Mexican Historian’s Disavowal of Support for Fidel Castro

Enrique Krauze, a Mexican public intellectual, historian, author, producer and publisher, has written at least two fascinating essays about U.S.-Cuba relations.

U.S. Cuba at the Start of Obama’s Opening to Cuba [1]

Less than a month after the December 17, 2014, joint announcement of the U.S.-Cuba decision to seek better relations, [2] Krauze wrote that “Cuba has been the epicenter of anti-Americanism in modern Latin America. As a political ideology it was born during the Spanish-American War of 1898 [3]  [and] reached its height with the victory of the Cuban Revolution in 1959.” Between those two years, “with some exceptions, the political, diplomatic and military balance sheet of the United States in Latin America was nothing short of disastrous.” In response, “the region . . . [had] a surge of nationalism.“

The success of the Cuban Revolution “opened a new cycle of intense anti-Americanism. . . . The rage thus engendered was the most effective weapon of survival for the repressive and dictatorial Cuban regime.” But the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the rise of democratic governments in some Latin American countries resulted in the [orphaning] of Latin American Marxists. “Only the great obstacle of the American boycott of Cuba has remained an outmoded and divisive force.”

“In [Obama’s] re-establishing relations with Cuba, the United States renounced its ‘imperial destiny’ and recovers much of the moral legitimacy needed to uphold the democratic values that led to its foundation (and also of the countries of Latin America). Obama’s action is meant for the good of all the Americas, including the United States. And freedom of expression in Cuba is an absolute necessity for its success. No people or country is an island unto itself. The Castro dynasty has kept Cuba as such for 56 years.”

Moreover, “acclaim for the [new] agreement is widespread in Latin America. By his historic announcement on Dec. 17, Obama has begun to dismantle one of the most deeply rooted ideological passions of the southern continent” and may have “begun the final decline” of Anti-Americanism in Latin America.

Krauze’s Disavowal of Fidel Castro [4]

According to Krauze, the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 “inspired political awareness in almost all the [Mexican] writers, activists and intellectuals of my generation [including Krauze himself]. Our university professors, contemporaries of Castro, saw in him the definitive vindication of [José Marti’s] ‘Our America’ against the other, arrogant and imperialist, America. The literary supplements and magazines we read — by Julio Cortázar, Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes — celebrated the Revolution not only for its economic and social achievements, but also for the cultural renaissance it ushered in.”

Krauze’s enthusiasm for Fidel Castro turned to disappointment in 1968-69 when Cuba supported the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia while Mexican tanks were combatting student movements in Mexico. Yet it still was difficult in Mexico to criticize Cuba.

In 1980 Krauze had his “final break with Fidel Castro” when “hundreds of people stormed the Peruvian embassy in Havana, seeking asylum” and “more than 100,000 Cubans left the port of Mariel for the United States, revealing a fracture in Castro’s utopia.”

In July 2009 Krauze visited Cuba “and was captivated by its natural beauty and the ingenuity and warmth of its people” and discovered in books that before the Revolution, “Cuba had a rich and diversified economy. In 1957, Cuba had around 6,000,000 heads of cattle, well above the world’s per capita average. . . . [In short] Cuba was already one of the most advanced countries in Latin America in 1959.”

But in 2009, “cows are so scarce that killing one carries a multiyear prison sentence. Not too long ago, in order to eat beef legally, farmers ‘accidentally’ sacrificed them by tying them to train tracks.”

At his trial in 1953, “Fidel famously declared, ‘History will absolve me.’ That’s no longer a sure thing. An awareness of freedom awakens sooner or later when faced with the obvious excesses of authoritarian rulers. If history examines his regretful legacy through that lens, it may not absolve him.”

With few exceptions, “Latin American historians and intellectuals . . . have refused to see the historical failure of the Cuban Revolution and the oppressive and impoverishing domination of their patriarch. But the parlous situation in Venezuela — with Cuba as a crutch — is undeniable, and the Cuban reality will be increasingly hard to bear. This has been Lenin’s decade. Perhaps the next one will belong to [Cuban patriot José] Martí.”

President Obama’s opening to Cuba in December 2014 inspired hopes that this would come to pass. “Unfortunately, the current president of the United States, Donald Trump, has marred any possibility of conciliation, which has further isolated Cuba and so perpetuated Castroism.”

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[1] Krauze, End of Anti-Americanism?, N.Y. Times (Jan. 7, 2015).

[2] U.S. and Cuba Embark on Reconciliation, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 21, 2014).

[3] U.S. Intervention in Cuba’s War of Independence from Spain, 1898, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 26, 2019); U.S. De Facto Protectorate of Cuba, 1898-1934, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 27, 2019).

[4] Krauze, My Sixty Years of Disappointment with Fidel Castro, N.Y. Times (Aug. 21, 2019

Cuban Reactions to New U.S. Anti-Cuba Measures

Naturally the Cuban government and its officials condemned the new U.S. measures. Other Cubans voiced various opinions on this subject.

Cuban Government[1]

“Today, the 17th of April, we celebrate another anniversary of the start of the military aggression at the Bay of Pigs (Playa Girón) in 1961. The decisive response of the Cuban people in defense of the Revolution and socialism resulted in the first military defeat of imperialism in the Americas, in just 72 hours. Oddly enough, it is the date chosen by the current government of the United States to announce the adoption of new aggressive measures against Cuba and to reinforce the application of the Monroe Doctrine.”

“The Revolutionary Government rejects in the most energetic of terms the decision to permit hereinafter that action is taken in US courts against Cuban and foreign entities outside the jurisdiction of the United States, and that of intensifying the impediments for entry into the United States of the executives of companies that legally invest in Cuba and their relatives in properties that were nationalized.  These are actions envisaged in the Helms-Burton Act that were rejected a long time ago by the international community, that the Cuban nation has repudiated from the time when they were enacted and applied in 1996, and whose fundamental aim is to impose colonial protection over our country. Cuba also repudiates the decision to return to limiting the remittances which Cuban residents in the US send to their families and next of kin, to restrict even further travel by American citizens to Cuba and to apply additional financial penalties.”

“It energetically rejects the references that in Cuba attacks have been produced against American diplomats. They would like to justify their actions, as usual, using lies and blackmail. On last 10 April, General of the Army Raúl Castro declared: ‘Cuba is blamed for all evils, using lies in the worst style of Hitlerian propaganda.’To cover up and justify the evident failure of the sinister coup d’ét maneuver of designating, from Washington, a usurper “president” for Venezuela, the government of the United States resorts to slander.”

“It accuses Cuba of being responsible for the soundness and steadfastness shown by the Bolivarian and Chavista government, the people of that country and the civilian-military union which defends the sovereignty of their nation. It brazenly lies when it declares that Cuba keeps thousands of troops and security forces in Venezuela, influencing and determining what is happening in that sister country.”

“It has the cynicism of blaming Cuba for the economic and social situation besetting Venezuela after years of brutal economic penalties, conceived and applied by the United States and a number of allies, precisely to economically suffocate the population and to cause its suffering. Washington has gone to the extremes of pressuring the governments of third countries to attempt to persuade Cuba to withdraw this presumed and unlikely military and security support and even for it to stop providing backing and solidarity to Venezuela. The current US government is known, in its own country and internationally, for its unscrupulous tendency of using lies as a resort in domestic and foreign policy matters.   This is a habit coinciding with the old practices of imperialism.”

“Still fresh in our minds are the images of President George W. Bush, with the support of the current National Security Advisor John Bolton, lying shamelessly about the supposed weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a fallacious argument that served as an excuse to invade that country in the Middle East.”

“History also records the blowing up of the battleship “Maine” in Havana and the self-provoked incident in the Gulf of Tonkin, episodes that served as excuses to unleash wars of pillage in Cuba and Vietnam. We should not forget that the United States used fake Cuban insignia painted on the planes that carried out the bombing runs as a prelude to the aggression at the Bay of Pigs, in order to cover up the fact that they were really American planes”

“It must remain clear that US slander rests upon complete and deliberate lies. Its intelligence services possess more than enough proof, surely more than any other State, to know that Cuba has no troops nor does it participate in any operations of a military or security nature in Venezuela, even though it is a sovereign right of two independent countries to decide how they shall cooperate in the sector of defense, something that does not correspond to the United States to question. That accuser keeps over 250,000 soldiers on 800 military bases abroad, some of these in the American hemisphere.”

“Their government also knows that, as Cuba has publicly and repeatedly declared, the nearly 20,000 Cuban collaborators, over 60 % of them women, are in that Latin American nation to fulfill the same tasks that approximately another 11,000 Cuban professionals are fulfilling in 83 nations:   contributing to provide basic social services, fundamentally in the area of health, a fact that is acknowledged by the international community. It must remain absolutely clear that steadfast solidarity with the sister Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is Cuba’s right as a sovereign State and it is also a right that forms part of the tradition and essential principles of the foreign policy of the Cuban Revolution.”

“No threats of reprisals against Cuba, no ultimatum or blackmail by the current US government is going to divert the internationalist conduct of the Cuban nation, despite the devastating human and economic damages caused our people by the genocidal blockade.”

“It behooves us to remember that Mafioso threats and ultimatums were already being used in the past when Cuba’s internationalist efforts were supporting the liberation movements in Africa while the US was backing the scurrilous regime of apartheid. They would have liked Cuba to renounce its commitments of solidarity with the peoples of Africa in exchange for promises of pardon, as if the Revolution had anything whatsoever that needed to be pardoned by imperialism.”

“At that time, Cuba rejected blackmail, as it rejects it today, with utmost disdain.”

“Last April 10th, General of the Army Raúl Castro recalled: ‘In 60 years of facing aggression and threats, we Cubans have demonstrated the iron-clad will to resist and overcome the most difficult of circumstances. Despite its immense power, imperialism does not have the capacity to crush the dignity of a united people, who are proud of their history, and of the freedom they have attained by the strength of so much sacrifice.’”

“The Government of Cuba calls on all members of the international community and on the citizens of the United States to stop the irrational escalation and the policy of hostility and aggression of the government of Donald Trump. With complete justification, year after year the Member States of the United Nations have called practically unanimously for the end to this economic war.  The peoples and governments of our region must see to it that, for the benefit of all, the principles of the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace prevail.”

“Last April 13th, the President of the Councils of State and Ministers Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez declared: ‘Cuba continues to trust in its strength, its dignity and also in the strength and dignity of other independent and sovereign nations.  But it also continues to believe in the American people, in the Land of Lincoln, that they should be ashamed of those who act on the fringes of universal law on behalf of the entire American nation.’ Once again, Cuba repudiates the lies and threats, and reiterates that its sovereignty, independence and commitment to the cause of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean are not negotiable.”

“Two days away from commemorating the 58th anniversary of the Playa Girón Victory, a historical point in national geography where the mercenary forces sent by imperialism tasted the dust of defeat, the Cuban Revolution reiterates its firm determination to face up to and prevail over the escalated aggression of the United States.”

Cuban Government Officials[2]

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel responded defiantly with these tweets: ‘Cubans do not surrender, nor do we accept laws about our destinies that are outside the Constitution. In Cuba we Cubans will not change the attitude towards those who hold the sword against us.’ He added,  ‘No one will rip the (Fatherland) away from us, neither by seduction nor by force, We Cubans do not surrender.’’”

In another tweet, Diaz-Canel said,  ‘Title III is not worse than the I and II, which are in the portfolio of actions against all the people of Cuba, Cubans do not give up.”

Also initially responding with tweets was Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. He “called it an attack on international law, Cuban sovereignty and countries that would do business with the island: Aggressive escalation by US against Cuba will fail. Like at Giron, we will be victorious.’”

On state television, Rodriguez said, ‘”We will always be willing to have a dialogue based on absolute respect, but if the U.S. government has chosen a confrontational path we will not hesitate to defend the gains of the revolution at any cost.’” According to Rodríguez, ‘These decisions of Washington are an aggressive escalation of the US against Cuba that ‘will fail.’”

In another tweet, he also repudiated the ‘aggressive discourse, calumnies and measures to intensify the blockade announced by the US National Security Adviser [Bolton that] constitute a new aggression against the people of Cuba, the American people, Cuban emigration and sovereign states.’”

.”’But now there are nefarious interests in the government of that country, an increasingly monopoly, more McCarthyist policy against Our America and against our people, based on true slander.’”

“’We, of course, will not give up one bit of our principles. We will continue our solidarity support to the sister Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and we will follow the course that our people, now in a free and universal referendum, has confirmed towards an increasingly just, advanced, increasingly inclusive Cuban socialism and the foreign policy of the Revolution Cubans will continue to be the same, as the Constitution confirms. Our principles are unchangeable and invariable.’”

  Other Cubans[3]

The most cogent opinion on these issues was provided by Rafael Rojas, who is one of Cuba’s most distinguished historians with many publications and the holder of university positions around the world. He wrote the following 10 objections to what he calls “the Bolton Doctrine” in Madrid’s El Pais.

  • “1. In the conflict between the United States, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, the symbolic dimension weighs heavily. From Washington, Havana, Caracas, Managua and, of course, Miami, these differences are assumed as inertias or continuations of the Cold War. But in most of the world this is not the case: the conflict between communism and anti-communism is marginal on the planetary level. To have announced the new policy in Miami, on the anniversary of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, is to persist in that local, archaic entanglement that favors Manichaeism and the binary visions of contemporary politics.”
  • “ The announcement of the new measures from Miami, by Bolton, reinforces a double and harmful subordination: that of the policy towards Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba to the sphere of the “national security” of the United States and that of the Washington agenda for those countries to the electoral cycles in the state of Florida.”
  • “ The sanctions against the three regimes adopt a totally unilateral sense at a time when various global institutions and diplomatic initiatives (OAS, UN, Lima Group, International Contact Group of the European Union, Prosur, Uruguayan and Mexican chanceries) try to arrange multilateral actions to face the Venezuelan and Nicaraguan crisis.”
  • “ During the last two decades, the US Department of State has maintained a differentiated policy for Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. It is evident that these regimes act coordinated in a permanent strategy of promoting authoritarian alternatives to democracy in the hemisphere, but, at the same time, the differences between the three political systems, the peculiarities of their respective relations with civil society and society are indisputable [as are] the opposition and nuances of its international commitments and Government priorities.”
  • “The definition of these regimes as “troika of tyrannies” is not only a theoretical simplification, that almost the whole of Latin America and the European Union, plus the UN, China and India, Africa and the Middle East do not share, but an incentive to the deployment of a greater diplomatic and military collaboration of those governments among themselves and with their allies in the world, especially Russia and Iran.”
  • “The application of Titles III and IV of the Helms-Burton Act, passed in 1996, had been postponed by all the governments of the United States until now: the second by Bill Clinton, the two by George W. Bush and the two of Barack Obama [and the two??? by Trump]. The reason was always a mixture of recognition of the global unpopularity of the embargo against Cuba and the complications that could arise in relations with Europe, Canada, Latin America and Asia, in case of demands to companies from those regions that operated in Cuba with confiscated properties. The thousands of cases of Cuban-American citizens that will be presented before the US justice system, in addition to being complicated and burdensome, will generate costs at the international level, as already observed with the European Union’s appeal to the World Trade Organization (WTO).”
  • “Restrictions on American tourist trips and remittances from Cuban-Americans from the United States will not only affect the income of Miguel Diaz Canel’s government: they will also damage the small market sphere that attempts to articulate within the island. The new policy towards Cuba returns to the old paradox of the republican right to promote capitalism, closing the external ways by which capitalism can reproduce itself.”
  • “The sanctions against the Central Bank of Venezuela continue the punitive strategy undertaken so far by the Trump administration against the financial networks of the Government of Nicolás Maduro. Who announces that measure in Miami is the same one that recently proposed the sending of 5,000 soldiers to the border between Colombia and Venezuela and the same government that already openly complains about the inability of its ally, President Ivan Duque [Colombia’s current president], to reduce drug trafficking.”
  • “ The measures against the Government of Daniel Ortega also try to affect the sources of income of the Sandinista State, through the freezing of funds from the Corporate Bank of Nicaragua and the official investment and export agency, ProNicaragua, headed by the son of the presidential couple, Laureano Ortega Murillo. So far, this type of personalized sanctions has not yielded results in Cuba or Venezuela, in terms of promoting greater economic and political openness. Daniel Ortega, a leader so discredited by the Latin American left, gains prestige with the Bolton doctrine.”
  • “ The purpose of the unilateral US offensive against Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua is not, apparently, a flexibilization but a breakdown of those regimes. But for that to happen, unlikely scenarios would have to occur: a military uprising in Venezuela, a coup in Nicaragua or a popular uprising in Cuba. In a possible conjuncture of simultaneous economic asphyxia in the three countries should not rule out a greater cohesion against the external enemy, despite the greater or lesser wear and tear of their respective leaders. Not even the collapse of one of those regimes would necessarily mean the collapse of the other two.”

Another article critical of the new U.S. measures in tones similar to those  expressed by the Cuban government and its officials appears in Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba.

On the other hand, some Cubans disagreed with the Cuban government’s lengthy and vitriolic attacks on the new U.S. measures. These articles were an editorial in Diario de Cuba and one of its articles by Elias Amor; this Internet periodical is published in Madrid, Spain and says that “the  views expressed are not those of any government, nor of any corporate entity other than K&M Productions, LLC, of Boston, Massachusetts.”

A surprising opinion on the new U.S. policies was voiced by Antonio Rodiles, a member of the Cuban opposition, when saying he supported the new U.S. restrictions. “”Pressure is needed. In what other way will it be possible to stop a regime like this? I do not see another Possibility.”

Conclusion[4]

 The lengthy declaration by the Cuban Government was to be expected. Criticism of the official position of the Cuban Government on these issues from  Dario de Cuba was also to be expected as it always publishing such pieces and makes one wonder whether it secretly is funded by the U.S. government.

Most persuasive are the 10 reasons advanced by respected historian Rafael Rojas. I agree that the speech by John Bolton seems erroneously anchored in the views of the Cold War, which has been over for some time; that the new measures seem derived from U.S. political concerns about the state of Florida in national politics; that the new measures totally ignore multilateral efforts to solve the many issues in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua; that the new U.S. measures encourage these three countries to seek help from Russia and Iran; that the previous U.S. waiver of enforcement of provisions of the Hale-Burton Act were based on realistic assessments that the related U.S. embargo of Cuba was rejected by virtually every country in the world whereas enforcement of those provisions of the Act would generate costs at the international level, including tension with U.S. allies; that the restriction of U.S. remittances and travel to Cuba will harm emerging Cuban free enterprise; and that the true purpose of these new U.S. measures does not appear to encourage actions consistent with U.S. interests, but instead to cause a breakdown of their regimes.

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[1] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Declaration of the Revolutionary Government of Cuba: The Cuban revolution reiterates its firm determination to face the escalation in aggression by the United States (April 18, 2019).

[2] Solomon, Reichmann & Lee (AP), Trump Cracks Down on Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, Wash. Post (April 17, 2019); DeYoung, Trump administration announces new measures against Cuba, Wash. Post (April 17, 2019); Reuters, Trump’s Cuba Hawks Try to Squeeze Havana Over Venezuela Role, N.Y. Times ( April 17, 2019).

[3] Rojas, Ten Objections to the Bolton doctrine, El Pais (April 18, 2019); Capote, Let’s talk Cuban about the Helms-Burton, Granma (April 17, 2019); Editorial, The Helms-Burton Act and the responsibility of the Cuban regime, Diario de Cuba (April 18, 2019); Amor, Will the Cubans be impoverished by the Helms-Burton Law?, Diario de Cuba (April 20, 2019).

[4] As always corrections and opinions about this post are welcome. Are there any other significant Cuban statements on these new U.S. measures? If so, add them in comments to this post.

Wall Street Journal: U.S. Asserting New Plan To Re-Shape Latin America

The Wall Street Journal reports, as recent posts to this blog have indicated, the U.S. has embarked on a new campaign or plan to try to re-shape Latin American politics and governments.[1]

According to the Journal, “The Trump administration’s attempt to force out the president of Venezuela [Maduro] marked the opening of a new strategy to exert greater U.S. influence over Latin America, according to administration officials. In sight isn’t just Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, but also Cuba, an antagonist that has dominated American attention in the region for more than 50 years.” This new strategy also aims at  “recent inroads [in the region] made by Russia, China and Iran.”

“The Trump administration is stocked with officials who have long believed Cuba to be the more serious national-security threat.” These officials include Cuba-Americans Mauricio Claver-Carone, a National Security Council official, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL). “They cite Cuba’s intelligence operations in the U.S., and its efforts to spread anti-American views in other Latin American countries. The goal, the administration’s thinking goes, is to sever ties that bind Venezuela to Cuba and sink regimes in both countries.”

Third on the target list of these U.S. officials is Nicaragua. “The State Department repeatedly warned of the country’s shift toward autocratic rule, government repression and violence. Nicaraguans are joining the flow of migrants toward the U.S. border with Mexico,” John Bolton, National Security Advisor, said. He added, “The United States looks forward to watching each corner of the [Troika of Tyranny] fall: in Havana, in Caracas, in Managua,” the capital of Nicaragua.

Conclusion

The Journal’s report confirms what was obvious from recent posts to this blog. These are unfortunate and wrong-headed developments.

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[1] Donati, Salama & Talley, U.S. Push to Oust Venezuela’s Maduro Marks first Shot in Plan to Reshape Latin America, W.S.J. (Jan. 30, 2019).

The Economist Ranks Cuba as the Worst Democracy in Latin America

This January, The Economist of London published its 2018 Democracy Index for 167 countries in the world based upon five central categories: electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, government functioning, political participation and political culture. In this global survey Cuba ranked 142 out of 167. For Latin America, Cuba ranked last. [1]

Earlier, in March 2018, the Bertelsmann Foundation of Germany also ranked Cuba last in Latin America for democracy in terms of  the quality of democracy, the market economy and governance, even worse than Venezuela and Nicaragua.[2]

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[1] Havana with Díaz-Canel is the worst ‘democracy in Latin America according to “The Economist,” Diario de Cuba (Jan. 9, 2019).

[2] Schwarz, Democracy under Pressure: Polarization and Repression Are Increasing Worldwide, Bertelsmann Stiftung (Mar. 22, 2018); Cuba is the worst country in terms of democracy  in Latin America, according to a study, Diario de Cuba (Mar. 22, 2018); CBTI/2018: Cuba  Country Report (Mar. 22, 2018).

“Whose People Will Be Our People?”

This was the title of the November 18 sermon by Senior Pastor, Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen, at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church.[1]

Preparing for the Word

The Prelude for the service was Franz Joseph Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto (Movements I and II) that was performed by Douglas Carlsen, trumpet (Minnesota Orchestra) and Melanie Ohnstad, organ.

Associate Pastor, Rev.  Alanna Simone Tyler, then led the congregation in the following unison Prayer of Confession:

  • “O Holy One, we gather today aware that we fall short of your hopes for us. We are a people divided. We do not trust one another. We forget we belong to the whole human family, not merely to our little circle. We do not accept the stranger as if it were you, O Christ. Forgive us, and make us one again, with you and with those from whom we are estranged.”

Listening for the Word

The Scriptures: Ruth 1: 1-18 (NRSV):

“In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.”

“Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had considered his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.’ Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. They said to her, ‘No, we will return with you to your people.’ But Naomi said, ‘Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.’ Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.”

“So she said, ‘See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.’”

“But Ruth said, ‘Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!’”

“When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.”

The Sermon:

“Few stories in Hebrew Scripture are as central to our Christian narrative, and are as reflective of what God is up to in Jesus, as the account of Naomi and Ruth.”

In many ways it’s a thoroughly modern story, a tale of love and survival, of refugees and immigrants, of loyalty and generosity, of family legacy and the quiet strength of women.” (Emphasis added.)

“Naomi, an Israelite, marries a man from Bethlehem. They flee famine in Israel and travel as refugees to the land of Moab to the east, beyond the river Jordan, where they settle as a family.”

“But after a time Naomi’s husband dies, and with no one to provide for her and being a refugee from a foreign land, she faces serious hardship. Fortunately, her sons have grown up. They marry women of Moab, Orpah and Ruth, and can now care for their mother.”

“We often view the story of Ruth as the tale of individuals and the decisions they make. But their lives, and this story, are lived in a much broader context. Naomi, from Israel, and Ruth, from Moab, represent two nations historically in conflict. Their people are enemies.” (Emphasis added.)

“To get a feel for the unsettling power of this narrative, imagine it set in the modern Middle East. If we replace Moab with Palestinian Gaza, and Bethlehem with Israeli Tel Aviv, we begin to get a sense of the larger, treacherous, complicated implications of this story.” (Emphasis added.)

“For a time all is well for Naomi in her new life in Moab, but then tragedy strikes again. Both sons die, leaving her vulnerable once more. The only hope for Naomi is to return to Bethlehem where she has relatives on whom she might be able to depend. She learns the famine that caused them to leave in the first place is over, and she decides to go home.”

“When Naomi sets off for Bethlehem, her two daughters-in-law decide to go with her, but Naomi stops them. She tells them to go home to their own people, where they have a chance of surviving, of marrying again and starting new families, and being among their own people. Orpah chooses to return home, but Ruth’s love and loyalty compel her to go with her mother-in-law, who tries again to dissuade her. I imagine them standing on the banks of the Jordan, the border between Moab and Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel, Naomi urging her to return home one last time. But Ruth stands her ground.”

“’Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you!’ she says to Naomi.”

  • Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried.’ (Ruth 1:17-18)” (Emphasis added.)

“It’s a stunning soliloquy, with far-reaching consequences. With her words, Ruth reframes and redefines existing norms and realigns historic assumptions. She chooses to ignore the accepted boundaries between people and nations. She sets self aside and declares her intention to use love as the measure by which she will live.” (Emphasis added.)

The story of Ruth points to the dangers of exaggerated nationalism and the risks of restrictive boundaries within the human family. The story upends old rules about identity, and proposes new ways of thinking about relationships. It shows that grace and generous love can disrupt historic patterns of exclusivity.” (Emphasis added.)

“After Ruth’s words, Naomi really has no choice, so the two of them set off together for Bethlehem, climbing up into the hills of Judah from the Jordan Valley. Once they get there, they have no means of sustaining themselves. In order to provide food for the two of them, Ruth goes to glean in the fields with other poor, hungry people, picking up leftovers after the harvest. She happens to do this, to glean, in the field of Boaz, a kinsman of her dead husband’s family.”

“Boaz sees her and is attracted to her, and asks about her and, eventually, with a little encouragement from Ruth, falls in love with her. They have a son named Obed, whose wife has a son named Jesse. Remember the prophetic prediction that ‘a shoot will come out of the stump of Jesse?’ That shoot would be David, son of Jesse, great-grandson of Ruth – David, who would become king of Israel, and from whose line the Messiah would one day come, as the prophets of old had foretold.” (Emphasis added.)

“In other words, without the courage and strength of Naomi and the perseverance and love of Ruth, the story would end. There would have been no Obed, no Jesse, no David – and, eventually, no Jesus. The entire biblical story for Christians rests on this one foreign enemy woman, a young widow who leaves her own people, with great risk, goes with her mother-in-law, to support her, because it was the right and just thing to do. As the Shaker poem the choir sang earlier says, ‘Love will do the thing that’s right.’”

“’Where you go I will go, ‘Ruth says. ‘Where you lodge I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God my God.’”

The prophet Micah asks, ‘What does the Lord require of us’ Ruth, a foreigner not under the law of the Hebrews, instinctively knows the answer: ‘To do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.’” (Emphasis added.)

The story of Ruth is a parable for our time. It may not be Moab and Israel, but in America today we live as if we were enemies of one another. There’s no longer a common understanding of what unites us as a people. We think the worst of those with whom we disagree. Everything has a zero-sum quality to it. Either you’re with me or you’re against me.” (Emphases added.)

“Your people cannot possibly be my people.”

“American individualism has always been in creative and generative tension with the call to live as one community. These days, however, that tension has largely been displaced by rampant sectarianism. Very few now try even to talk across the divide anymore. Rigid partisanship precludes the possibility of building a shared purpose as a people. We cannot see beyond our own firm boundaries.”

“Presidential historian Michael Beschloss spoke at the Westminster Town Hall Forum last Tuesday. More than 1700 people were here. The sanctuary and Westminster Hall were filled to overflowing.” [2]

“We were surprised by the crowd. Why did so many people come? The midterm elections were over and the relentless campaigning was behind us , and I think people wanted to take a longer view of where things stand in America. We had just marked the 100th anniversary of the Armistice ending the First World War. And our national Day of Thanksgiving is nearly upon us, always a time to pause and reflect on the road we as a people have trod, and on the journey ahead. People came that day to find hope for the future of our nation.”

“The questions asked of Beschloss at the Town Hall Forum focused less on any particular president, current or historic, and more on the present contentiousness in our land. People wrote question expressing serious anxiety about the health of our democracy. They wanted to hear from a professional historian whether things are as bad as they seem. They are, in his view.“

“Beschloss is deeply concerned about the nation and its future. In his study of history, he said, he knew of few times in our country’s life as fraught with division and discord, and the potential for worse, as ours. Even as he expressed hope about the enduring strength of American democracy, he warned about the risk of conflict escalating into violence.”

“This is not only a Republican-Democrat problem, or a conservative-progressive matter. It’s not even solely a political problem, nor merely a lack of civility. It’s something far more than that.”

“It’s the same question Ruth faced, a question of identity and belonging: whose people will be my people? Our people?”

“It shows up in the rural-urban divide. It can be seen in the widening gulf between those with a high level of economic comfort and those who have been left behind – and in the policies aimed at keeping things like that. We see it in unresolved racial disparities among us. It’s there in the backlash against immigrants. There’s a growing education gap and a perception of elitism among us.”

“We’re all caught up in it. We’re all caught up in the cultural dividing lines that cut across the nation. And naturally we think the “other side” is at fault; but none of us is innocent.”

“Beschloss said that when American presidents have found themselves leading in a time of war they always become more religious. He described Lincoln coming to Washington as an agnostic, and maybe even an atheist,, but as he sent men off to fight and die on the battlefield he turned to the Bible and to prayer for wisdom and strength and succor. We can hear it in his speeches; he quoted scripture all the time. He needed something beyond his own resources to bear the terrible burden and to help resolve the national crisis.”

“We need something, as well, beyond our own limited resources. What we’re facing, I think, can be described as a spiritual problem. We’re too mired in mundane, daily outrage to see things from a higher point of view.” (Emphasis added.)

“In contrast, Ruth refuses to let the prevailing perception of reality – that Moab and Israel are enemies – define her own point of view. She chooses to live according to a different reality. She seeks a deeper, broader, more generous perspective on the human family. She lifts her vision above the discord and looks beyond it. She wants to see things more as God intends them to be, not as the world sees them.”

“We’re in a moment where our nation lacks that kind of moral vision, a vision that looks beyond the immediacies of our divided house, a vision summoning us to conceive anew the possibilities the American experiment was meant to offer. We cannot keep living like this; there’s simply too much at stake not to try to reclaim the values at the heart of our democracy – values never perfectly implemented, but that have served as aspirational measures of our life together.”

This is a Naomi and Ruth moment, and the question facing us is: whose people will be our people?” (Emphasis added.)

As Christians, we believe that Jesus embodies God’s response to that question.” (Emphasis added.)

“In the coming season we will we speak of this one who is born in Bethlehem, the descendant of David. We will speak of him as Emmanuel, God with us.”

Jesus does with all humanity what Ruth does with Naomi. He lives for others and loves them unconditionally, even at the risk of losing his own life.” (Emphasis added.)

In Jesus, and in Ruth, we have the blueprint for human community: a generosity of spirit that starts by saying, “Your people will be our people.” (Emphasis added.)

“Thanks be to God.”

Reflections

This sermon provided historical and contemporary contexts that made the story of Ruth and Naomi more powerful.

Naomi and Ruth were from countries, Israel and Moab respectively, that were enemies. Yet Ruth “reframes and redefines existing norms and realigns historic assumptions.” She “chooses to ignore the accepted boundaries between people and nations” and thereby “shows that grace and generous love can disrupt historic patterns of exclusivity.”

“Jesus does with all humanity what Ruth does with Naomi. He lives for others and loves them unconditionally.”

It is easiest for nearly everyone to first experience love in a family and define yourself as a member of that family. Then as we grow up we enlarge the family group to include friends and neighbors, eventually people from a geographical area and then a nation. All of these groups are logical and hopefully enriching.

The challenge then is to understand and treasure all human beings who are outside these groups. We are offered opportunities to do so by reading about people in other cultures and lands, by seeking to engage with nearby neighbors with different cultures and traditions, by welcoming newcomers of all faiths and traditions to our cities and towns and by traveling to other lands.

I have been blessed in this quest by a superb education; by living and studying for two years in the United Kingdom; by traveling to many other countries in Europe, North America and Latin America and a few countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa; by being a pro bono asylum lawyer for Salvadorans, Somalis, Colombians and men from Afghanistan and Burma; by learning and teaching international human rights law; by researching and writing blog posts about Cuba, Cameroon and other countries and issues; and by getting to know their peoples and by getting to know people in Minnesota from many other countries.

Especially meaningful for me has been involvement in Westminster’s Global Partnerships in Cuba, Cameroon and Palestine and learning more about these countries’ histories, traditions and problems and establishing friendships with individuals in these countries. For example, this past May, individuals from these three counties visited Westminster in Minneapolis and we all shared our joys and challenges. Especially enriching were three worship services focused on each of our partnerships.

For example, our May 20, 2018, service on Pentecost Sunday featured our Palestinian brothers and sisters from our partner congregation, Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem.[3]

We had Palestinian music from the Georges Lammam Ensemble (San Francisco, California). Rev. Munther Isaac, the Senior Pastor of our partner congregation, provided the Pastoral Prayer and led the unison Lord’s Prayer. My new friend, Adel Nasser from Bethlehem, chanted the Twenty-third Psalm in Arabic.

Then Rev. Mitri Raheb, the President of Dar-Al-Kalima University in Bethlehem, had an illuminating conversational sermon with Rev. Hart-Andersen that was centered on the Biblical text (Acts 2: 1-12). This passage talks about a gathering in Jerusalem of  people “from every nation under heaven,” each speaking “in the native language of each” and yet hearing, “each of us, in our own native language” and thus understanding one another. Here are some of the highlights of that conversation:

  • Hart-Andersen said the text emphasized that all of these people were in one place together, affirming the vast display of God’s creative goodness in the human family when no one has to surrender his or her own identity and thereby affirms the identity of every human being.
  • This is what God wants in the human family, Hart-Andersen continued. Make space for people who are different. The miracle of Pentecost is the existence of bridges over these differences and the destruction of walls that we tend to build around our own little groups.
  • Hart-Andersen also pointed out that Minnesota today is like that earlier gathering at Pentecost with over 100 different language groups in the State.
  • Raheb agreed, saying that Palestine is also very diverse and God wants diversity in the human family. As a result, there is a need to build bridges between different groups, and the Covenant Agreement between Westminster and Christmas Lutheran Church expressly calls for building bridges between the U.S. and Palestine. He also treasures the gathering this month of Cubans and Cameroonians with the Palestinians and Americans because it helped to build bridges among all four of these groups. We were experiencing Pentecost in Minneapolis.
  • Raheb also mentioned that the original Pentecost featured the miracle of understanding among the people speaking different languages. The Holy Spirit provided the software enabling this understanding.
  • Hart-Andersen said the diversity of the human family compels us to build bridges. The mission of the church is to resist walls that keep us apart.
  • Raheb emphasized that Acts 2:1-12 is a foundational text for Arabic Christianity as it mentions Arabs as being present on Pentecost.
  • He also contrasted Pentecost with the Genesis account (Chapter 11) of “the whole earth [having] one language and the same words” and the resulting arrogance to attempt to build a tower to the heavens. God responded by confusing their language” so that they would not understand one another and stop building the tower of Babel. This is emblematic of empires throughout history that have attempted to impose one language on all parts of the empire.

Yes, we all are brothers and sisters in Christ!

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[1]  The text of the sermon is available on the church’s website.

[2] See Beschloss Discusses “Presidents of War” at Westminster Town Hall Forum, dwkcomentaries.com (Nov. 15, 2018).

[3] The bulletin and an audio recording for this May 20 service are available on the Westminster website.

 

World Faces Demographic Challenges

“The world has made spectacular progress in every single measure of human well-being,” is the cheery synopsis of the new book, “Enlightenment NOW: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress “ (p. 52)  by Harvard University’s Johnston Family Professor of Psychology, Steven Pinker.

Important aspects of this “spectacular progress,” he says, are world-wide increasing life expectancy, declining maternal mortality and declining birth rates (pp. 53-57, 125-26, 273).

Unless I missed it in the 453-page book, however, Pinker does not grapple with the problems created by lower birth rates coupled with longer life spans. Examples of such problems are seen in Iowa and Minnesota in the U.S. and Brazil, Japan and Cuba.

Iowa [1]

For the Wall Street Journal, Iowa is an example of “a problem playing out in many parts of the Midwest, a region with lower unemployment and higher job-opening rates than the rest of the country. Employers, especially in more rural areas, are finding that there are just too few workers.” In fact, if “every unemployed person in the Midwest was placed into an open job, there would still be more than 180,000 unfilled positions, according to the most recent Labor Department data. The 12-state region is the only area of the country where job openings outnumber out-of-work job seekers.”

This problem is associated with low birth rate coupled with and an outflow of people. A net 1.3 million people living in the Midwest in 2010 had left by the middle of last year, according to census data. The area also attracts fewer immigrants than the rest of the country.”

Minnesota [2]

A similar problem exists in Minnesota. Last month, its unemployment rate dropped to 3.2%, compared with 4.1% nationally. This has made it difficult for “manufacturers, construction firms and repair-service firms to fill job vacancies and replace departing retirees try to meet the need for more employees, some firms, “employer associations and cooperating unions are working jointly to expand the labor pool.”

For the tech sector of the economy, last year Minnesota added 3,500 jobs, up 1.4% to 250,000 and constituting around 8% of the state’s total work force. And there is demand for even more such workers.

Minnesota’s need for immigrants is especially pronounced in the assisted-care industry. In late March the Trump Administration announced that it was ending, effective March 31, 2019, the Deferred Enforcement Departure program for certain Liberians in the U.S. One of the largest communities of Liberians lives in Minnesota and at least 1,000  are members of a local union that provides workers for assisted-care facilities.

Brazil[3]

“Retirement outlays already eat up 43% of Brazil’s national budget, and health care about 7%, while two expenditures that are critical to economic development—education and infrastructure—claim only about 3% each.” Its “social security system’s revenue shortfall widens each year as the worker-to-pensioner ratio shrinks.” This problem is exasperated by decisions last century to grant pensions to millions of peasants and informal workers who hadn’t paid [into the pension system]. . . . Rural workers paid about $3 billion in social-security taxes for the 12 months through September 2017, while rural retirees drew about $36 billion in benefits.”

The solutions are obvious. “They can raise the minimum retirement age, increase the number of years that workers must pay into the system, or reduce payouts. The bad news is that such measures tend to repel voters.”

Other Countries[4]

Brazil is not alone.

Japan has a very low birth rate, very high life expectancy and very low immigration. As a result, it has an aging, declining population, which should lead to declining economic and political importance in the world.

Cuba has the same sort of problems. It has a declining birth rate associated with readily available abortion services, longer life-spans associated with good health care and many younger people leaving the island to find greater economic opportunities elsewhere.

 More generally, “throughout Latin America and Asia, decades of falling birth rates and growing life expectancies have produced more retirees with fewer workers to underwrite their care. For government policy makers, this means challenges as burgeoning pension and health costs leave less money for economic development.”

“The United Nations projects that by 2050, the number of potential workers per retiree in upper-middle-income developing countries such as Brazil will tumble from the 2015 figure of seven to just 2.5.”

“Credit-rating firms are getting anxious. Standard & Poors estimates that unless there are major changes to publicly funded pension and health-care systems, population aging will help drive net government debt in the biggest emerging economies to extraordinary levels—307% of gross domestic product in Brazil, 274% in China, 262% in Russia and 341% in Saudi Arabia by 2050.”

Conclusion

The U.S. now has a fertility rate below the replacement rate. It, therefore, needs foreign immigrants to sustain population growth, especially in the rural parts of states like Iowa and Minnesota.[5]

Such immigration also would provide workers to pay into the Social Security trust fund and thereby help to finance the increasing number of older Americans who now draw benefits from that fund and who face rising costs of medical care.

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[1] Raice & Morath, Iowa’s Employment Problem: Too Many Jobs, Not  Enough People, W.S.J. (Apr. 1, 2018).

[2] St. Anthony, Horizon Roofing lures workers with higher pay, training, as industry embraces apprenticeships, StarTrib. (Mar. 25, 2018); St. Anthony, Twin Cities tech employment grew 1.6 percent last year, but many jobs go unfilled, StarTrib. (April. 2, 2018); Trump to end deportation protection for Liberians, StarTrib (Mar. 27, 2018); Koumpilova, Local Liberians rally to salvage deportation protection program, StarTrib (Mar. 16, 2018);Koumpilova, Trump administration announces end of deportation reprieve for Liberians in Minnesota, elsewhere, StarTrib (Mar. 28, 2018).

[3] Kiernan & Magalhaes, These Developing Countries Are Getting Old Before They Get Rich, with Dire Consequences, W.S.J. (Apr. 2, 2018).

[4] See n.3 supra; these posts to dwkcommentaries: The Importance of a Growing U.S. Population, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 27, 2017); Projected Cuban Population: Stabilizing and Aging (Sept. 6, 2016); Cuba Addresses Its Declining and Aging Population (Oct. 17, 2016); Cuba Faces Economic Challenges (Dec. 14, 2016); Comment: Cuba’s Economic and Political Challenges for 2017Comment: Cuban Government’s Bleak Economic Assessment for Cuba (Dec. 28, 2017); Economic Problems Bedevil Cuban government and President Raúl Castro (Mar. 23, 2017); Comment: Elderly Cubans Unable To Retire (Mar. 26, 2017); Cubans Want Economic Growth and Opportunity (Mar. 22, 2017).

[5] The Importance of a Growing U.S. Population, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 27, 2017).

 

The Protestant Reformation: Where Does It Go from Here?  

The World Communion Sunday, October 1, worship service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church featured Rev. Timothy Hart-Andersen’s last of four sermons on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation: ”The Protestant Reformation Today: Where Does It Go from Here?” [1]The first three sermons, as covered in prior posts, discussed the three great themes of the Reformation: grace alone, faith alone and scripture alone. Below are photographs of the church’s Sanctuary and of Rev. Hart-Andersen.

 

 

 

 

 

Listening for the Word

Readings from Holy Scripture:

Revelation 22: 1-6, 16-17 (NRSV)

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”

“And he said to me, ‘These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.’”

“It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.”

Galatians 3: 23-29 (NRSV): 

“Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise”

Sermon:

“Where does the Reformation go from here? What does the future hold for the great Protestant traditions flowing out of Europe 500 years ago?”

“I see at least three directions we might expect the Reformation to take in coming years.”

First: an ecumenical, interfaith direction. Protestant Churches have shown themselves, especially in the last 50-75 years, to be uniquely capable of forming cross-denominational relationships, usually in institutional, organizational, and structured ways: councils of churches at the local level, the state level, nationally, and at the global level. In coming years this will happen in less institutional ways, less structured ways, and increasingly in local relationships.”

“The past week illustrates this emerging new reality. On Tuesday, for the first time ever, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America allowed one of its candidates for ministry to be ordained to serve a non-Lutheran church. We celebrated the ordination of Matt Johnson, Westminster’s Interim Associate Pastor, at Bethlehem Lutheran Church. Candidly, that break with tradition did not start in the bishop’s office or the presbytery’s office; it began with a few of us conspiring locally to make it happen. Localized ecumenical relationships, yielding that kind of change. Congratulations, Matt.”

“Then yesterday I co-presided with a Roman Catholic priest at the wedding of a Westminster woman and her Catholic fiancé, now husband. That would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. The fact that we pulled it off has less to do with relaxing of standards in Rome – we did not contact the bishop or presbytery – than with developing ecumenical relationships in local communities. The old walls separating us don’t mean as much anymore.”

“’In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,’ the Apostle Paul writes to the Galatians. ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek’ – Paul dissects the binary way people tend to look at the world – ‘There is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’ (Galatians 3:6-8)”

“It’s as if we were undoing the divisions resulting from the Reformation between Protestants and Catholics, and among Protestants themselves. If we ask where the Reformation goes from here, an obvious first answer is that it goes in the direction of a Christianity that has fewer barriers standing among and between the various branches of the Church than it has had for the last 500 years.”

“The same thing is happening with interfaith collaboration. The Reformation taught us the God alone is Lord of the conscience, and that grace alone saves us, not our behavior or a particular creed. From those Reformation-era principles it is a short step to respectful interfaith dialogue and cooperation.”

“A major world challenge on the religious horizon – locally and globally – is learning to live with people of other faiths. Protestant churches, with our emphasis on freedom and respecting the rights and responsibilities of individuals with regard to religious matters, can and will lead the way in interfaith collaboration.”

“Westminster is certainly doing its part. Our interfaith dialogue sermons and relationships with multi-faith organizations are not one-off novelties or the whim of your pastor. They are the vanguard of 21st century open-minded, open-hearted Christianity more concerned with practicing the faith in real ways with real people, some of whom have other faiths, than perfecting or judging it.”

“In recent years I have co-presided at a number of Jewish weddings – again, something that even a few years ago would not have happened. I’ve also done this with Buddhist priests. Many of us have attended a Muslim iftar, when the Ramadan fast is broken. We never would have done that 10-15 years ago. These are local outbursts of interfaith commitment – not handed down from on high, but local efforts – resulting in a shifting religious landscape.”

“Where does the Protestant Reformation goes from here? It’s moving in an ecumenical and interfaith direction.”

Secondly, on this World Communion Sunday we’re enjoying sounds and rhythms and movement from all over the globe. Again, this is not a one-time experience, where we trot out the world music on one Sunday a year. We’re now drawing regularly from the music of Christians in other parts of the world to enliven our worship, to teach us other ways of praising God, to inspire us.”

“Over the last 150 years Protestant churches moved out from Europe to the world, in particular the global south, where the Reformation churches are growing rapidly. There are more Presbyterians today in South Korea than there are in the U.S. The same is true for Kenya and South Africa.”

“Christianity is on the move. One hundred years ago two-thirds of the world’s Christians lived in Europe. Today, nearly two-thirds of the world’s Christians live in the global south. The Church there is exploding in growth, and our churches are receding. North American churches had 15% of the world’s Christians 100 years ago; today we have 10%.”

“We can see the impact of this emerging reality not only from a distance, but closer to home. The Roman Catholic priest friend who co-presided at the wedding yesterday serves a Minneapolis parish overflowing with people from Latin America. He told me last Saturday he did 29 baptisms and yesterday 28 were scheduled. They baptize around 400 per year, and they’re all babies of Latino immigrants. The parish has discovered that their future lies not with the Euro-Americans who brought Catholicism here –Irish, Germans and others from Europe –- but with Catholics form the global south. The Roman Church in the US would be shrinking if not for Catholics coming from Latin America.”

“Similarly, we Protestants who lament the decline of our churches here can rejoice in the vast growth of the Reformation churches in the global south. We, too, can welcome immigrants coming from other parts of the world, especially sub-Sahara Africa, where the Reformed churches are so strong. Westminster has experienced an influx of West African Christians over recent decades, now serving as leaders in our church –and what a richer, healthier congregation we are.”

“The global south will bear the Protestant stream of Christianity into the future.”

“The third emerging direction for the Protestant movement, especially in this land, is increasing openness to diversity. At the local level we’re coming to see that in the future our churches will either reflect the contexts in which we minister, or they’ll not be sustainable for the long haul. We’re too isolated, too divided in our communities, racially, ethnically and culturally. It’s not the way of the gospel. Mono-cultural eco-systems cannot continue to thrive. They must be diverse in order to have the adaptive capacities to live into the future.”

“One of the last images of the Bible is found in the Book of Revelation when the Heavenly City comes to earth and settles among the human family. There is a river flowing through that city, and on the banks of the river is the Tree of Life. The leaves of the tree, the text says, ‘Are for the healing of the nations.’”

“I’ve usually interpreted that verse as pointing to healing among the political nations of the earth. But the Greek word here for nations is ethnos, that is, the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the variety of ethnicities in the human family that do not live well together. This may be less a political comment and more a call to learn to live in harmony with those different from us within our own land.”

“The vision of the Holy City invites us to be part of the healing of the racial divide that exists among us, to finally put aside, to do away with, the old reality that Martin Luther King used to remind us of – that Sunday at 11AM is the most segregated hour in America. The Church’s future lies in congregations that are more diverse, that reflect God’s hope that the human family might one day learn to live together in peace.”

“Here at Westminster our new members classes in recent years have been 10-15% racially mixed. Around 7-8% of Westminster members are people of color. We’re changing, but the world is changing a lot faster all around us.”

“A recent study of more than 100,000 Americans in all 50 states shows that only 43% of the population is made up of white Christians. Forty years ago that number was 80%. Twenty years ago it was two-thirds. Things are changing rapidly, all around us, and the church will need to change.”

“And forty years ago 55% of the population was made up of white Protestants. Today that number is under 40%. We are watching in our lifetime the end of America as a white Christian nation. And some see that as a threat. We see the rise of white supremacy and white nationalism and the clinging to white privilege in response, much of it cloaked in Christian language.”[2]

“The changing reality shouldn’t frighten us, but, rather, call us to open our doors and hearts and open our lives to new friends who’ve been our neighbors for many years. We can either move constructively with these challenging new realities and learn ways to be faithful in worship and mission, or we can struggle against them and find our churches continuing to wither and weaken and die. This is hard work, but essential to the future of the church.”

“Where does the 500-year old Reformation go from here? The Protestants churches, heirs to the great legacies of grace alonefaith alone, and scripture alone, will need to grow new ministries that reach across divisions we’ve long accepted as normative. That means creating new ecumenical and interfaith relationships and partnerships, welcoming Christians from the global south and learning from them, participating in the work of racial reconciliation, which may be the most difficult of all these things, and developing congregations that reflect our changing world.”

“To do this, the people of God will have to trust that the Holy Spirit is at work among us, stirring things up for the future health and vitality of the Christian Church.”

“We will have to use a holy imagination to see and join the new thing God is doing among us. May that imagination, that holy imagination, be kindled today at this World Communion table, as we join with Christians around the globe in celebrating the love of God that unites us in one human family, in all its wonderful and rich diversity.”

Conclusion

I agree that “Westminster and other churches need to develop  new ecumenical and interfaith relationships and partnerships, welcoming Christians from the global south and learning from them, participating in the work of racial reconciliation, which may be the most difficult of all these things, and developing congregations that reflect our changing world.”

Westminster already is engaged in global partnerships with churches in Cuba, Cameroon and Palestine, and for 10 years I chaired our Global Partnerships Committee and visited our partners in Cuba (three times), Cameroon (once) and Brazil (once). I know that they have enriched my spiritual life and of others in the church and in our partners.

As the sermon stated, music from around the world will play a major part in our worship as it did this day and as will be discussed in another post.

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[1] The bulletin for this service and the text of the sermon are on the church website. Excerpts of the sermon are  set forth below.

[2] Wilson, We’re at the end of White Christian America. What will that mean?, Guardian (Sept. 20, 2017); Pew Research Center, Religious Landscape Study.