Methodically ignoring Elian's freedom

By W. James Antle III
web posted April 17, 2000

Can there be anything more irritating than picking up the newspaper and reading the latest example of outrageous government spending? It is certainly galling to see one's hard-earned money squandered on things which are at best wasteful and at worst morally offensive - especially by the very people whose duty it is to spend the money on worthy endeavors.

Well, there is one thing more irritating: Picking up the newspaper and reading an example of outrageous spending by your church. The record of televangelists is such that one shouldn't be surprised to read about gold bath tubs and that sort of nonsense, but an established church charged with proclaiming the faith of one's ancestors is another matter.

Imagine my displeasure at reading that the General Council of the United Methodist Church, my denomination and the church my great-grandfather served as a pastor, planned to raise money on behalf of repatriating Elian Gonzalez to Cuba. Evidently, the UMC intended to raise $100,000 to pay the attorney representing Juan Gonzalez, Elian's father, in his efforts to bring the child back to Fidel Castro's island gulag.

Misguided Methodist intervention was rendered unnecessary by Attorney General Janet Reno's order that the boy be reunited with his father this week. Agitation aside, the conclusion appears certain - Elian will be returned to Cuba. The question remains why a Christian church would want to do such a thing to “the least of these.”

Granted, the United Methodist Church is increasingly falling under the sway of those who take the Bible as seriously as the federal government takes the Constitution (aren't both the Resurrection and the Second Amendment “metaphorical?”). Many of its bishops and seminarians read radical liberation theology texts which paint American capitalism as the closest thing to Satan that actually exists and communist dictators like Castro as heroes on the order of John the Baptist. This is typical National Council of Churches Gospel according to Cesar Chavez type stuff. Never mind what that $100,000 could do for soup kitchens and troubled youth.

Moreover, amidst calls for the Roman Catholic Church to apologize for its alleged diffidence in the face of Nazism, one would think religious leaders would be more apt to keep their eyes open to the stark reality of human tyranny. Yet Pope Pius' maligned Catholic Church succeeded in saving approximately 84 percent of Italy's Jews, publicly excommunicated Hitler twice and continued to oppose Hitler after the Nazis arrested the Dutch bishops. The chief rabbi of Rome converted to Catholicism out of appreciation for the pope's efforts on behalf of Jews during the war, which occurred despite the looming communist conquest of ten Christian nations during the reign of Joseph Stalin - the biggest murderer of Christians in history.

There are many things which make the Elian case not so straightforward and its politicization is certainly not in the boy's best interests. There are impure motives on both sides of this debate. But what is distressing is Americans' inability to distinguish between freedom and slavery, to understand the inapplicability of the standards of a free society to an oppressive society. Americans seem to have forgotten what communism is, what tyranny is.

The repeated invocations of “parental rights” notwithstanding, such rights are nonexistent in Cuba. Cuba's 1977 constitution gives the state the primary authority over the child and the right to insure that all adults instill in each child “a communist personality.” Children are encouraged to inform on their parents and are taken to reeducation camps at age 11 where their parents are permitted three visits per month.

Reports abound of the demonstrations in Cuba for Elian's return being staged by the government; many of the participants afterward admit they think Elian should stay in America and his father should stay with him. There is reason to believe that Elian's father may have known and approved of his mother's journey to America, and even reports that he planned to make the trip himself at some point later. We'll never know, because the Cuban government does not permit him to speak freely. He is accompanied by Cuban agents in this country and reportedly under virtual house arrest at home.

It doesn't seem to register with the general public, and certainly not with many United Methodist leaders, that Elian's mother and stepfather had to die trying to leave Cuba. Law-abiding citizens do not die in the process of leaving the United States. It is illegal to leave without government permission (rarely granted) and those who attempt to do so are often killed by Castro's thugs - including women and children, no different than Elian and his mother.

The Cuban government has publicly stated that it “owns” Elian. It views its subjects as chattel and supports an ideology that is essentially state-sponsored slavery. That is something the Cuban exile community in Florida understands very clearly, but a majority of Americans don't: Elian is not an abducted child, he is the moral equivalent of a runaway slave.

With all the tyranny and misery in the world, one can reasonably wonder if giving residence to every person - even every child - who manages to flee it for our relative freedom and prosperity is a rational policy. But the sharp contrast between freedom and tyranny, liberty and servitude must remain etched in the minds of every free person. Those who love liberty should never lose sight of the aspirations of the millions around the globe who live without it and would sacrifice all to breathe free.

To pretend that the Creator is indifferent to their sorrows is not an act of charity, but a betrayal contrary to the very essence of the Christian faith.

W. James Antle III has worked for the Rhema Group, an Ohio-based political consulting firm. You can e-mail him at

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