By Bob Allen
Baptist leaders from around the world called on the United States to lift its half-century-old economic embargo on Cuba in a resolution adopted during the Baptist World Alliance annual gathering July 1-6 in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.
The BWA general council resolution joins a rising tide of voices calling for normalizing U.S. relations with the island nation 90 miles from the tip of Key West, Fla., entering what is being described as a post-Castro era.
Imposed after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, the embargo includes commercial, economic, financial and travel prohibitions and restrictions. More than two decades after the end of the Cold War, the BWA resolution claims the sanctions serve no useful purpose.
“The interests of neither nation – nor those of the international family of nations – are served by the status quo,” the resolution states. Rather, “the lifting of the embargo will improve living conditions for Cubans and provide greater opportunities for commerce, education and travel.”
The council voiced specific concern about the embargo’s effect on Baptists in Cuba, which has the fastest growing Baptist membership in the Caribbean. The BWA counts four member bodies from Cuba.
The Baptist Convention of Western Cuba, historically tied to the Southern Baptist Convention, numbers 430 churches with 30,000 members.
The Baptist Convention of Eastern Cuba, historically affiliated with American Baptist Churches USA, reports 347 churches with 23,000 members. In recent years it has also established partnerships with North Carolina Baptist Men and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida.
The Fraternity of Baptist Churches in Cuba, started in 1989 by three churches expelled from the Western Baptist convention over theological differences, has grown to 43 churches with 3,700 members. For most of its history the group has been in partnership with the Alliance of Baptists, a network of 139 U.S. churches with similar values formed in 1987.
The Free Will Baptist Convention of Cuba, started in 1961, numbers 36 churches with 2,000 members.
“The Baptist World Alliance stands in solidarity with Cuban Baptists who have been negatively impacted by this embargo,” the resolution says.
Another general council resolution urged BWA member organizations to protect children from sexual abuse.
The resolution “urges all Baptist churches, conventions and unions to take seriously every case of alleged child sexual abuse, to ensure that proper rules and processes are in place to protect children from harm and to promptly respond to allegations.”
It expresses “profound sorrow at the ways in which children have been betrayed, harmed and sexually or otherwise abused,” and repents of any failure by Baptists anywhere to protect or care for those who have been abused.
It regrets instances of “neglect to implement and enforce effective policies and processes to protect children from abuse and of the silence of many of our churches on these issues in the past.”
The weeklong annual gathering featured ratification of Principles and Guidelines for Intra-Baptist Relationships, a document laying out assumptions on which relationships between Baptists are conducted.
Glen Stassen, the Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in California, was presented with the 2013 Denton and Janice Lotz Human Rights Award for his longtime role as a peace activist.
Internationally recognized for pioneering the “just peacemaking” ethic — which advocates “transforming initiatives” as alternatives to either pacifism or just-war theory — Stassen was hailed as “arguably the leading Baptist peace theorist-activist of the 20th century” whose “influence is felt well beyond the confines of the Baptist family.”
The BWA also accepted five new member bodies, including two from Haiti and another Caribbean applicant, the Turks and Caicos Islands Baptist Union. The Baptist Church of Congo, formed in 1996, became the 11th BWA member in the Democratic Republic of Congo and a third Brazilian group – the Convention of Independent Baptist Churches – gained BWA membership.
— Based on reporting by BWA communications.