18 December 2014

Cuban short

I have a personal reason to cheer the just-announced upgrade in relationships between the USA and Cuba.

During the years 1993-2000 I served as general secretary of Friends United Meeting. FUM is an international association of Quaker yearly meetings--in fact the largest body of Friends in the world. For historical reasons its offices have been located in the USA (now also in Kenya) but the responsibilities of those offices have always been international.

When we made our first staff trip to Cuba during my tenure, there were four of us. We followed the rules of the USA and Cuba as we understood them, but after our return we  were told that we apparently missed some detail and were threatened with $10,000 fines by the USA government. A large Friends organization based in Philadelphia offered us legal help, but that help was apparently not needed, as the threats were eventually dropped.

I brought the subject up later, on my one and only trip to the White House during my FUM service. I was one of several dozen religious leaders invited to hear President Clinton on the subject of race relations in the USA but we were also invited to raise our own concerns. I pointed out the contradiction between freedom of religion, enshrined in our constitution, and our inability to conduct normal pastoral administration of the Friends United Meeting congregations in Cuba. In no other country did we face such obstacles from our own government.

We did continue to send visitors and work teams to Cuba after that first complicated occasion, finding out in practice what hoops we had naively missed the first time. The last time we were involved personally, the relevant Treasury Department forms we as the sponsoring church had to fill out amounted to something like seventy pages.

May the favorable developments continue. It's particularly satisfying to hear that another Christian communion with pastoral responsibilities in Cuba (the Roman Catholic Church) played an important role in this recent breakthrough. Notice that the Roman Catholic Church, based outside the USA, did not need the Treasury Department's permission to intervene.

* * *

I'm postponing my regularly scheduled blog post until tomorrow; I have to do some fact-checking that I can't do on this mobile phone. But in the meantime, did anyone else hear what I heard today among all the comments made about the end of Stephen Colbert's nine years of The Colbert Report? In describing Colbert and his public involvements, a commentator on National Public Radio used the adjective "Christian" as a positive quality.

That's more than just truthy.

No comments: