Background on the Cuban Council of Churches
The Cuban Council of Churches was founded May 28, 1941, at the First
Presbyterian Church of Havana. Cuba has 50
Protestant denominations, 25 of which are Cuban Council of Churches members -- 22 as full
members, three as observers. These churches,
some of which are more than 100 years old, are deeply rooted in Cuban society. An additional 11 ecumenical bodies, including the
Student Christian Movement, also are members.
The Cuban Council of Churches program includes a Youth
Department, Womens Department and 15-year-old Medical Commission, working to
organize donations of medicine and establish health programs to meet needs precipitated by
the economic crisis in Cuba. The wide-ranging
working of the Councils Studies Center includes dialogue with people of other
faiths, including the widely popular AfroCuban religions which many Christians view
as diabolic. The Councils Executive
Committee includes pastors, lay people, theologians and professors from a wide range of
affiliations, including Presbyterian Reformed, Pentecostal, Quaker, Reformed and
Councils Spring 2000
Assembly Marked A Turning Point
The Cuban Council of Churches spring 2000 Assembly marked
a turning point, not to break with our past but to respond to the challenges of the
present, said the Rev. Dr. Reinerio Arce. He
himself was elected the Councils President by that assembly after serving as Studies
Center Director and as Professor of theology at Matanzas Seminary. The Councils theme is United to
Serve. We are looking for ways to
preach the Gospel in the new situation in Cuba, he said.
This new situation includes the rapid growth in church
membership, especially in the Pentecostal churches; the Cuban churches increasing
involvement in social service, and the Cuban societys increasing respect for the
Involvement in the Elian Gonzalez Case
The latter was boosted most recently by the churches advocacy
for Elians return to his father. People
who used to refuse to speak to me because they know I am with the church now do, Dr.
Arce commented. They say,
Congratulations, thanks for what the Council has tried to do in the case of
Elian, working together with the NCC to try to help solve the tragedy of this small
Cubans in Cuba, whatever their politics, agreed Elian should be
with his family in Cuba, he continued. The
Elian problem was more than a political problem. It was a human problem. Through the Elian story we have thought again
about the problems of family and the importance of family.
At a December rally for Elians return, many pastors spoke and made a
connection to Christmas and it was on TV. The
Cuban Council of Churches and the NCC have gained a lot of positive image and respect of
the Cuban people.
Already last year, the Cuban Council of Churches initiated an
ecumenical planning process aimed at making the Council more responsive to the
needs and expectations of the churches. We
are asking member and non-member churches and their members, and our partners abroad, how
they see the Cuban Council of Churches. At
the same time, we have a commission working on the theological and biblical basis of the
church in our context.
The Councils spring 2000 Assembly said one logistic is
the restructure of the Council, and the Assembly agreed to restructure over the next two
years. So next year we will present a plan. It wont be an intellectual thing by a couple
of top people, but something that originates from the churches at the very grassroots. We have to find the things that unite us and work
with those to accomplish our mission as churches in Cuba.
U.S., Cuban Churches: Agenda
The U.S. and Cuban churches have an important role in the process of
reconciliation between their two governments, Dr. Arce says, and in reconciliation
between Cubans in Cuba and in the United States. Cuban
society, as every society, is in transformation. Cubas
churches are struggling to make social justice more and more a reality.
Dr. Arce called on U.S. churches to work for an end to their
countrys embargo against Cuba. Its
damaging the Cuban people, he said. The
churches in the United States have been in solidarity with us, helping us solve some
problems that are a consequence of the blockade donating medicine, for example. But the main thing is to try to do something to
end the blockade.
We need also to do concrete things to accelerate reconciliation
between our governments and people, he said. Weve
had few relations between our people in the last 40 years.
As churches we have to speak about our relations after the blockade, how we
are going to work together. It will be a
totally different situation. There will be
masses of tourists and hundreds more parachurch groups coming to proselytize. We have only the beginning of them now. These people come from the United States with a
lot of money and they divide the churches. Some
big Pentecostal churches have been divided by this already.
How can we work with the U.S. churches, not to stop them but to have a
common policy so it doesnt damage the Cuban churches?
Thats my passion, he added, these questions around the
mission of the church.
Cubas mixed economy mixing dollars and pesos
is confusing values, especially in the young generation, Dr. Arce continued. The Cuban Adjustment Act stimulates illegal
immigration to the United States. Young
people are leaving because they dont see economic opportunity in Cuba. Prostitution and drugs are becoming social
problems not like in Santo Domingo, but had none before.
So in the Cuban Council of Churches we are dealing with
problems of values especially among young
I am a theology professor, and I am concerned about the
preparation of our pastors. We have to
integrate theological schools across the Caribbean, together with friends in the United
States. We have to work more on the unity of
the Caribbean churches.
More About Dr. Arce
I was born a Presbyterian, he says. My name, Reinerio, is from my great uncle, a
Presbyterian pastor, who died young. My great
grandfather inaugurated Baptist work in Cuba. So
Im a good Presbyterian with a little bit of Baptist.
He studied psychology at Havana University, then theology at Matanzas
Seminary and was a leader in the Student Christian Movement and World Student Christian
Federation. Ordained in the Presbyterian
Reformed Church in Cuba, he holds a doctorate in theology from the University of Tubingen,
Germany, where he studied for six years under the renowned theologian Jurgen Moltmann. Dr. Arce returned to Cuba in 1993 to teach at
Matanzas Seminary and directed the Cuban Council of Churches Studies Center for five
years before becoming the Councils president (top staff) on March 31, 2000.
Some felt that as a theologian, I was too theoretical to head the Council, but others felt we needed a theological perspective in this new situation of the church in Cuba, he commented.
The NCC and Cuba