Press release by Church World Service
Global humanitarian agency Church World Service and a group of leading U.S. Christian organizations and denominations are joining the mounting chorus of voices calling on President-elect Obama to change this country’s longstanding, restrictive policy toward Cuba. The group is pressing most immediately to end longstanding U.S. restrictions on the ability of all Americans to travel to Cuba. Ending the restrictions on religious travel is especially important to
national and regional church institutions.
In a letter sent today to Obama, Rev. John L. McCullough, Executive Director and CEO of Church World Service along with leaders of 15 other Christian denominations, their agencies, and ecumenical organizations applauded Obama’s early statements indicating his willingness to review and revise the limiting U.S. Cuba policies. The letter urged the incoming administration to put the issue on the front burner.
“We urgently request you to change the Cuba policy of the United States in ways that will assist the churches in their work and benefit all Americans,”
said the letter’s signers.
Citing severe U.S. restrictions on religious travel to Cuba, in place since 2005, the religious leaders emphasized that its long history of effective humanitarian and missionary activity in Cuba, “transcends political ideologies.”
In requesting that the travel restrictions be lifted, the group pointed out that church institutions currently are eligible only for very limited licenses for travel to Cuba and that some of those institutions have been unable to secure even limited licenses.
CWS Executive Director Rev. John L. McCullough says, “U.S. travel restrictions have significantly reduced our ability to send religious delegations to Cuba. They’ve limited our opportunities to accompany and support our Cuban church partners.
“Such repressive regulations have also limited many individual U.S. churches and their congregants from participating in Cuba mission visits, which is a traditional means for American Christians to share their faith and compassion with fellow Christians in other countries.”
The ecumenical communiqué to Obama also expressed concern that many Christian pastors and leaders in Cuba are unable to get visas for travel to the United States for church meetings and theological conferences. The letter cites as a reason for some of these visa restrictions “the unduly negative view of the U.S. State Department toward leaders of the Cuban Council of Churches.” The CCC is the recognized ecumenical body of the traditional Cuban Protestant denominations.”
Calling continuance of the U.S. Cuba policy “ineffective and counter-productive,” the religious leaders said, “We are convinced that it is time” for change, and called on the incoming administration to:
* Freely allow religious travel to Cuba.
* Liberally grant visas for U.S. travel to Cuban pastors and other religious leaders, and no longer bar officials of the Cuban Council of Churches.
* Lift the travel ban for all Americans.
Beyond these immediate steps, the religious leaders urged an end to the embargo on Cuba. “The time has arrived to restore normal diplomatic relations with Cuba and to allow full engagement between the people of the United States and the people of Cuba,” the group told Obama.
The group said that the decades-long U.S. policy has failed in its objective to precipitate change in the Cuban government, with resulting hostilities between the two countries serving “only to limit the close historical bonds” between churches in both countries.
Other signers of the letter are Reverend Dr. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary, National Council of Churches; Reverend Dr. Stan Hastey, Minister for Mission and Ecumenism, Alliance of Baptists; Reverend Dr. José Norat-Rodríguez, Area Director for Iberoamerica and the Caribbean, American Baptist Churches of the USA, Stanley Noffsiner, General Secretary, Church of the Brethren; The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church; Rolando Santiago, Executive Director, Mennonite Central Committee U.S.; The Reverend Dr. Tyrone S. Pitts, General Secretary, Progressive National Baptist Convention; Reverend Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, General Secretary, Reformed Church in America; Reverend Edward W. Paup, General Secretary, General Board of Global Ministries, United Methodist Church; The Reverend Dr. A. Roy Medley, General Secretary, American Baptist Churches of the USA; The Reverend Dr. Sharon E. Watkins, General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada; The Reverend Phil Jones, Director, Brethren Witness, Washington Office, Church of the Brethren; Reverend Mark S. Hanson, Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Reverend Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church, (USA); Reverend Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Ecumenical Officer. Progressive National Baptist Convention; Reverend Dr. John H. Thomas, General Minister and President, United Church of Christ; and James E. Winkler, General Secretary, General Board of Church and Society, United, Methodist Church.
Relief, development and refugee assistance agency Church World Service maintains ecumenical relationships with church bodies in Cuba, but currently has a very limited travel license under the U.S. Treasury Department. As a humanitarian agency, CWS also provides emergency relief to Cuba following major disasters, under separate licensing by the Department of Commerce.