The Expository Files

Prejudice, Politics or Paternity
One man's view of the Elian case

Note - I published this about a month ago when this case was receiving constant media attention. As I write (May 24), it isn't mentioned as much. The issues remain and nothing has happened to change my mind. I offer it for your consideration, though many of you have probably already read this article.

I realize I am publishing this at some risk of opposition. I am departing from the viewpoint typical of people of similar political belief, and I may be expressing an opinion contrary to that of brethren I hold in high esteem. I have no desire to antagonize anyone, yet I'm persuaded that biblical teachings speak to the issue of Elian and his relationship and reunion with his father.

My view of this case is determined, not by prejudice against communist regimes (which I admit) or conservative political philosophy (which I admit). For me the first consideration is paternity; the child-parent relationship, which is independent of personal prejudice or human politics. The child-parent relationship originates in the creative work of God. And you cannot read the Bible without seeing the divine origin of paternity. You cannot read the story of Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22) or the prodigal son (Luke 15), without recognizing this truth. In Psalms and Proverbs and in the New Testament, there are repeated references and inferences which point to God's view of the child-parent relationship, which He created (see Psa. 103:13; Prov. 23:22-25; Prov. 19:26; Heb. 12:9; 1 Thess. 2:11 and Luke 11:11). This, in my mind, is the issue. This takes priority over my personal prejudice or my beloved political beliefs.

I believe virtually everybody involved in this case has bungled it from the beginning. It seems to me, the Clinton Administration has mishandled the case; the relatives in Florida have not acted out of wisdom, and the Miami area Cubans have acted out of political passion and hatred for Castro. But whatever my opinions about how those involved have acted, the bottom line is paternity. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, it should be assumed that this father should have custody of his son and live in his homeland. But consider these things also:

1. There are Christians in Cuba. There are churches filled with people we consider our brothers and sisters in Christ. Many of these Christians are parents. What if one of their children made it to the shores of America? Would you try to keep them here, away from their parents? What explanation would you give to your brethren? Let me help you get started: "Dear bro. and sis. ____ My name is _____. I am your brother in Christ and I love you just as the Lord does. I know that you love your child, but I'm going to do all I can to keep your child away from you because ...." (fill this in with your justification). Does this help you think through the issue? Do you see what kind of problem you have when you insist that Elian must stay here? The fact that you may not regard Elian's father as your brother in Christ does not change his paternity does it. Or perhaps you think that we are justified in keeping children of non-Christians, but children of Christians can go back to Cuba? We need to think, not just react with prejudice against Castro.

2. Do we think that we - as Americans or as a government (local, state or federal) - have the authority to keep children from their parents based on where their home is located, the living conditions or the form of government? We have a system of protection set up in our society for children who are subjected to abuse or neglect. But in the absence of any evidence of abuse or neglect - what authority do we have to dismiss claims of paternity and keep a child from his family based on location, culture or form of government?

3. If we argue that we (as a people, society or government) enjoy this right - we ought to exercise it consistently. There are children living in circumstances most of us consider sub-standard in this country. I live about three miles north of the US-Mexican border. I can take you across the border and within an hour, show you children in living conditions and under a government most of us consider to be unhealthy, oppressive and dangerous. We may not call their government "communists" but it is not America, and it does not measure up to appropriate conditions for children in our judgment. When those kids cross the border into America (and they often do), should we keep them here, denying their parents the claims of paternity? If the argument (keeping children from their parents in repressive governments) is a valid argument - it cannot be limited to Cuba.

4. "But Elian will be returned to a place where he will be denied freedom. He will be taken from his father, to work under forced labor; he will be brainwashed by the Castro powers or political police." Some make it sound like this is the common practice in Cuba; it is assumed not established by evidence. The charge creates tremendous passion and prejudice against the people who live in Cuba. I have a good friend who has made several trips to preach in Cuba; in addition to the time he has spent in the country, he has regular correspondence with brethren there. He has never seen children taken from their parents to work in labor camps. He has never seen or heard of cases of brainwashing. He has observed - over many years of making trips into Cuba - parents raising their children without horrific government interference.

5. "But to let Elian return to Cuba with his father would be to surrender ourselves to the will of Castro!" No, it would be to recognize the right of a father to raise his son in his home country. The basis for allowing them to return home would be paternity not surrender to Castro. I don't like Castro. I see all kind of problems with the whole system he is head over. But there are many other countries which may not be marked or labeled as "communist," just as oppressive, just as politically grievous in our view. Are we - as a nation - prepared to "keep" children from their parents when their parents live in a repressive and different political system?

My friend who visits Cuba often has explained to me, our brethren in Cuba do not have definite concepts and beliefs about the difference between American democracy and Cuban communism. Generally, they get up everyday and work and try to survive. The family is considered sacred, they participate in the work of the local church. He said, "the majority of them do not complain about life in Cuba."

So I'm back to that hypothetical letter you might send to the mother and father in Cuba: "Dear bro. and sis. _____ Your child has arrived in America and we will not return him to you, because... ."

By Warren E. Berkley
The Final Page
From Expository Files 7.6; June 2000