A meeting of U.S. church leaders with leaders of the Council of Churches of Cuba concluded in Havana December 2 with a joint declaration celebrating signs of greater unity between U.S. and Cuban churches.
Sixteen representatives of U.S. National Council of Churches member communions were in Cuba November 28 through December 2 meeting with Cuban church and political leaders, including President Raúl Castro.
The delegation, which Cuban church leaders said was the highest ranking U.S. church group to visit the island in their memory, was led by the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, NCC general secretary.
The joint statement by the churches declared that normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba would be in the best interest of both nations, and the leaders called for the resolution of three humanitarian issues “which cause unjustifiable human misunderstanding and suffering.”
Foremost among the issues is the 53-year-old U.S. economic embargo of Cuba that dates back to the administration of President John F. Kennedy.
The embargo is “the major obstacle to the resolution of differences, to economic interaction, and to fuller engagement of our peoples and churches,” the U.S. and Cuban church leaders said.
Also cited as obstacles to normalization of relations is the imprisonment in the U.S. of the “Cuban Five,” whose sentences in 1998 “have been deemed unjust by numerous human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and the United Nations); and the two-year incarceration in Cuba of U.S. citizen Alan Gross.
“Together, we affirm the importance of living in hope, but also to demonstrate the credibility of our hope by acting to help make it so,” the church leaders said.
“We, therefore, commit ourselves to promote, even more vigorously, the relationship between our churches and church and ecumenical councils, and to advocate, even more assertively, for the normalization of relations between our countries. Such commitment, we confess, is a response to the One who has bound us to one another (e.g., Ephesians 4:6) and sent us forth to be ambassadors of God’s reconciling love.”
The full text of the joint declaration can be read at www.ncccusa.org/pdfs/cubajpointstatemewnt.pdf
Kinnamon and other members of the delegation met with the wives of the “Cuban Five” and with Alan Gross to publicize their support for their release.
Gross’ name came up during a meeting December 1 between Kinnamon and Cuban President Raúl Castro. Kinnamon said Castro expressed concern about Gross’ declining health, but did not comment on the possibility of his release.
In a sermon November 27 at the National Episcopal Cathedral, Kinnamon laid out challenges faced by the churches of the United States and Cuba.
“And hanging over all of this is the U.S, embargo/blockade and the imprisonment of the Cuban Five, both of which our American churches have forcefully condemned,” Kinnamon said.
He cited a passage from the Apostle Paul: “Give thanks in all circumstances… (I Thessalonians).”
“Life itself is a gift of our Creator,” Kinnamon said. “How can we not live in gratitude? And yet, I do not give thanks for the violence that so scars our world or for the fact that billions of God’s children live in abject poverty or for the pollution of God’s creation—or for the continued U.S. animosity toward Cuba. The Psalms are filled with a call to thankful living; but the psalmist also cries out in protest to God. The world should not be this way! I will not give thanks for these things!”
Kinnamon added: “Perhaps what Paul has in mind, however, is thanksgiving, not just for what is, but for what God has promised. I give thanks for the vision in Micah of that day when swords are beaten into plowshares and nations do not learn war anymore (chapter 4). I give thanks for the vision in Isaiah of that day when children will not die young and no one will labor in vain (chapter 65). And, in this way, our very act of giving thanks becomes itself a protest against the violence and greed of the world as it is. Giving thanks is itself a protest against the puffed up way of living that turns others into enemies and relegates some to the bottom of the heap.”
Read the full text of Kinnamon’s sermon at http://www.ncccusa.org/news/MK.Nov30.11havana.html.
In addition to Kinnamon and his wife, Mardine Davis, members of the U.S. delegation included:
The Rev. John McCullough , Executive Director and CEO, Church World Service; the Rt. Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church; Bishop John F. White, African Methodist Episcopal Church Ecumenical Officer; Bishop Sarah F. Davis, African Methodist Episcopal Church; Paula Clayton Dempsey, Alliance of Baptists Ecumenical Officer; and the Rev. Dr. Richard L. Hamm, Executive Director, Christian Churches Together.
Also, H.E. Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, Diocesan Legate and Ecumenical Officer; Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; Dr. Zachariah Mar Nicholovos, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, Assistant Metropolitan; the Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk, Presbyterian Church (USA); Elder Loyda Aja, Assistant Stated Clerk, Presbyterian Church (USA); and the Rev. Wesley S. Granberg-Michaelson, ecumenical officer, Reformed Church in America.
Also, the Rev. Geoffrey Black, General Minister and President, the United Church of Christ; Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader, Secretary of the Council of Bishops, United Methodist Church; the Rev. Jerry L. Van Marter, chair, NCC communication commission; and Becky Ball-Miller, Church of the Brethren.