Institute on Religion and Democracy
January 27, 2000
What if the Christian Coalition were fighting to return a little refugee boy back to the right wing military dictatorship from which he and his mother had fled, she having lost her life in the process? Imagine the howls of protest. How odd then that the National Council of Churches (NCC) has received so little criticism for campaigning to return little Elian Gonzalez back to Fidel Castro's communist Cuba.
There are legitimate arguments for taking Elian away from his Florida relatives to restore him to his father in Cuba. But the notoriously left-wing NCC, with its fawning attitudes towards Castro, is hardly the organization to make those arguments effectively, much less serve as a mediator in this dispute. Yet NCC officials are busily shuttling back and forth between Havana, Miami, New York and Washington, DC, huffily insisting that Elian's best interests require his return to the totalitarian society from which his mother gave her life to escape.
Not once has the NCC commented on why Cubans risk their lives in flimsy boats to flee their imprisoned native land. Nor has the NCC acknowledged that perhaps Elian's family in Cuba is not free to tell us what they really think, with Castro having made Elian a prop in one more anti-U.S. propaganda campaign.
In the NCC's latest gambit, they have chartered a flight to fly Elian's grandmothers from Cuba to New York, Washington, and Miami as part of their pressure campaign. The NCC's intrusion into the Elian affair is just the latest chapter in three decades of NCC swooning over the Castro dictatorship.
Ostensibly the voice for 35 denominations that include 50 million American church members, the NCC long ago abandoned interest in traditional Christian pursuits such as evangelism and spiritual growth.
Since the 1960's, politics - the more radical the better - have been the NCC's focus. Marxist liberation movements in Latin America of the sort that Castro once embodied were greatly appealing to the utopian dreams of the NCC during the 1970's and 1980's.
Most of those movements have expired, and few still take Marxism seriously. But the NCC is unable to abandon bad habits. NCC officials regularly meet with Castro, both in Cuba and in New York. Just last Summer, then NCC general secretary Joan Brown Campbell addressed an ecumenical rally of 10,000 in Havana's Plaza of the Revolution. She asked Cuba to forgive the Unites States for its trade sanctions against Castro, who appreciatively listened to her apology from the front row.
A few years ago, Castro met with the NCC in New York in what must have been love-fest of mutual admiration. Campbell, who is now accompanying Elian's grandmothers on their travels, thanked Castro for having "made a priority of caring for the poor" in Cuba. The dictator responded effusively.
"We see in you and your actions the expression of the best values and intentions of the American people. We love you very specially, and always welcome you to our country," Castro enthused. "You are teaching us to be Christians." The teaching must be slow. Four years have passed, and still there is no word of Castro's conversion from Lenin to Christ.
Campbell commented that in Cuba, "The churches now are able to carry out all the work of the church, that is the training of pastors, Sunday School teaching, evangelism, and service to the society." She was of course exaggerating.
Religious persecution by the communist government may not be as severe as ten years ago. But 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. Repairs to existing churches are heavily restricted. Church property is still vulnerable to government seizure. Public proselytization is illegal. Church leaders are still monitored, interrogated and threatened with arrest. House churches and parochial schools are forbidden. Bible distribution is limited.
It goes without saying that besides the religious restrictions, political parties other than the Communist Party remain banned. All publications and media are controlled by the government. Economic freedom is virtually non-existent. Yet the NCC praises Cuba for the quality of its medical and education systems. (The NCC would also like to institute socialized medicine in this country.)
Last year the NCC sent a "fact-finding" mission to Cuba. Naturally, the mission discovered that Cuba's poverty is the fault of U.S. sanctions, not Cuba's suffocating Marxism-Leninism. Human rights were discussed, but the mission chose to focus on the "very long" sentences being served by "political prisoners"...in the United States! "Concerns" about U.S. nuclear weapons were also raised.
The NCC should not be taken seriously. It speaks only for a tiny group of religious elites, not the millions of church members it claims. And its strenuous effort to return Elian post haste to Castro's socialist paradise should, if anything, argue for keeping the little boy with his Florida relatives at least a little while longer.