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Rod Dreher on Elián González
The agonizing question of Elián González’s fate, which is still up in the air as of this writing, has divided political and religious conservatives, with good people taking opposing positions for persuasive reasons. A fit father’s right to his child is inviolate, some say. Yes, say others, but what does fatherhood mean in a totalitarian state?
I incline to the latter view, because experience shows that the child, already a “Hero of the Revolution,” will be pressed into ideological child prostitution by Castro. If it were possible for Juan Miguel González to act as a normal father, poverty and oppression wouldn’t justify depriving him of his boy. That clearly will not be the case. Fidel will turn the boy into a model Young Communist.
And that means, among other things, that Elián will grow up knowing nothing of God. Cuba is one of the world’s fiercest oppressors of religion (the Christian religion, that is; human rights groups report that Santeria worshippers go unmolested by the government). Though I literally pray for Juan Miguel to defect so Elián can grow up with his father here in freedom, going into Easter weekend, it seemed fairly certain that the lad would ultimately end up back in Cuba.
As we entered the Triduum, I was grateful that Elián would, at least once in his lifetime, know the joy of celebrating Easter. Attorney General Janet Reno took that opportunity from the child by ordering him seized in the now-infamous armed federal raid on the González house. It was Holy Saturday morning. Elián spent Easter on an Air Force base with his father, who is a Communist party member and does not observe the holiday (to say the least). Nevertheless, the Easter bunny—oh loudest hosannas!—paid the child a visit.
No doubt Holy Saturday morning was a good time for the assault, from a purely strategic point of view. Only the most paranoid Miami Cuban would expect an armed government assault during the holiest season in the Catholic calendar. The Gonzálezes’ misfortune is to have been Catholic, not Muslim. The Clinton administration plans its bombing raids on Islamic despots around the Muslim holy days, so as not to profane the sacred feast. Cuban Catholics did not merit that consideration.
Then again, they are the wrong sort of Christian. And who is the right sort? Look no further than the disgraceful Reverend Joan Brown Campbell, dowager empress of the National Council of Churches. One would not have been surprised to see her, semi-automatic assault rifle in hand, leading Reno’s shock troops into Casa González, shouting “Viva Elián libre!”
Recently retired as head of the National Council of Churches, the Reverend Ms. Campbell and her NCC comrades have been at the forefront of religious efforts to return Elián to Castro’s Cuba. Now, many religious leaders, such as Roman Catholic Bernard Cardinal Law of Boston, have come out for sending the child back to his father. But what makes the words and actions of Campbell and the NCC so excruciatingly hard to stomach in this matter is their long, sorry history of sucking up to Communist regimes that violate human rights and persecute religious believers.
Indeed, Christians and the faithful of other religions have no worse enemy in America than the useful idiots (to use Lenin’s apt phrase) of the NCC. They are useful to Communists, because they give religious cover for viciously anti-religious governments seeking to oppress and exterminate faith. They are idiots because they cannot, or will not, see what is plainly before them.
It has ever been thus, despite the NCC’s official claim to stand for religious liberty. For decades, the NCC, which is made up primarily of mainline Protestant denominations, would send delegations to the Soviet Union, where they would inevitably fail to find evidence of religious persecution.
Now that the USSR has, Deo gratias, crumbled to dust, the NCC has moved on to China, perhaps the nation on earth most thoroughly and brutally repressive of religion. Despite the innumerable atrocities the Communists have visited upon Tibetan Buddhists, Catholics faithful to Rome, house-church Protestants, Falun Gongists, and others, a 1998 NCC delegation went to China and found, in the words of delegation head Andrew Young, “no sign of religious repression.”
The Reverend Ms. Campbell, also on the trip, sent word from China reiterating her organization’s opposition to a bill then before Congress that would have imposed economic sanctions upon nations found to be religious persecutors. Campbell expressed wishes that religious freedom abroad would go away as an issue in American politics, and that “the USA must not act as the religious police for the rest of the world.”
Indeed, Campbell has likened respected human rights leaders like Freedom House’s Nina Shea and the Hudson Institute’s Michael Horowitz, both at the forefront of religious-persecution activism, to those who made the world safe for the rise of Hitler. In a New York Times Magazine story about Shea, Horowitz, and a new generation of religious-freedom activists, Campbell remarked critically, “When Christians act like their faith is preeminent, it can create problems. . . . [I]f you look at the Nazi regime, you see in it the philosophy of Christian superiority.”
Is there any wonder why Campbell and Castro, who sees Christianity as a fascist vanguard, are so chummy? Unsurprisingly, the NCC takes a fairly benign view of Cuba’s treatment of Christians, even though Cuba is fiercely repressive of churches, as it is of any and every organization outside the ruling Communist party.
While Christian worship is permitted there, it is strictly policed and actively discouraged. Religious gatherings without government permission, even prayer meetings and Bible studies in private homes, can earn participants prison terms. The government routinely forbids the construction of new churches and confiscates house churches at will. Churches and religious activists are refused access to printing presses and means of communication, and in February 1999, soldiers burned hundreds of Bibles shipped in from out of the country.
The regime systematically makes outcasts of those Cubans who wish to practice their faith. If Elián were to choose to live as an active Christian, he would face sharply diminished prospects for education and employment. A talented cousin of Juan Miguel González’s was turned down for a government scholarship when a state interviewer came by her house and saw an image of Jesus Christ on the wall. When Christians are imprisoned on trumped-up charges, they, like other political prisoners, are often raped by violent criminals at the instigation of guards.
Worse Than Beatings
The Church suffers terribly in Cuba. How much more must it suffer when the likes of Joan Brown Campbell stands by Castro at a public rally in Havana, as she did two years ago, and apologizes to the masses for what America has done to their country?
According to once-jailed Cuban poet Armando Villadares, quoted in an Amnesty International report, prison guards would psychologically torture political prisoners by reading them pro-Castro statements made by American pastors. “That was worse for the Christian political prisoners than the beatings or the hunger,” the poet wrote. “Incomprehensibly to us, while we waited for the embrace of solidarity from our brothers in Christ, those who were embraced were our tormentors.”
This is the dark, desperate country to which the NCC wants to return little Elián because, as the group explains on its website, there is no evidence the boy will be persecuted there. True enough, if he obeys every command, but let him try to claim even the tiniest bit of political or religious liberty that the NCC takes for granted here, and Elián will be marked for life.
Despite everything, perhaps Elián belongs in Cuba. The archbishop of Havana thinks so. There’s a man who leads his church through the valley of the shadow of death every single day. He lives under Castro’s tyranny and has moral standing to make such pronouncements. The Reverend Joan Brown Campbell speaks with the moral authority of the Upper West Side.
The NCC is equally bankrupt, morally speaking. The1997 meeting of the General Assembly, its policymaking body, promulgated several resolutions. The delegates came out in favor of organ donation. They called on their organization to stop wasting paper. They declared affirmative action to be necessary. And they even demanded clemency for Leonard Peltier, the American Indian activist and leftwing cause célèbre jailed for the 1975 murder of two FBI agents.
Free Leonard Peltier, they said. As for the tens of thousands of Christians and believers in other faiths abused, imprisoned, enslaved, and even killed for their faith, in China, in Indonesia, in the Sudan, and elsewhere around the world, even in Cuba—well, not a mumbling word.
Rod Dreher is a columnist and editorial writer for the Dallas Morning News, where he edits the Sunday commentary section ?Points.? He lives with his wife and two sons in Dallas. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.