HAVANA TIMES – We spoke about religion with Vince Hernandez Leon, member of the Christian faith (Baptist denomination). Born in Havana, he is a High School graduate with an unfinished college military career. Today he’s a barber.
HT: When and how did you begin to discern your “true path”?
Vince Hernandez Leon: That’s the way I was brought up. In my family no one believed in the scientific version of the creation of the world, the Big Bang theory, that is. Paradoxically, it is a mystery to me how I started to believe in God. As a teenager I’d go up on the roof with my little friends and look at the stars.
The very idea of thinking that when you die everything ends here upset me quite a bit. The world ends and that’s it, so why are we actually living, that was the feeling I had for many years and maybe it was what motivated me. I began to feel there was something more in addition to this world.
At that point I began to worship God in a spontaneous way, but without knowing him. Coincidentally my grandmother and my father also accepted Christ at the same time. I began to know Christ and decided for him. Then I began to feel identified, backed by something. I was no longer something incidental in this world.
HT: There are many ways to accept God and know Him. But you have opted for the Baptist Faith. Why?
VHL: It is the most faithful to the Bible.
HT: What about the others?
VHL: All of us who believe in Jesus Christ are brothers. So says the Bible. Those of us with his blood become as a single lineage or family, but as I told you it was there I found a greater fidelity to the words of the Holy Book…
Which comes from the Catholics …and there’s a history to that…One I’m not too familiar with. I know most Christians come from Catholicism. We owe much to men like Luther, who focused on the word of God, on what God said precisely. But I once read a study by a minister of religion who said that the Baptist Church derives directly from some Christians who were separated from Catholicism from the very beginning.
HT: What is your opinion of Catholics?
VHL: Recently I have had the opportunity to read some Catholic books and there is something I find quite striking. They have too many saints. There is one for the afflicted, one for the homeless, etc.., many names interceding between Christ and God, but the Bible is very clear about this, “do not worship anyone but God,” Jesus said, “No one comes to the father except through me; I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
So anyone who teaches something that is not what the Bible teaches you, that God did not say, is mistaken. Not because I say so, it is what is written.
HT: Do the different Christian denominations fraternalize or does each claim to have the absolute truth on the Bible?
VHL: Look, there is a strong trend now to fraternization, yet at the same time this has damaged the churches. Those Christian churches that kept to a strict doctrine – and the loyalty of their members was admirable – have now got too relaxed. I don’t mean you have to be in conflict, but I respect a lot of ministers who do not fraternize with churches of other denominations. Currently the result is pretty awful. Someone says “I am a Christian”, and then lives in adultery or commits other sins even worse.
God did not institute the holy war, Jesus abolished all that, but the Bible makes it quite clear, there should be tolerance but discipline too.
HT: What are the advantages or disadvantages of being a Christian in a country whose government only reconciled itself to the religious creeds of its people just under two decades ago?
VHL: I don’t feel affected or benefited in any way. Sure, that’s my experience, and can’t be taken as a general reflection. Now, from what I have seen, there is a lot of Chango and Obbatalá, but really the message of salvation has not made itself felt.
HT: How would you explain the rejection of every creed or religion by the revolutionary government in its first thirty years in power? Is it a kind of zeal or ideological rivalry?
VHL: I don’t have a lot to say on that. Deifying people is wrong. Marti is rightly Cuba’s national hero, but he also had his flaws like everyone else. At school I grew up repeating that I wanted to be like Che. Fidel has twenty thousand shortcomings like everyone else. History has shown that all nations that worship a man end up badly. The only perfect being is God.
On the other hand, I notice that certain religions have become a business in this country. I’ll illustrate with an anecdote: I was waiting in line at the bus stop once and I heard a woman complain that she had to pay a tax to the State for some act of Santeria she had performed for a foreigner. That’s why they are promoting the Afro-Cuban religion so much.
HT: Any personal contribution to religion?
VHL: The number of Christians is on the increase but morally we have gone backwards. It is written that this world will collapse in decadence. I don’t want to be pessimistic. I will persevere because God entrusts you to do that but it is something you can see all around you.
Currently homosexuality is an “orientation”. Soon killing will also be an “orientation”. In many countries the laws are inspired more or less by the Ten Commandments laid down in the Bible, but these too are broken more and more each day. So we’re now seeing the consequences of saying what was once bad is now good.
HT: Times change and men with them. The Bible employs a language which is polysemantic; it’s full of ambiguities that allow for different interpretations. On the other hand, it was written a long time ago. Many things have happened since it was written. Isn’t it time for new interpretations to suit the times we live in? Being gay is an instinct which is often natural. We cannot link instinct to morality. Suppose as a man you liked men and at the same time believed in God.
VHL: If we are unable to control our instincts we are mere animals. Men cannot control themselves. Not just from the homosexual perspective but also in regard to women. So they then tell you to use a condom and be careful, that the condom is your savior.
I have known Christians who were once gay, but God worked in them and now they are no longer gay. I don’t see them repressed. I do not believe there is anything hormonal or genetic about it, being gay is a choice.
HT: Just now you referred to immorality in a more global way, but what about within the religious sphere? Luther and Calvin also reacted to the immorality within the Church.
VHL: I wasn’t really very interested in the Pope’s visit. I feel that nothing has happened. Everything he said got praised. “The people are very nice.” It’s all too idealistic, but I don’t know what a visit of the Pope’s can resolve.
I admire the Jehovah’s Witnesses for their perseverance. But I dislike them for their impertinence. You’re walking along and they won’t leave you alone, trying to convince you.
Generally speaking in the end we all have to give an account of ourselves for everything we do. Earthly glory passes. All the vanities, the glory and the transgressions, everything passes. Those who invoke God and use God without really believing in him or to take advantage of people will be subject to divine justice.