The growing Protestant house church movement in Cuba promotes a social ethic that is friendlier to the Cuban socialism than might be expected, writes Rose T. Caraway in the Journal of Religion & Society (Vol. 17). The number of Protestant house churches in Cuba has grown rapidly; a 2013 report from the U.S. State Department estimates that there are between 2,000 and 10,000 of such congregations. Another estimate finds that house churches have increased from more than a 100 in the late 1990s to at least 2,000 today. The Cuban government requires a lengthy process of registration for a new church to meet, leading many Cubans to hold religious services within private homes. Because even these house congregations are regulated (with permits denied to Cubans who live within two kilometers of an officially registered church), some have started unofficial “prayer houses.” The formation of these house churches is partly a result of the economic crisis and food shortages (known as “The Special Period”) brought about by the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Networks of these house churches and prayer houses are often connected to local Baptist or Pentecostal churches. These home-based congregations are also connected to networks of social welfare programs.
Rather than promoting an otherworldly or individualistic faith, Caraway finds that these house churches promote a form of solidarity among neighbors. They have grown “not only due to the more intimate and familiar spaces of private homes, but because religious leaders and lay participants are using social welfare programs to provide for the basic needs of local citizens.” The notion of carrying one another’s burdens is an important feature of these groups, helping to create “alternative networks between friends and family to compensate for the lack of fulfillment on the part of the state.” Caraway adds that the house church movement is similar to the Catholic base communities in Latin America in the 1980s; they both rely on “lay leadership, tight-knit interpersonal networks and the reading of biblical passages in the light of everyday life circumstances and issues.” While regulations put in place in 2005 allows government officials to monitor house church activities for subversion against the state, Caraway argues that these groups tend to value autonomy from U.S. mission boards and “may have more in common with revolutionary ideals than previously thought.”
(Journal of Religion & Society, http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/toc/2015.html)