HAVANA (BP)–Economic sanctions against Cuba, racism and the sexual exploitation of children were among issues addressed in resolutions adopted by world Baptist leaders who gathered in Havana.
More than 400 international participants attended the Baptist World Alliance General Council July 3-8 at Calvary Baptist Church in Havana. It was the first international Baptist event in the history of the socialist nation.
Citing “the pain and suffering endured by innocent persons as a result of the imposition of international economic sanctions” in nations around the world, council members approved a resolution that specifically encourages “initiatives to ease sanctions on food and medicine affecting the people of Cuba.” The United States government has maintained a strict economic embargo against Cuba since early in Fidel Castro’s 41 years of control there.
Describing access to food and medicine as “a basic human right,” the resolution emphasizes that “the denial of such access should not be used by nations as a tool of geopolitics.”
In addition to highlighting needs in the council meeting’s host nation, “we also are addressing several countries that are engaged in similar sanctions,” explained resolutions committee chairman Keith Jones, president of International Baptist Theological Seminary in the Czech Republic.
Underscoring “the urgency of the need for all nations and peoples to respect and support the human rights of all,” the measure calls on churches to “take steps to express their solidarity with oppressed people.”
Morris H. Chapman, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, proposed deleting a phrase calling on governments to remove economic sanctions.
“We have taken a strong stand on human rights,” Chapman affirmed. “I’m grateful we have had the courage to speak to the Cuban issue particularly.”
He voiced concern, however, that a global call for governments to end economic sanctions is “a very sweeping statement that goes beyond what the intent of this resolution is.”
“All of the weight here is upon the country that applies the sanctions, but there is no weight upon the country that causes the oppression,” Chapman said. “We are asking countries to remove sanctions when we do not know all the countries that are applying sanctions.”
Terry Rae of South Africa said his nation needed the pressure of international economic sanctions to force leaders there to end apartheid. Rather than dropping the resolution’s call for governments to halt economic sanctions, he proposed that the resolution’s language be linked specifically to sanctions affecting food and medicine.
After Chapman withdrew his proposal in favor of Rae’s wording, council members adopted the amended resolution calling for governments to “remove economic sanctions that relate to food and medicine.”
During a private meeting with BWA leaders the next day, Castro wrote a note to council members thanking them for adopting the resolution.
Even with Castro’s endorsement of the measure, BWA leaders insisted the action was not political.
“We were not here to affirm any ideology or government, but to affirm the people of Cuba,” emphasized BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz. “The Cuban people are the ones suffering from the boycott.”
“I believe the resolution is not political,” agreed BWA President Billy Kim of Korea. “When people are suffering and the Baptist family is persecuted, if we don’t make a statement we are sinning against our brethren.
“If we don’t express our concerns, we are not doing our job as a world organization,” he added. “As a world body, we need to stick together to help out those people who are so weak.”
Victor Gonzales, general secretary of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba, said the resolution is significant for Cuban Baptists.
“Our whole people will appreciate the resolution,” he said. “Much suffering has been withstood by our people during these years.”
The resolution addressing racism affirms efforts to pursue a decade of racial justice. Encouraging member bodies to “promote programs to combat racism and ethnic violence around the world,” the statement offers the resources of BWA “to assist in resolving issues of racism and ethnic conflict, including approaching national governments in areas where racism and ethnic conflict are evident.”
The measure opposing sexual exploitation of children described it as “one of the most vile forms of child abuse.”
Noting that “children all over the world are subjected to abusive relationships perpetuated by adults and tolerated by communities and governments,” the resolution calls on Baptist groups “to oppose the sexual exploitation of children wherever it exists, to provide aid and comfort to the children who are the victims of such abuse and to pray for all children everywhere.”
Council members also adopted resolutions affirming the ministries of global missions and theological education.
In other business, council members adopted a $2 million budget for 2001. The budget, which includes $775,000 from member bodies around the world, is a 13 percent increase from the current budget.
Members also approved 2001 funding goals of $2.7 million for Baptist World Aid, the alliance’s disaster relief and development organization. Proposed projects range from reconstruction work in Liberia and Sierra Leone to relief efforts in Chechnya and North Korea.