Christian leaders call for easing travel restrictions to Cuba

Christian leaders on Dec. 18 called on President-elect Barack Obama to ease travel restrictions to Cuba they say hinder religious work.

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NEW YORK (ABP) — Christian leaders on Dec. 18 called on President-elect Barack Obama to ease travel restrictions to Cuba they say hinder religious work.

Denominational and ecumenical leaders from a variety of faith groups said restrictions imposed in 2005 have made it harder for religious bodies to send religious delegations or support church partners in Cuba. Religious institutions now are eligible for only limited travel licenses, and some have been unable to obtain even those.

The group went a step further, urging the president-elect to lift the ban on travel to Cuba for all Americans, ending a 46-year-old trade embargo and restoring full diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.

"For decades the U.S. policy toward Cuba has had unfortunate consequences for the Cuban people, while denying important freedoms to Americans," the letter said. "It has failed significantly in its stated objective to precipitate change in the Cuban government."

The faith leaders said hostility between governments has also disrupted historical bonds between churches in the U.S. and Cuba, at a time when Cuban churches are growing rapidly and need support from their Christian counterparts in the U.S.

"We are convinced that it is time to change the ineffective and counter-productive U.S. policy toward Cuba," the letter said. "We urgently request you to change the Cuba policy of the United States in ways that will assist the churches in their work and benefit all Americans."

Baptists signing the letter included Stan Hastey, minister for mission and ecumenism for the Alliance of Baptists; Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.; and Tyrone Pitts, general secretary of the Progressive National Baptist Convention. The PNBC's ecumenical officer, Brenda Girton-Mitchell, signed the letter, along with Jose Norat-Rodriguez, area director of Iberoamerica and the Caribbean for American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.

Other signers included John McCullough of Church World Service, Michael Kinnamon of the National Council of Churches and leaders from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Church of the Brethren, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Mennonite Central Committee, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, United Methodist Church and United Church of Christ.

One signer, John Thomas, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, introduced Obama last summer at the UCC's General Synod in Hartford, Conn. At the time Obama was a member of a UCC-affiliated church in Chicago, but he later resigned his membership during the Jeremiah Wright controversy.

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–Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

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