In the Presbyterian Church (USA), both the stated clerk of denomination and its Office of Public Witness are praising President Barrack Obama’s recent announcement about shifting the country’s policy toward Cuba.
On Wednesday (12/17/14) Obama announced his plans to normalize relations with Cuba, stating that the United States would end its “outdated approach” with the country. He has also asked Congress to have an “honest” and “serious” debate about lifting America’s long-standing trade embargo against Cuba.
In a show of good will, both countries released political prisoners — Alan Gross by the Cuban government and Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino, by the Obama administration.
PCUSA Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons released a statement welcoming the “historic steps taken by President Obama on normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba.”
Parsons cited the PCUSA’s efforts for more than 30 years to help “help ease the hardships caused by the United States’ economic embargo on Cuba and to end the embargo itself.”
The announcement, he said, “not only eases the suffering of the family members and friends of these prisoners, but also takes us closer to a day when our two peoples will have no impediments to full and flourishing relations. We rejoice along with the Cuban Council of Churches and the Presbyterian Church of Cuba for the good news that will further the cause of peace and human rights around the world.”
‘True neighbors as Jesus Christ has taught us’
The PCUSA’s Office of Public Witness (formerly called the Washington Office) also celebrated the news of the prisoner release and the “momentous changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba.”
“The release of Alan Gross and the three Cuban prisoners is an example of how nations can find common ground. When there is a will to live as true neighbors as Jesus Christ has taught us, we find a way towards justice and reconciliation,” Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, director of the Office of Public Witness stated in a press release.
Stating that the PCUSA has been advocating for changes in the U.S. policy toward Cuba for over 50 years, Nelson said, “The record will show that our work on building better relations between the United States and Cuba is faithful to the policies of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Over the years, we have consistently called on our nation’s leaders to end the embargo and find common ground. …Our faith partners on the ground in Cuba have suffered significantly due to the failed policies of the past. The Obama administration has taken a major step to reunite families and open doors to broader opportunities and a new way forward.”
Parsons was in Cuba this past November as part of a delegation of faith leaders visiting with church representatives, Cuban government officials and others.
The delegation was led by the Rev. John L. McCullough, president and CEO of Church World Service (CWS). “CWS has long urged the U.S. government to lift the decades-old embargo on Cuba and to normalize relations with the island nation,” read a denominational press release. “Last year McCullough and other U.S. faith leaders praised President Obama for a 2011 directive that lifted restrictions for religious and academic travel to Cuba, in addition to unrestricted travel by Cuban Americans.”
Not the first visit
Parsons also visited Cuba in in the winter of 2012. In a Layman Online article, Alan F.H. Wisdom wrote about a Nov.28-Dec. 2 trip to Cuba by a delegation from the National Council of Churches that included Parsons. Wisdom wrote that the delegation “lamented the strained relations between that island nation and its neighbor to the north. U.S. church leaders in the NCC delegation late last year cast blame almost entirely on their own country, denouncing U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba and the U.S. imprisonment of five convicted Cuban spies. They levied no comparable criticisms against the Cuban communist regime of Raúl and Fidel Castro.”
The article quoted Parsons as characterizing the United States as “strong but fearful.” Parsons alleged, “We have become fearful of ‘the other’ … and it’s hard to make good decisions when you are afraid.” The Stated Clerk agreed with Cuban theologian Adolfo Ham’s assertion that “[w]hat 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 chimed in: “The heart of the Bible message is reconciliation, so when the actions of human beings run counter to reconciliation, we are working against God.”
Wisdom also pointed out in his article that “The PCUSA News Service gave exhaustive coverage to the NCC visit to Cuba: 11 articles spread over 5 weeks, most authored by news service director Jerry Van Marter. There was hardly an unfavorable word toward the Cuban government. On the contrary, the news service gave extensive space to a series of meetings the delegation held with top Cuban officials. The officials were quoted defending their communist regime and denouncing the United States. The PCUSA News Service stories provided no space for rebuttals from anti-Castro Cubans or Americans. Indeed, it appears from the delegation’s schedule that it did not meet with any Cuban dissidents.
Related article: 5 facts about Cuba, by Joe Carter of the ERLC