By now, everyone in the U.S. and the rest of the world knows or could know that on the evening of May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota (at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue) George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, was killed by a Minneapolis policeman (Derek Chauvin) in the presence of three other Minneapolis policemen (Alexander Keung, J. Alexander Lane and Tou Thao). Here is what is believed to be a fair summary of those horrendous 17 minutes of police encounters with Floyd and certain preceding events that evening:
That evening Floyd buys a package of cigarettes at a convenience store (Cup Foods) and pays for it with a $20 bill.
After Floyd left the store, a store employee inspects the $20 bill and believes it is forged. Two store employees then go outside and see Floyd in the driver’s seat of a dark blue Mercedes SUV across 38th Street .
The two store employees go to the SUV and one of them from the driver’s side and the other from the passenger’s side of the SUV ask for the return of the package of cigarettes of a man in the passenger seat and Floyd in the driver’s seat. The request is denied.
The two employees return to the store and presumably one of them or another employee dials 911 to report a customer who had paid for cigarettes with an alleged forged $20 bill. They apparently also said that the African-American man appeared to be drunk and was now in a SUV across the street from the store.
At 8:08 p.m. two MPD officers (Lane and Keung) arrive at the scene and a store employee directs them to an African-American man (Floyd) in the driver’s seat of the Mercedes SUV across 38th Street. This starts the approximate 17 minutes of police encounters with Floyd before he is removed on a gurney by medics in an ambulance.
Lane arrives at the driver’s side of this SUV and with his revolver drawn tells the African-American man (Floyd) to put his hands on the steering wheel. Floyd immediately does so without resistance and Lane puts the revolver back in his holster.
Lane then pulls Floyd out of the car, and he and Keung handcuff Floyd’s hands behind his back and take him across the sidewalk and seat him on the sidewalk with his back to the brick wall, all without any resistance by Floyd.
At 8:14 p.m. Lane and Keurig had Floyd get up from the sidewalk and walk across 38th Street to their squad car and tried to get him into the back seat. Floyd said he was not resisting, but could not get into back seat because he is claustrophobic. But officers get him into the back seat.
At 8:19 p.m. Officers Chauvin and Thao arrive at the scene in a different squad car. Chauvin pulled Floyd out of the back seat of the first squad car with Floyd, still handcuffed, who falls to the pavement. Clausen then puts his left knee on the neck of the fallen Floyd while Kueng held Floyd’s back and Lane one of his legs.
At some time Lane asked Chauvin if they should roll Floyd on his side, but Chauvin says “no” and the officers do not change what they are doing.
At 8:24 p.m. Floyd stopped moving.
At 8:25 p.m. Floyd appeared to stop breathing and Lane asked again if they should move Floyd onto his side, but Chauvin again refused to do so.
At 8:27 p.m. Chauvin moved his leg off Floyd’s neck or 8 minutes and 46 seconds after he had placed his knee on the neck and 2 minutes and 53 seconds after Floyd had become non-responsive. The latter happened when an ambulance and emergency medics arrived and placed Floyd on a gurney to go the Hennepin County Medical Center..
At 9:25 p.m. Floyd was pronounced dead at the Medical Center after an hour of unsuccessful attempts to revive him.
Subsequent posts will examine the criminal charges brought against Chauvin and then against the other three policemen, their initial court appearances, initial comments by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freenman, subsequent comments by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and the commencement of efforts to change and reform various aspects of Minnesota and federal criminal law and procedure.
Important reminders of more important issues for us all as we live through this stressful period of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are found in different places.  For example, in organizing some personal papers I came across the following poem by Kristi Brown, the daughter of my cousin, Lloyd William Brown, Jr., and his wife, Karen Brown.
Life is not long enough to accomplish all your goals.
Life is too short to waste a minute of .
Life always has to end sometime or another.
It ends when you least expect it.
Life ends instantaneously for some,
Life’s end is long and painful for others.
Life’s end is known by some, but for others,
It ends when you least expect it.
Life is good to most people for a long time,
Life takes some people very early on.
Life fights with death for the cream of the crop.
It ends when you least expect it.
Life is taken advantage of by some, others live
Life one day at a time, and cross bridges when they come to them.
Life usually ends for the careful ones, not careless.
It ends when you least expect it.
Life’s end is welcomed by those who are suffering.
Life’s end is not welcomed for those who are not.
Life is hard after a loved one dies, but
It ends when you least expect it.
Life is a terrible thing to waste.
This poem in her handwritten spiral notebook was discovered in her nightstand drawer in the summer of 1987 by Kristi’s parents. This discovery was necessitated by Kristi’s having been killed, at age 19, on June 24, 1987, in a terrible multiple-vehicle crash on the Capitol Beltway outside Washington, D.C. on her way home from a summer job following her first year at the University of Virginia. Pursuant to her written instructions, Kristi’s heart, cornea and kidneys were donated to the Washington Regional Transplant Community.
Thereafter her parents organized an annual event they called “Kristi’s Christmas” when students from her high school in Springfield Virginia joined her parents and siblings to provide breakfast to a group of underprivileged grade-school kids and then escorted and provided money for them to go Christmas shopping followed by a special visit with Santa Claus. After her mother’s death, the West Springfield Rotary Club has taken over the organization of this annual event.
Thank you, Kristi, for reminding all of us that life “ends when you least expect it” and that “life is a terrible thing to waste.” I am truly sorry that I never had the privilege of meeting you and learning about your inspirations for these amazing deeds.
This profound and beautiful poem helps me cope with the morning news on March 28th that the world in at least 171 countries has seen 585,500 coronavirus (COVID-19) cases with at least 27,164 deaths while the U.S. has become the epicenter of the world with 102,838 cases and 1,646 deaths. My state of Minnesota has had 398 cases and 4 deaths, including 1 death in Hennepin County, where I live.
My wife and I continue to be in good health while sheltering in our downtown Minneapolis condo with occasional outdoor walks on nice days and trips by car to buy groceries and once-a-week take-out dinners at restaurants, gas for the car and necessities at drug stores.
The world this year rightfully commemorates the centennial of the birth of Nelson Mandela, who survived nearly 27 years in South African prisons to become the President of his country and to end its apartheid system with grace and humility.
Also should be remembered was Mandel’s “special fondness for Fidel Castro, who had inspired the African National Congress (ANC) radicals with his daring revolution in 1959 [and] Cuba’s intervention in Angola. Mandela and his colleagues saw Cuba as “a dangerous model; a freak victory, but they were fired by the story of how Castro and Che Guevara, with only ten other survivors from their ship the Granma had mustered a guerilla army of 10,000 in eighteen months, and had marched on Havana in January 1959.” For Mandela, “Castro, not the Party, . . . had realized the moment of revolution had come. He would never lose his admiration for Castro.” Mandela’s “chief defiance of the Western World was his championing of the two American bête noirés [persons one especially dislikes], Libya’s Muammar] Qadaffi and Castro.”
That was why only a year-and-a-half after his release from prison, Mandela went to the city of Matanzas in Cuba to give an emotional speech on July 26, 1991, which is Cuba’s national independence day, with Fidel in attendance as shown in the photograph below.
Mandela thanked Fidel and Cuba for helping the ANC to defeat Angolan invaders of South Africa in 1988. That defeat, Mandela said, “enables me to be here today.” Here are just a few of his other tributes to Cuba that day:
“Today this is revolutionary Cuba, internationalist Cuba, the country that has done so much for the peoples of Africa. The Cuban people hold a special place in the hearts of the people of Africa. The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom, and justice, unparalleled for its principled and selfless character.”
“From its earliest days the Cuban revolution has itself been a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people. We admire the sacrifices of the Cuban people in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in the face of a vicious imperialist-orchestrated campaign to destroy the impressive gains made in the Cuban revolution.”
“We admire the achievements of the Cuban revolution in the sphere of social welfare. We note the transformation from a country of imposed backwardness to universal literacy. We acknowledge your advances in the fields of health, education, and science.
We “are moved by your affirmation of the historical connection to the continent and people of Africa. Your consistent commitment to the systematic eradication of racism is unparalleled.”
In response, Fidel in his three-hour speech without notes called Mandela “one of the most extraordinary symbols of this era” by explaining that “apartheid is capitalism and imperialism in its fascist form.”
In July 1991 I was totally unaware of the Mandela-Fidel connection and of Mandela’s speech in the city of Matanzas. It only was in the first decade of the 21st century that I learned of the existence of that city as a result of going there on three mission trips to visit its Versalles Redeemer Presbyterian-Reformed Church, which is a partner of my Minneapolis church, Westminster Presbyterian Church. Now I have friends from that city. 
I was somewhat surprised to find that Mandela’s speech has no mention of Matanzas as a major port of entry for African slaves to work on sugar plantations, especially in the first half of the 19th century. As a result, it is said, due to the high number of both slaves and, importantly, free Afro-Cubans in Matanzas, the retention of African traditions is especially strong there. Perhaps that is the reason Fidel chose this celebration to be in that city. The city’s San Severiino Museum has an exhibit about Cuba’s slave trade.
 Details about the commemoration are available on the website of the Nelson Mandela Foundation. One of the events is the 16th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture on July 17, 2018, which this year will be given by former U.S. President Barack Obama and will be covered in a future post to this blog.
On Thanksgiving Day, November 26, a moving Interfaith Worship Service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church was organized and conducted by clergy from the Downtown Congregations of Minneapolis.
This service was the perfect incarnation of a message given that same day by Pope Francis at a meeting of religious leaders in Nairobi Kenya. The Pope said there was a profound “need for interreligious understanding, friendship and collaboration in defending the God-given dignity of individuals and peoples, and their right to live in freedom and happiness”. Indeed, said the Pope, “ecumenical and interreligious dialogue is not a luxury . . . [or] something extra or optional, but essential, something which our world, wounded by conflict and division, increasingly needs.”
Calls to Prayer
There were three Calls to Prayer at the Minneapolis service. Cantor Barry Abelson of Temple Israel sang one in Hebrew. The Westminster Choir in English sang “God Be in My Head” by Gwyneth Walker. Muezzin Elijah Muhammad of Masjid An-Nur (Mosque of the Light) sang his Call to Prayer in Arabic.
“I begin with the simple things of my days:
Fresh air to breathe,
Cool water to drink,
The taste of food,
The protection of houses and clothes,
The comforts of home.”
“I finger one by one the messages of hope that awaited me at the crossroads:
The smile of approval from those who held in their hands the reins of my security;
The tightening of the grip in a single handshake when I feared the step before me in the darkness;
The whisper in my heart when the temptation was fiercest and the claims of appetite were not to be denied;
The crucial word said, the simple sentence from an open page when my decision hung in the balance.”
“I pass before me the mainsprings of my heritage:
The fruits of the labors of countless generations who lived before me, without whom my own life would have no meaning;
The seers who saw visions and dreamed dreams;
The prophets who sensed a truth greater than the mind could grasp and whose words could only find fulfillment in the years which they would never see;
The workers whose sweat watered the trees, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations;”
“I linger over the meaning of my own life and the commitment to which I give the loyalty of my heart and mind:
The little purposes in which I have shared with my loves, my desires, my gifts;
The restlessness which bottoms all I do with its stark insistence that I have never done my best, I have never dared to reach for the highest;
The big hope that never quite deserts me, that I and my kind will study war no more, that love and tenderness and all the inner graces of Almighty affection will cover the life of the children of God as the waters cover the sea.”
All these and more than mind can think and heart can feel,
I make as my sacrament of Thanksgiving to Thee,
O God, in humbleness of mind and simplicity of heart.”
“Blessed is He Who made the stars in the heavens and made therein a sun and a moon giving light!” (25:61)
“And He it is, Who made the night and the day to follow each other, for him who desires to be mindful or desires to be thankful.” (25:62)
“And We have enjoined on man concerning his parents — his mother bears him with faintings upon faintings and his weaning takes two years — saying: Give thanks to Me and to thy parents. To Me is the eventual coming.” (31:14)
“So he smiled, wondering at her word, and said: My Lord, grant me that I may be grateful for Thy favour which Thou hast bestowed on me and on my parents, and that I may do good such as Thou art pleased with, and admit me, by Thy mercy, among Thy righteous servants.” (27:19)
“And He it is Who made for you the ears and the eyes and the hearts. Little it is that you give thanks!” (23:78)
“And certainly We established you in the earth and made therein means of livelihood for you; little it is that you give thanks!” (7:10)
“O people, keep your duty to your Lord and dread the day when no father can avail his son in aught, nor the child will avail his father. Surely the promise of Allah is true, so let not this world’s life deceive you, nor let the arch-deceiver deceive you about Allah.” (31:33)
“Surely Allah is He with Whom is the knowledge of the Hour, and He sends down the rain, and He knows what is in the wombs. And no one knows what he will earn on the morrow. And no one knows in what land he will die. Surely Allah is Knowing, Aware.” (31:34)
“Even as We have sent among you a Messenger from among you, who recites to you Our messages and purifies you and teaches you the Book and the Wisdom and teaches you that which you did not know.” (2:151)
“Therefore glorify Me, I will make you eminent, and give thanks to Me and be not ungrateful to Me.” (2:152)
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.”
“You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord.You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning.”
“You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.”
“You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor.You shall not go around as a slanderer[a] among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood[b] of your neighbor: I am the Lord.”
“You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
The above passage from Matthew stresses personal piety, almsgiving, prayers and calls for forgiveness. The text also tells us not to worry. But often being told not to worry just makes the situation worse. Matthew, however, points the way forward: “strive first for the kingdom of God.”
A helpful understanding of the kingdom of God comes from Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian pastor and author, who said:
“If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to born both within ourselves and within the world; we would know that the Kingdom of God is what we all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for. The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.” 
We all are homesick for hope in this world, and the gathering at this common table of representatives of three great religious traditions is a sign of that hope.
The words of Leviticus that were just read by Rabbi Zimmerman also are important: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien.”
These words from the Hebrew Bible reminded Rev. Nycklemoe of a celebration organized by one of his congregants in the State of Washington, Olaf Hanson, who owned an apple and potato farm. After harvesting what he needed, Olaf hosted a Gleaning Day for his guests to gather the gleanings of the fruit and vegetables and put them in paper bags for the poor and needy.
We too need to share our longings, our lostness, our need for love and the gifts of one another.
“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.”
“Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.”
“No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”
“It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
“And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”
“Rooted in a story of generosity and partnership, Thanksgiving offers an opportunity for us to express our gratitude for the gifts we have and to show our appreciation for all we hold dear. Today, as we give of ourselves in service to others and spend cherished time with family and friends, we give thanks for the many blessings bestowed upon us. We also honor the men and women in uniform who fight to safeguard our country and our freedoms so we can share occasions like this with loved ones, and we thank our selfless military families who stand beside and support them each and every day.”
“Our modern celebration of Thanksgiving can be traced back to the early 17th century. Upon arriving in Plymouth, at the culmination of months of testing travel that resulted in death and disease, the Pilgrims continued to face great challenges. An indigenous people, the Wampanoag, helped them adjust to their new home, teaching them critical survival techniques and important crop cultivation methods. After securing a bountiful harvest, the settlers and Wampanoag joined in fellowship for a shared dinner to celebrate powerful traditions that are still observed at Thanksgiving today: lifting one another up, enjoying time with those around us, and appreciating all that we have.”
“Carrying us through trial and triumph, this sense of decency and compassion has defined our Nation. President George Washington proclaimed the first Thanksgiving in our country’s nascence, calling on the citizens of our fledgling democracy to place their faith in “the providence of Almighty God,” and to be thankful for what is bequeathed to us. In the midst of bitter division at a critical juncture for America, President Abraham Lincoln acknowledged the plight of the most vulnerable, declaring a “day of thanksgiving,” on which all citizens would “commend to [God’s] tender care” those most affected by the violence of the time — widows, orphans, mourners, and sufferers of the Civil War. A tradition of giving continues to inspire this holiday, and at shelters and food centers, on battlefields and city streets, and through generous donations and silent prayers, the inherent selflessness and common goodness of the American people endures.”
“In the same spirit of togetherness and thanksgiving that inspired the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag, we pay tribute to people of every background and belief who contribute in their own unique ways to our country’s story. Each of us brings our own traditions, cultures, and recipes to this quintessential American holiday — whether around dinner tables, in soup kitchens, or at home cheering on our favorite sports teams — but we are all united in appreciation of the bounty of our Nation. Let us express our gratitude by welcoming others to our celebrations and recognize those who volunteer today to ensure a dinner is possible for those who might have gone without. Together, we can secure our founding ideals as the birthright of all future generations of Americans.”
Interspersed throughout the Service were pieces of wonderful music.
This was a powerful and meaningful worship service, especially in these days of too frequent expressions of hostility towards Muslims and Syrian refugees. This service was exactly what Pope Francis called for in his previously mentioned remarks in Kenya and on November 30 at the Grand Mosque of Koudoukou in the Central African Republic:
“Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters. We must therefore consider ourselves and conduct ourselves as such. . . . Those who claim to believe in God must also be men and women of peace. Christians, Muslims and members of the traditional religions have lived together in peace for many years. They ought, therefore, to remain united in working for an end to every act which, from whatever side, disfigures the Face of God and whose ultimate aim is to defend particular interests by any and all means, to the detriment of the common good. Together, we must say no to hatred, no to revenge and no to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself. God is peace, God salam.”
On September 17 Cuba’s new Ambassador to the U.S., Jose Ramon Cabanas Rodriguez, presented his credentials to President Obama.
Afterwards, Cabanas said he would be continuing to spread the truth about Cuba, promote new relationships and explain all remaining obstacles to normal relations between the two countries. “In particular we are going to work intensely to realize the decisions of the first meeting of the Bilateral Commission held last week in Havana.”
As discussed in a previous post, that meeting of the Bilateral Commission established an agenda in three tracks, with the first encompassing issues where there is significant agreement and the possibility of short-term progress. These include re-establishing regularly scheduled flights, environmental protection, natural disaster response, health and combatting drug trafficking. A second track includes more difficult topics such as human rights, human trafficking, climate change and epidemics. The third includes complex, longer-term issues like the return of the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, U.S. damage claims over properties nationalized in Cuba after the 1959 revolution and Cuba’s damage claims for more than $300 billion in alleged economic damages from the U.S. embargo and for what it says are other acts of aggression.
Last October Cabanas, then the Chief of Mission of the Cuban Interests Section, was in Minneapolis at the invitation of the Minnesota International Center. I had the pleasure of having a delightful Cuban lunch with him, his wife and others at one of the city’s Cuban restaurants, Victor’s 1959 Café, where he wrote his name on the wall. Afterwards, Cabanas, his wife and others came to my church, Westminster Presbyterian Church, to talk about our Cuban partnerships and various issues between our two countries. Our main partnership is with a church in the city of Matanzas, and when most of the Americans in the room indicated they had been in that city, Cabanas said it was the “home town” for both him and his wife.
We at Westminster and Minneapolis wish the Ambassador success in his diplomatic endeavors in our country.
Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota has connections with Cuba that go back to the late 19th century. For most of this period (1890—2000), the connection has been indirect through our denomination (now the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)). The direct connections have been since 2001.
Indirect Connections, 1890-1966
In 1890 Cuban Presbyterianism started when a Cuban layman (Evaristo Collazo) asked the U.S. church’s Board of Foreign Missions for counsel and oversight for the school and worship services he and his wife Magdalena were holding in their home in Havana. That Board responded by sending Rev. Antonio Graybill, who held services, baptized forty adults, organized a congregation, ordained two Elders for the Session, and then ordained Callazo to the ministry and installed him as pastor. 
In 1904 the U.S. church organized the Presbytery of Havana with five pastors and seven congregations under the jurisdiction of the Synod of New Jersey. In 1930 it became the Presbytery of Cuba, but still as part of the Synod of New Jersey.
In 1946, the Cuban Presbyterian-Reformed Church joined with the Cuban Methodist and Episcopal churches to create the Evangelical Theological Seminary (Seminario Evangelico de Teologia or SET) in the city of Matanzas on the north coast of the island about 90 miles east of Havana. (In 2006 the Methodists withdrew from SET in order to establish their own seminary in Havana.)
In 1966 (five years after the Cuban Revolution), the overall governing body (the General Assembly) of the U.S. church approved an overture or motion by the Cuban Presbytery to be dismissed from the U.S. church in order to become an independent church. This overture came from the Cuban church’s recognition that it had to face on its own Cuba’s “new political, social and economic situation.” Cuba was now “socialist, shaken by a Revolution which left nothing untouched by its transformation,” and the Cuban church “had the responsibility of interpreting the Christian faith in its own environment.” One of Westminster’s former members, John Sinclair, then the U.S. church’s secretary for Latin America and the Caribbean, played a key role in this change.
Indirect Connections, 1967-2000
At the inception of the independent Cuban Presbyterian-Reformed church, it had 3,082 members in 30 churches.
Immediately following its independence, the Cuban church adopted the U.S. church’s Confession of 1967 for its guidance, but started to develop its own theological reflection. The “Word of God became something nearer, more urgent, more vivid and more dramatic. The Church realized that God himself was involved in that revolutionary process which . . . led to the creation of a new society of greater justice for the people and of peace for society. The Gospel of ‘good news for the poor,’ of ‘freedom for the oppressed,’ and ‘sight for the blind’ came down upon us with all its prophetic implications.”
Ten years later, in 1977, the Cuban church adopted its own Confession of Faith to speak to Cubans’ contemporary situation. This Confession starts with “The Centrality of the Human Being Given in Jesus Christ.” It asserts that the “human being [is] the center of interest and concern of God” and, therefore, “of the Church of Jesus Christ.” The human being is an “econome” or steward of all things on behalf of God. “The human being is a social being and a free person. History is seen as “the Integrating Reconstruction of the Human Being, since the Human Being is being disintegrated by sin. . . . [and] the Kingdom of God [is] the Fulfillment of History.”
During this period, Westminster’s connections with Cuba continued to be indirect via its denomination. Here are some of the highlights of these events:
In 1985 the Presbytery of Long Island and the Presbytery of South Louisiana established contact and began visits to Cuban congregations in the Presbytery of Havana and the Presbytery of Matanzas respectively.
Also in 1985 the Cuban church invited agencies of the PC(USA) to a consultation in Havana. They drafted a Mutual Mission Agreement that included procedures for forming ties between governing bodies of the two churches. The agreement was adopted by both General Assemblies in 1986.
In 1990 the Cuban church celebrated the Centennial of Presbyterianism in Cuba. Attending was a Presbyterian delegation from the U.S. Protestant Church leaders meet with Fidel Castro to discuss church-state relations. Castro asserts that religious groups were providing important support for the Cuban people in a time of great stress and should be respected.
In 1995 the first Partnership Consultation was held in Havana, bringing together leaders of the Cuban church with staff of the U.S. denomination and representatives of the then four partner presbyteries: Long Island, Santa Fe, South Louisiana and Transylvania.
In 1996 the U.S. Presbyterian Cuba Connection was founded as an unofficial network of Presbyterians for interpretation, advocacy, and financial support of the life and mission of the Cuban church. That same year the leader of the U.S. church visited the Cuban church, participating in the October Conventions of the latter’s presbyteries.
In 1999 the Cuban Evangelical Celebration united the great majority of Cuba’s 49 Protestant Churches in a series of 19 municipal and four national public rallies, culminating on June 20 in the Jose Marti Revolution Plaza in Havana in a three-hour program of hymns, prayers, music, dance and a sermon attended by 100,000 persons, including President Fidel Castro and a number of government leaders.
In 2000 the Celebration of Mission Partnership in the New Millennium was held in Cuba bringing together representatives of the U.S. church with an equal number of representatives of the Cuban church. A joint declaration of intention and commitment was adopted.
Direct Connections, 2001- Present
During this period indirect connections similar to the ones previously mentioned continue, but now Westminster developed and strengthened its own direct connections.
In 2001 Westminster formed its Cuba Task Force to explore whether and how our congregation could have a more direct connection with the Cuban Church. (I was a member of this Task Force.) After a couple of exploratory trips to the island, we established a partnership in 2002 with Versalles Presbyterian-Reformed Church in the city of Matanzas. In our written Covenant Agreement, for a set period of time, each congregation covenanted to pray for and with each other, to engage in Bible study together, to share our personal stories, to visit each other and to stand together against all that is unjust in solidarity as brothers and sisters in Christ. (This Covenant Agreement has been renewed several times.)
Since 2002, every year Westminster members have visited our partner congregation under several licenses from the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Our visits typically include Sunday worship together, sometimes with our Spanish-speaking pastors delivering the sermon; attending meetings of its governing body (the Session); enjoying a fiesta at the church; having meals at the church and in the homes of members; visiting a school and medical clinic near the church; and staying in the church’s dormitory. The church also has printing equipment that prints materials for many of the Protestant churches on the island. (I have been on three such trips.) In more recent years some of Westminster’s high-school and college students have gone to our partner congregation to assist in conducting a Vacation Bible School for its young people and others from the neighborhood. (Our next trip to Cuba is this February.)
We also have hosted visits by Cubans from our partner and other Cuban churches and often helped defray the costs of their travel to the U.S. This coming June we are expecting the visit of a female member of the Cuban church to attend a national meeting of Presbyterian Women. In addition, last March we hosted a meeting of various churches and other organizations interested in Cuba with the First Secretary of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. and in October with its Chief of Mission (or de facto Cuban Ambassador to the U.S.)
In 2002 we also formed a similar partnership with the governing body for the whole Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba. In 2007, as part of its Sesquicentennial Capital Campaign, Westminster committed to make a substantial monetary grant over five years to the Cuban Synod to assist its education and development of ordained and lay leaders. These gifts have been made through the U.S. Treasury Department’s license to our denomination that permits certain transfers of money to Cuba.
Although Westminster does not have a formal partnership with SET (the ecumenical seminary) in Matanzas, we do have a close informal relationship. Today SET is an ecumenical institution for basic and advanced theological training of pastors and lay leaders of Cuban and other Latin American churches. It also is the home of the history of Cuban Protestantism and of the Ecumenical Movement in Cuba. In addition, SET is engaged in exchange programs with institutions in the U.S., Europe and the rest of Latin America. Situated on a hill overlooking Matanzas’ bay, it is one of the most beautiful places on the island with soft breezes usually flowing from the bay.
Since SET is in the same city as our partner congregation, our travelers to Cuba always visit the Seminary, and some of our financial grants to the Cuban Synod have subsequently gone to SET to assist in its education of church leaders. In addition, the current head of SET, Rev. Dr. Reinerio Arce, has visited Westminster several times and has delivered the Sunday sermon on at least one occasion. (This coming May or June he plans to visit us again with his yet unnamed successor as head of the seminary.)
Another way that Westminster carries out its Cuban ministry is keeping all members informed of our various activities on the island. All who go on mission trips, for example, commit to sharing their experiences with other church members. In addition, our church library now has many books about Cuba.
All of these direct connections with Cuba have prompted Westminster to become an active member of the Presbyterian Cuba Partners Network, a group of U.S. churches with Cuba partners. So too is Westminster an active member of the Presbyterian Cuba Connection that provides funds to the Cuban church under a general license from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
As a result of this involvement, some members, including this blogger, have learned a lot about Cuba and its relations with the U.S. and have become advocates for improving those relations.
Nachito Herrera Concert at Westminster
As mentioned in a prior post, another example of our Cuba connections occurred this January 11th with a free concert at the church by Cuban-American jazz pianist Nachito Herrera.
Before the start of the concert itself, Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison from the Twin Cities made brief remarks. He said that President Obama’s December 17th announcement of the historic changes in the relationship of the two countries demonstrated the importance of persistence and hope for all who have been urging such changes for many years, as had most of the people in the audience. He congratulated us for having this persistence and hope. This lesson also was demonstrated, he said, by the current movie, “Selma,” which the Congressman recently had seen with his children. His parting injunction to us all: now we all need to keep the pressure on Congress to end the embargo and support the reconciliation.
Nachito was introduced by Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen, our Senior Pastor, who said our church has had a partnership with Nachito. We take things to his family in Cuba on some of our mission trips, and Nachito plays music at our church. Implicitly Tim was saying the church had the better part of that understanding.
To a capacity-crowd in our Great Hall, Nachito played Cuban music with great passion. He also told us that he was surprised and overjoyed by the December 17th news of the historic change in the two countries’ relationship and wanted to celebrate this important change by sharing his music with Westminster, which he regarded as part of his family. He also was very happy with the U.S. release from prison of the remaining three members of the Cuban Five, and in recognition of this event he returned his “Free the Cuban Five” button to two members of the Minnesota Cuba Committee.
Nachito concluded the concert by saying that he and his wife (Aurora Gonzalez) recently had become U.S. citizens and by playing a beautiful jazzy rendition of “America the Beautiful.”
 This historical sketch of Presbyterianism in Cuba is based on a summary of that history by Dean Lewis, a Presbyterian minister with long involvement with Cuba.
 Ellison is the Co-Chair of the House’s Progressive Caucus, which on December 17th released a statement that said the following: “Congress must lift the trade embargo and normalize travel between our two nations, which are only 90 miles apart. The Congressional Progressive Caucus looks forward to working with President Obama and members of Congress who want to stabilize relations between the U.S. and Cuba.”
The Minnesota Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul recently adopted resolutions declaring that the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 was “genocide.”
Minneapolis did so on December 14, 2012. Unanimously introduced and adopted, the City Council’s resolution commenced by stating that the War “led to the mass execution of 38 Dakota, the largest in the history of the United States, and the genocide of the Dakota people.” The resolution also said, “Indigenous women, children and elderly were held in a concentration camp at the base of Fort Snelling, separated from the men, before being exiled to reservations in neighboring states and Canada, and later being stripped of their culture and traditions in boarding schools and subjected to white culture and religions.”
With these factual predicates, the Minneapolis resolution declared that:
“every effort must be made to ensure that the Dakota perspective is presented during the year 2012-2013, through discussions at forums, events, symposia, conferences and workshops, to include the complex issues listed above;”
“the City of Minneapolis works to promote the well-being and growth of the American Indian community, including Dakota People;”
“these efforts during the years 2012 and 2013 will mark the beginning of future dialogues and efforts to rectify the wrongs that were perpetrated during, and since, the year 1862, a tragic and traumatic event for the Dakota People of Minnesota;” and
“the year 2012-2013 is hereby designated “The Year of the Dakota: Remembering, Honoring, and Truth-Telling,” from December 26, 2012 to December 26, 2013.”
St. Paul joined its sister city on January 9, 2013, with a nearly identical resolution by its city council. It labeled the War as the start of “the genocide of the Dakota people” that included holding them after the war “in a concentration camp at the base of Fort Snelling.” This resolution declared 2013 as “the Year of the Dakota.
In addition, the St. Paul resolution directed “the City of Saint Paul and its Parks and Recreation Department . . . [to] work with the Dakota Bdote Restoration Consortium to identify, name, and interpret sacred Native American sites at and nearby the sacred Bdote from the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers to Mounds Park; including listing, mapping, identifying Dakota site names in the Great River Passage Plan, and participating in on-going collaborative research to further describe, dually name, publicize, and interpret significant Dakota sites in the Great River Passage Park Implementation;”
Afterwards these resolutions were praised by some. Chris Mato Nunpa, a retired professor and Dakota advocate from Granite Falls, said, “What I regard as significant and important is that key terms were used … I really am elated and excited I have lived long enough to see something like this happen here.”
Others were critical of calling the War “genocide” of the Dakota people. State Representative Dean Urdahl, a longtime history teacher whose ancestors were involved in the war and who has introduced resolutions urging Congress to repeal the Dakota Exclusion Act, said he did not think “the terms genocide and concentration camp accurately portray what it was without further explanation. Horrible things happened, but it wasn’t completely one-sided.”
Although I am sympathetic to the intent of these resolutions, it has to be noted that in 1862 “genocide” was not a concept or a defined crime in U.S. or international law.
The word itself was created in 1944 by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer, in his work Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. It became a legal concept after World War II with the 1948 adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Thus, there never has been, and never could have been, any official adjudication with the attendant due process protections that any individuals or governmental agencies in 1862 were guilty of the crime of genocide.
If that Convention or treaty had been in effect in 1862, then there are several candidates for prosecution for such a crime.
First, as already mentioned in an earlier post, then Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey in a public speech to the Minnesota Legislature in September 1862 proclaimed: “The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must beexterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the State. . . . They must be regarded and treated as outlaws. If any shall escape extinction, the wretched remnant must be driven beyond our borders and our frontier garrisoned with a force sufficient to forever prevent their return.” (Emphasis added.)
Today this statement would be a crime under Article III (c) of the Genocide Convention as a “[d]irect and public incitement to commit genocide,” which is defined, in part, in Article II (a) of that treaty as “killing members of [an ethnical or racial] group” with “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, [the group].”
Second, as discussed in another prior post, during the War, U.S. General John Pope, who was in charge of ending the uprising, said his purpose was “to utterly exterminate the Sioux [Dakota]. They are to be treated as maniacs and wild beasts.” (Emphasis added.) The next year the federal government offered a bounty of $25 per scalp for every Dakota Indian found in Minnesota.
This statement and action would be a basis for charges of the crime of “incitement to commit genocide” against General Pope and the U.S. federal government albeit only human beings, not legal entities, are subject to criminal liability under this treaty.
Third, other possible hypothetical charges under Article III of this treaty would be against individuals (conceivably both white and Dakota people) for acts of “genocide,” “conspiracy to commit genocide,” “complicity in genocide” and “attempt[s] to commit genocide.” For this broader purpose, “genocide” is defined, in part, in Article II of that treaty as committing any of the following acts with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group:”
(a) “Killing members of the group;”
(b) “Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;”
(c) “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”
The key issue in any such hypothetical case would be whether the individuals acted with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” (Emphasis added.)