Magazine article Insight on the News

Mainline Protestant Leaders Give Support to Castro

Magazine article Insight on the News

Mainline Protestant Leaders Give Support to Castro

Article excerpt

With Fidel Castro listening attentively, the general secretary of the U.S. National Council of Churches apologized for U.S. policies toward Cuba before an applauding crowd of 100,000 in the infamous Plaza of the Revolution in Havana.

"We ask you to forgive the suffering that has come to you by the actions of the United States" the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell implored on June 20. "It is on behalf of Jesus the liberator that we work against this embargo."

A banner across the stage read "Love, Peace, Unity." The event was intended to crown a month of government-sanctioned celebrations by Protestants in Cuba, where about 50 denominations are represented.

But some crowd members confessed to the Associated Press that they had no specific religious belief but were pressured to attend by their Communist neighborhood-watch group.

The event, the largest of its kind for Protestants in Cuba, showcased the dilemmas that face religious believers in Cuba. In many ways Cuban churches have more freedom now than ever before under Castro's government, which now officially is secular as opposed to atheist. Church members are allowed to join the nation's only legal political entity -- the Communist Party.

Churches are allowed to engage more openly in humanitarian work outside their church walls. Last year, Castro welcomed Pope John Paul II for the first papal visit to Cuba. The pope celebrated Mass before several hundred thousand in the same plaza where Campbell spoke. His visit to the island nation was broadcast on Cuban television, breaking a traditional ban on religious broadcasts.

Yet Cuban Christians still endure obstacles to free worship. According to Open Doors International, an advocate for persecuted Christians, the Cuban government routinely denies permits for new church construction, restricts repairs to existing churches and threatens churches with seizure of their property. Public proselytization is illegal, and church leaders still are monitored, interrogated and threatened with arrest.

Whether from conviction or perceived necessity, the leaders of mainline Protestant denominations in Cuba support their government's policies. Castro's regime consequently is more partial to them than to the less pliant Roman Catholic Church prelates or evangelical congregations. …

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