Former National Council of Churches (NCC) official Lucius Walker, who passed away in early September, was an unabashed fan of and nearly full activist for Fidel Castro. Though Rev. Walker had not worked for the NCC in 32 years, having most of the last 3 decades served the Cuban dictator through a misnamed “ministry” called Pastors for Peace, the NCC still glowingly honored Walker.
“Lucius is one of several NCC staff members whose contributions to justice and faith we honor with pride,” enthused NCC chief Michael Kinnamon. “He did not leave the council in 1978 on a happy note, but today we freely acknowledge that he exemplified the highest standards of the council and we are proud of him.“ According to The New York Times, Walker was fired “for giving too much money to community organizers.“ Walker laughably at the time faulted the NCC for “drifting to the right.”
Before and after abruptly leaving the NCC, Walker directed the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organizations (IFCO), which promoted a now very dated form of Black Panther style radicalism. And generosity to “community organizers” was hardly his chief sin. IFCO’s “Pastors for Peace” project delivered illegal “humanitarian aid” to Castro’s Cuba. “Lucius’ rhetoric was often radical and I don’t suppose all our member communions would approve of it,” Kinnamon sheepishly admitted in a news release. “He frankly regarded U.S. policy in Latin America and Cuba as imperialistic, and he openly violated the embargo rules because he regarded them as unjust and immoral.”
Kinnamon tried posthumously to defend Walker’s pro-Castro advocacy: “His credo always was that God anointed Christians to bring good news to the poor, release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed. He believed we are called to feed the hungry. And these words of Jesus certainly unite the 45 million who relate to NCC member communions.“ Actually, Walker’s activism was bad news for Castro’s imprisoned island, whose poverty and totalitarian oppression Walker helped to perpetuate through ceaseless apologetics in the tyrant’s defense. Walker was in Cuba as recently as July, the NCC reported, meeting with Castro, his fellow octogenarian, a final time, along with Fidel’s brother, current President Raul Castro. As the NCC uncritically noted, a Cuban Communist Party newspaper rhapsodized: “Cubans, in gratitude, have to say that we don’t want to think of a world without Lucius Walker.” No doubt.
“I would be honored to have a person like Fidel as president of my own country,” Walker enthused to me in an interview just over 10 years ago for Heterodoxy. “He’s a person of great integrity.” Walker then commended Cuba’s wisdom for not rushing to multi-party democracy, which would allow the U.S. to buy elections as he believes it has elsewhere in the Third World. “I think democracy is expressed in [Cuba’s] current system,” he said. “Arguably it’s among the most democratic in the world.” Indeed, Cuba offers an “example to the rest of the Third World which the developed countries cannot abide because it places people ahead of corporate greed.”
Walker organized “Pastors for Peace” in 1988 from his hospital bed, while recovering from wounds inflicted by the Contras in Nicaragua. Its purpose was to support the “victims” of “low-intensity warfare” waged by the United States and its proxies against oppressed Third World peoples. For his efforts, Walker and his colleagues received medals from Castro personally in 1996. Upon receipt of his reward, the Baptist pastor from Brooklyn hailed Cuba’s communist system as exemplifying Jesus’ social values. Castro responded: “I do not have words to express the highest appreciation for what they have done.” He called Walker’s work “one of the most beautiful stories of solidarity ever written.”
In 1994 Walker’s Pastors for Peace had organized an historic summit between 100 U.S. church officials and Fidel Castro in New York. “Sometimes the church has issued strong pastoral letters against the revolution,” Castro observed to the attentive clerics. “We do our best to be tolerant.” He effusively thanked Pastors for Peace. “Like the early Christians, they have been willing to stand up for their beliefs, even against those who would crucify them.”
Like his hero, Castro, Walker had a flair for the dramatic. Pastors for Peace’s most hair-raising “humanitarian” caravan adventure was in 1996, when the U.S. Customs Service decided not to ignore Walker’s open violation of U.S. trade sanctions on Cuba. Walker’s 30-vehicle caravan carrying 200 activists and 300 computers was blocked at the Mexican border south of San Diego by U.S. Customs officers. Around 100 San Diego police officers and California Highway Patrolmen in riot gear lined up at the border. Undeterred, Walker’s rambunctious activists left their cars and began running their computers towards the border, trying to ram through Customs officials and police officers. Ten members of the caravan were arrested, and seven others were detained after resisting attempts to seize the computers. The melee injured one protester and four Customs inspectors, three of whom required hospital treatment. According to Pastors for Peace, their activists had been trained in “non-violent techniques.” Walker later said he had never seen law enforcement behave so brutally.
On behalf of the confiscated computers, Walker staged a hunger strike in the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill, strategically across the street from the U.S. Capitol and the Supreme Court. “I’m 65,” Walker melodramatically pronounced, “I simply don’t want to live any longer in a country that continues to hurt people the way my country does.” He contrasted himself with “right-wing groups” that were sending computers to “dissident” groups in Cuba. And he blasted “right-wing Cubans” who left their homeland to live in Cuba’s enemy, the United States. Unlike exiled Cubans, Walker said he would remain in his native land, despite America’s “hegemony and abuse of power.” Walker’s Congressman, New York Democrat Charles Rangel, and mainline church groups repeatedly lobbied for the computers’ release. The Treasury Department acquiesced, turning the computers over to the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, in whose building the hunger strikers were encamped.
In his interview with me, Walker recalled the Cuban dictator describing the Bible to him as a “living book,” which Walker called “real good theology.” Apparently not loath to boast, Walker opined that “in some ways it [the Bible] is still being written through the work of people like Pastors for Peace. What we’ve done through the caravans has been nothing less than writing a new page in the Bible.” Walker insisted Cuba had religious freedom and that any house churches the communists closed were guilty of “counter-revolutionary activity” through ties to “ultra-right wing religious elements in the U.S” or “teaching against the government.”
During the 1990’s, Cuban political prisoner Joel Duenas Martinez, then serving a 4-year sentence for disseminating “enemy propaganda,” responded to Rev. Walker’s “ministry” in support of Castro. “How can a man who calls himself a believer support the Mecca of atheism?” Duenas reasonably asked. “In this country [Cuba] religious people have been isolated, humiliated, turned into second-class citizens, expelled from universities, hunted down, and even imprisoned.” Duenas invited Walker to his prison cell. “Will you persist in defending Fidel Castro after going through our hell?”
Walker apparently never answered that question. By God’s grace, hopefully Walker may now meet some of Castro’s countless martyred victims and make his apologies.