Group focuses on crisis at Cuba's evangelical seminary
Oct. 24, 2005
|A UMNS photo by Linda Green
Rev. Reinerio Arce (left) discusses issues facing the seminary as
delegation members Alissa Bertsch and Bishop Gaspar J. Domingos of West
By Linda Green*
HAVANA (UMNS) — Differences in polity and
theology among three denominations are causing division at an ecumenical
seminary that trains clergy and laypeople in Cuba.
A nine-member delegation under the auspices of the United Methodist
Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns visited the
Methodist Church in Cuba Oct. 7-12 to strengthen relations with the church
and its people.
During the trip, the delegation learned about the role of the Evangelical
Theological Seminary in training theological leaders in Cuba, and the group
investigated a schism that has developed at the school since July. The
seminary receives support from the United Methodist Church through the
Advance for Christ and His Church, a second-mile giving program.
The delegation held a listening session with seminary and Methodist Church
leaders to see what role the ecumenical agency could play in resolving the
conflict and restoring unity at the 60-year-old school, which is a highly
regarded theological center in Cuba.
Causes of the rift
The delegation determined that part of the problem has resulted from the
Methodist shift to relying more on lay people to lead a growing number of
house churches. This represents a change in emphasis from the predominantly
ordained clergy leadership, and it is different from the polity of the
The three churches — Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopal — established the
ecumenical evangelical seminary in 1946 on property provided by the
Methodist Woman's Society of Christian Service in Matanzas. Students from
Latin America and many denominations have been a part of the seminary since
According to Cuba, a publication of the United Methodist Board of Global
Ministries, the seminary is seen as a provider of theological education
comparable to that of seminaries in the United States, but in recent years
it has "tended to be liberal and supportive of the Liberation Theology
developed in Latin America," a perspective that has "been the source of
criticism by many Cuban pastors."
Cuban Methodist leaders said the seminary has become too liberal and secular
to meet the needs of the Methodist Church.
In July, the Methodist Church voted to end its covenant with the seminary's
other founding bodies because of differences in polity and theology, and the
decision was made to start a separate Methodist seminary in a local church
"The basic problem is that the Presbyterians and Episcopalians and the
leadership of the seminary do not respect the Methodist Church," said Cuban
Methodist Bishop Ricardo Pereira. "They want to have Methodists at the
seminary who are of a different voice than what the Methodist Church and the
annual conference has established."
The seminary has a "professor who claims to be Methodist," Pereira said, and
"the seminary uses this person to contradict the Methodists that we as (the)
church send to the seminary, especially when delegations from abroad come to
visit." The bishop said the seminary's action set off "a precedent of
immeasurable consequences for the future."
|A UMNS photo by Linda Green
The Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cuba was established in 1946 by the Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopal churches.
The professor in question, who was at first a student and is now a faculty
member, "is not a member of any Methodist Church in Cuba and has no interest
in becoming a member either," the bishop said. The professor has also
questioned the leadership and guidelines approved by the annual conference,
according to the bishop.
Pereira told the United Methodist delegation that the seminary's actions
"are something that for the Methodist Church is unacceptable."
The Methodist Church is also claiming the seminary's leadership and board of
directors violated the bylaws when a meeting about the issue was conducted
without Methodist presence. "The bylaws indicate that meetings cannot be
held if all three churches are not present, but they hold meetings among
themselves without the Methodist Church being present," Pereria said.
Much back and forth has occurred with the denominations and the seminary
leadership regarding the professor and complaints about the seminary. The
Rev. Reinerio Arce, president of the seminary, told the delegation that "we
are in crisis" and attributed it to different perceptions, lack of
communication and authority. The problem, he said, is the inability to
maintain the unity of the three groups in leading the seminary.
"It is not a matter of who is right and who is wrong," Arce said. "My
perception is that (the) orientation of the Presbyterian Church and
Episcopal Church in terms of theological approaches, in terms of liturgies,
in term of understanding the mission of the church is different from the
orientation and position of the Methodist Church," he said.
Arce said the seminary's Presbyterian and Episcopal leaders sought to
resolve the conflict through the board of directors, but the Methodist
Church wanted to open the conflict up to mediators from the outside. Arce
told the delegation that the Methodist Church wanted him to fire the
professor. "If a professor disrespects any church, it should be discussed in
the board, and if there is proof, then I will then fire the professor," he
said. He added that "free thinking is something that must be maintained."
|A UMNS photo by Linda Green
"The church needs the seminary and the seminary needs the church," the Rev. J. Philip Wogaman says.
On July 19, Pereira clarified the Methodist position and outlined the
church's complaints. He also told the United Methodist delegation that the
Methodist Church "will not let our church be disrespected and will not let
seminary leaders take the right to have ?pseudo' Methodists in the seminary
representing interests alien to the Methodist Church in Cuba."
Church needs seminary
Without renouncing its rights to the seminary, the Methodist Church decided
to break the covenant it had with the Presbyterian and Episcopal churches in
leading the seminary. Methodist leaders say they are developing a separate
seminary to train future leaders for the church in Cuba.
That action may be against the rules because the evangelical seminary is
registered as an association and does not belong to any of the three
churches. It is independent from them, and in order for the seminary to be
dissolved, all three churches must agree.
After hearing myriad points of view on the seminary issue, the Rev. J.
Philip Wogaman of Washington, boiled the problems down to an "absence of
"I hope that by the grace of God that it will be resolved in a positive
way," he said. "The church needs the seminary and the seminary needs the
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville,
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or