Cuba is a fundamentally theological issue because, in choosing isolation over reconciliation, the U.S. has chosen to serve mammon rather than God, Cuban Presbyterian theologian Reinerio Arce told a theological symposium of Cuban and U.S. religious leaders here Dec. 1

“The blockade and the resulting suffering negates the fundamental biblical tenet that God is the father of us all,” Arce told the group gathered at Luyano Presbyterian Church here as part of a visit by a 15-member National Council of Churches delegation hosted by the Cuban Council of Churches. “The blockade denies the existence of the Holy Spirit, which is the God who inhabits us all as God’s people, by seeking to isolate Cubans from the rest of the world.”

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons ― citing the story of the spies in Numbers 13 ― responded that it’s easy to “see that the U.S. is the giant in the story, but the reality is that the U.S. lives like we’re the grasshoppers.”

The U.S. is “strong but fearful,” Parsons said. “We have become fearful of ‘the other’ … and it’s hard to make good decisions when you are afraid.”

Arce thanked the U.S. religious leaders for visiting Cuba and for the ecumenical relationship between Cuban and U.S. churches. “But let’s remember that ecumenism is not to serve the churches but to serve together our societies,” he said. “These are critical times in both countries and we are called as churches to discern the signs of the times, to help people through tough times, proclaiming hope in the middle of anxiety and fear.”

PC(USA) Stated Clerk the Rev. Gradye Parsons and the delegation's translator

PC(USA) Stated Clerk the Rev. Gradye Parsons and the delegation's translator —Jerry L. Van Marter

And to seek justice, Parsons added. Referring to Amos 6 ― in which the prophet cried out for justice for the poor of Israel who had been rendered invisible by those in power ― Parsons said, “Someone had to come and speak loudly for justice for those who had become invisible. Our challenge as churches in both the U.S. and Cuba is to make visible what is invisible ― if we cannot see the problem, we cannot understand the problem.”

Cuba-U.S. relations can only be understood through historical analysis, Arce said. U.S. claims to Cuba date back to 1767, when Benjamin Franklin first talked of “annexation” of Cuba by the U.S.  His sentiments were repeated by virtually every U.S. political leader thereafter. As early as 1840, Cuba was described by U.S. leaders as “a ripe fruit that will fall into the hand of the United States.” When Texas was annexed in 1848 the U.S. government declared that Cuba was next.

Even U.S. churches succumbed to “annexism,” Arce said. “Most of the Protestant missionaries who came to Cuba from the U.S. in the 1890s were sent by their ‘home mission’ departments,” he said, “so it was implicit that Cuba would be part of the U.S.”

Ironically, Arce said, “the churches mostly shed ‘annexism’ for cooperation as sister churches beginning with the revolution [in 1959] … there was a tremendous show of solidarity and support between U.S. and Cuban churches.”

Nevertheless, U.S. churches “are just beginning their departure from colonialism,” said Katharine Jefforts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. “We are looking at Acts and beginning a conversation about first century ‘socialism’ that might get us past barriers in both Cuba and the U.S.,” she said, “because we’ll understand that life abundant comes from sharing our resources, not withholding them from each other.”

Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church

Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church —Jerry L. Van Marter

That means that churches must be willing to take theology into the political and economic arenas, Arce said. Referring to the documents that created the Cuban Council of Churches in 1985, he said, “They talked about the blockade as political and economic and so theology must be political and economic if it is to be relevant.”

Citing two sayings of Jesus ― “you cannot serve two master” and “you cannot serve God and mammon” ― Arce said, “So for Jesus there was nothing closer to the theological than the economic and political … the cross has only one connotation: to reject Roman injustice and imperialism.”

Cuban theologican Adolfo Ham said both the U.S. and Cuba “have to go beyond the blockade because it is too often used as a scapegoat to avoid responsibility. What the churches in both Cuba and the U.S. have to do is change the mentality in U.S. politics that punishment, not reconciliation, is the most effective foreign policy.”

Parsons agreed. Quoting from Romans 8, he said, “The heart of the Bible message is reconciliation so when the actions of human beings run counter to reconciliation, we are working against God. In the long run human foreign policies and human borders will not stand. When we see injustice through each others’ eyes and get over being fearful people, we can claim our oneness in Jesus Christ and defeat what keeps us apart.”

  1. What is upsetting about our policy toward Cuba is how the U.S. is not even-handed in its foreign policy. We all know that China participates in some of the worst human rights violations both internally and in Tibet, yet we trade with them liberally. We know the Saudi Arabia commits terrible human rights violations and yet we trade with them. It is very clear that our policy is not based on principle, but it is based on political and economic interests, lobbies, and convenience. So let's not talk about principles. Let's talk about all of our relationships with countries who oppress. It seems to me, if we are going to be even-handed that we treat Cuba as we treat China, or we totally reverse our policy toward all countries that abuse human rights. I doubt that will occur, so let's open the doors to Cuba, as we have done in Viet Nam, China, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, etc., places whose political systems are oppressive and at least be even handed. Who knows, maybe the chance of liberalization will increase with open trade and travel.

    by Martha Page Greene

    January 31, 2012

  2. "Si lo hiciste a uno de estos mis pequenos, a mi lo hiciste. Seguir a Jesus es cumplir con sus pensamientos y mandatos. Ya es tiempo de que es haga lo que es debio haber hecho antes. Mi hermano presidente Barack Obama usted tiene la palabra. El saludo a un empleado con el puno demure star por lo memos que conoce a Los de abajo. Demuestrelo con Nestor's hermanos/as Cubanos/as.

    by Rev. Dr Erasmo Nieves Perez

    January 28, 2012

  3. You can not say you follow Jesus if you are not aware what is happening to people our brothers and sisters, in Cuba. It is time for US to show the meaning of in "God we Trust". No matter the God you follow, Islam, Jewish, Christiam we all have something in common: the people. We love people, then why we are against them. Follow Jesus is do what He taught: "if you do this for one the littles, you do it to me". Let's do something for Christ, then.

    by Rev. Dr. Eurasmo Nieves Perez

    January 28, 2012

  4. I am thinking that along with reading this news article others might wish to read this page http://dynamic.csw.org.uk/article.asp?t=report&id=145 from christian solidarity on religious freedom in Cuba.

    by Viola Larson

    December 22, 2011

  5. It is sad and has been sad for 52 years that the people of Cuba are subject to a trade blockade with the United States. Yet to cast this as one-sidedly as Parsons and Schori do is an insult to Cuban Americans and a baffling misunderstanding of Cuban-American relations. No surprise there. What <b>would</b> be surprising, refreshing and inspiring is if an American mainline Protestant denomination were to break with their discredited Left-wing ideology of blaming the United States for everything and instead took a hard look at the Castro brothers' regime and its "fruits." Fifty-two years of political oppression, jail sentences for political dissidents, economic stagnation, misery and the stifling of religion, all in the name of a failed Marxist experiment that the rest of the world save North Korea has abandoned. For Parsons and Schori to go down there and cast the United States as "mammon" is precisely backwards. "Mammon" in this case is the worthless, crumbling edifice of communism at the point of a gun. I pray for the Cuban people that they be delivered from the dark night of repression at the hands of the Castro regime. I shake my head sadly at churchmen who go there and indirectly encourage the regime by implying that it's the United States that needs to change. Rather, it's the Cuban regime that stands between reconciliation of the American people and the Cuban people.

    by Joe Duffus

    December 21, 2011

  6. This is absurd. The blockade is precisely because of the civil, social, and human crimes committed by and for the Government of Cuba. Blaming the US for taking a principled oppostition in the form of a blockade is shameful.

    by DaveB

    December 21, 2011