The Nov. 25 death of Fidel Castro raised questions about the future of communism in Cuba. But Christianity’s future has also become a big question.
Catholic and Protestant churches in the island nation have come far since Castro’s 1959 revolution. Visits by popes from John Paul II to Francis I seemed to have softened the regime’s strict atheism and strict opposition to religion and religious groups, including missionaries.
But neither Cuban Christians nor the American mission groups supporting them express much concern about their treatment in a post-Fidel Cuba.
“For Cuban Christians, his death isn’t likely to be a sea change in how the island nation’s communist government approaches religion,” Christianity Today reported recently.
“Despite the tension between church and state in Cuba, Christianity there has been undergoing an improbable and impressive revival,” the magazine reported. “It sparked around the time that the Soviet Union’s collapse left Cuba scrambling to right itself. The period of crippling economic depression in the 1990s also began a time of church growth and evangelism.”
The article noted that the Assemblies of God has grown to more than 3,000 churches in that time, while Baptists in the eastern part of the island report more than 1,200 congregations.
“Seminaries are racing to keep up with the pastor shortage,” Christianity Today reported.
Across the Straits of Florida, organizations helping Cuban churches and pastors expect Castro’s death to have little or no negative impact.
“I don’t foresee any repercussions in the near future and, for that matter, in the distant future,” said Ray Johnson, coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida.
“Raul Castro has been handling the government the last several years, and while we still have to go in with religious visas, our partnerships are still good,” he said.
Those partnerships are with the main Baptist groups in Cuba. One is the Eastern Baptist Convention, the other is the Fraternity of Baptist Churches in Cuba.
CBF Florida, along with CBF national, partner with the EBC to provide disaster relief. Their first cooperative action was following Hurricane Sandy. Currently, Fellowship Baptists are assisting a small community that was clobbered by Hurricane Matthew, Johnson said.
Meanwhile, the Fellowship has been exploring how to provide theological training and spiritual formation for pastors with the Fraternity of Baptist Churches, he said.
Just two weeks ago, Johnson added, CBF Florida sent an exploratory mission trip to Cuba, and another is planned in February.
But the overall picture leaves much to be desired — especially since Raul Castro continues to govern the nation with authoritarian measures.
“And the leash is still short for Protestant churches,” Christianity Today reported. “Between January and July this year, Christian Solidarity Worldwide … recorded more than 1,600 religious freedom abuses, perpetrated primarily by the Cuban government and its Office of Religious Affairs.”
It also found that four large apostolic movement churches were demolished in 2016 while 2,000 Assembles of God congregations were declared illegal.