What Cuba’s Religious Fundamentalists Want to Sweep Under the Carpet

By Susana Hernandez Martinez  (El Toque)

Raquel Suarez, a pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Marianao, blesses a same-sex couple, during Pinar del Rio’s “Love Blessings” event, which are celebrated as part of the 2018 International Day Against Homophobia. Photo: Taken from CENESEX’s Facebook page

HAVANA TIMES – A few weeks ago, Reuters news agency published a video in which a preacher from Havana’s Methodist Church claimed that all Christians are against Article 68 of the draft Constitution (which takes out a reference to gender in defining marriage) because the Bible condemns it, quite simply.

These proclamations were made in the name of its communities by over 20 leaders of Protestant denominations and the Catholic Church to support this position, suggesting that Cubans who share Christianity as a religion form a united front against passing and legalizing same-sex marriage.

However, reality goes beyond the frenetic sermons that have been filling different church pulpits for months now, churchgoers repeating their leaders’ ideas or images of hundreds of people expressing the opinion of “the majority”, as part of the denominations that bring many other thousands of people together nationwide.

There are many Christian people who belong to LGBTIQ+ groups, whose voices are being made invisible by the stigma that sexual identity has in religious contexts and by the discriminatory practices their own communities have.

According to pastor Raquel Suarez from Marianao’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, “whoever says that Christians all feel the same way about the issue of sexual diversity and same-sex marriage, is denying the presence of homosexual people within churches, in spite of us being a reality that nobody can sweep under the carpet.”

According to this leader, saying that all Christians are against Article 68 in the draft Constitution (like some pastors from different denominations have) is the same thing as homogenizing God’s flock and it detracts authenticity from the faith of Christians who do support positive change for the LGBTIQ+ community, just because they don’t share the same stance as fundamentalist churches.

Religious leaders such as Elaine Saralegui (pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church (ICM)) and pastor Raquel Suarez from the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Marianao, next to Mariela Castro, director of the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), during the Love Blessings event for same-sex couples in May 2018. Photo: Taken from CENESEX’s Facebook page

There are even some positions which might be considered less radical within the conservative front, such as that of the Archbishop of Camaguey, Wilfredo Pino Estevez, who in a statement said that the State needs to guarantee and respect every citizen’s rights.

He stated that “Whites and Blacks, men and women, the healthy and sick, from one religion or another, newborns and the elderly, from one province or another, educated and uneducated, heterosexuals and homosexuals, need to have the same rights.”

This religious dissidence cost him the repudiation of his brothers of the white cloth, who accused him of betraying Christ in another statement and prayed that he would soon leave these “devious and dark paths that he has lost himself down.”

According to Elaine Saralegui, pastor from the Metropolitan Community Church (ICM), there are communities today who have taken on an ambiguous position about the issue and others that are slightly more open to gays and lesbians, where they aren’t repressed or kicked out of the congregation because of their sexual identity and where they can even become members of the ordained ministry as long as they keep their private lives separate from their public duties.

Unlike these moderate positions, the ICM is a highly inclusive denomination that accepts people with different sexual identities, who have used social and religious activism as an example that Christian faith and the constant search for emancipation aren’t exclusive concepts.

Moments from the “Religious fundamentalisms, constitutional reform and LGTBIQ activism” workshop, at El Mejunje in Santa Clara. Photo: Taken from the Proyecto Abriendo Brechas de Colores – LGTBI’s Facebook page.

In Elaine’s eyes, churches that are spreading a fundamentalist message in Cuba answer to the same patriarchal, heterosexist and colonial logic that has defined Christianity throughout history, even when the mission Christ left was to fight for justice and love.

The “Original Design” campaign against the rights of LGBTIQ+ people and the emphasis it has on presenting the Christian community as a united front, is just a single part of the agenda that is being pushed by figures such as Ricardo Pereira, the bishop of Cuba’s Methodist Church, a man who shared a post on his Facebook wall a few days ago in which he proudly recognized Bolsonaro as the first Brazilian president who has publicly thanked God for his electoral victory.

The ICM pastor says that the most important thing right now, is that whoever believes that sexual diversity isn’t a sin needs to come forward, that LGBTIQ+ people stand proudly in their communities and seek alliances in these spaces so as to push matters forward.

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