By Elliot Wright, the General Board of Global Ministries
New York, NY, April 20, 2015 — The mission agency of The United Methodist Church has welcomed the recent steps toward the normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States and commended President Barack Obama and President Raul Castro for their personal diplomacy in support of that goal.
Directors of the General Board of Global Ministries, meeting in its semi-annual session in New York on April 16-18, approved a statement that also calls for an end to the 50-year-old U.S. embargo of Cuba — an action that can only be taken by Congress.
Their statement applauded President Obama for “notifying Congress of his plans to remove Cuba from the list of nations that sponsor terrorism, a major step toward the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two neighboring countries at odds for a half century.”
Unanimously approved by the 32 of 36 directors present, the Cuba-U.S. measure came through the program committee and triggered no discussion when introduced on the floor.
The United Methodist Church has opposed the embargo and advocated for a normalization of relations between the two countries since shortly after the embargo was imposed in 1963. It has partner relations with the Methodist Church of Cuba, which represents a community of 65,000 people. The statement anticipates expanding interaction between Cuban Methodists and United Methodists.
The General Board of Global Ministries has personnel, projects and partners in more than 125 countries. The United Methodist Church has a worldwide membership of some 12 million, with 7.5 million in the United States.
Official movement toward more open and official relations between Cuba and the United States began in late 2014 with indications that travel restrictions might be relaxed and diplomatic relations restored. On April 10, Presidents Obama and Castro met personally at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama. The U.S. president subsequently notified Congress that he planned to remove Cuba from the list of nations that sponsor terrorism.
“The church always supports efforts to resolve difference by diplomacy and negotiations rather than conflict,” said Thomas Kemper, chief executive of Global Ministries, in an interview following approval of the resolution.
Kemper noted, as does the directors’ action, the value of personal diplomacy by statement and politicians, including German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s good-neighbor gestures toward Eastern Europe in 1969 and U.S. President Richard Nixon’s trip to China in 1974.
“Global Ministries,” said the statement, “works for open borders, religious freedom and friendly interaction among all nations.”
The Global Ministries’ statement pointed to the widespread international religious support for regularizing U.S.-Cuban relations and ending the embargo. It cited the Council of Evangelical Methodist Churches in Latin America and the World Council of Churches, in addition to the Methodist Church of Cuba.
Copies of the statement will be sent to President Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden as president of the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, and the majority and minority leaders of both houses of Congress.
Read the full text of the statement.