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Ozzie Guillen and my last mistake

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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This demonstration Monday outside Marlins Park in Miami reflects the anger sparked by Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen's praise of Fidel Castro, April 10 2012 (Credit: Reuters/Joe Skipper)

“I love Fidel Castro.” This statement leads Time‘s recent interview with Ozzie Guillen.  “After a second of reflection,” according to the article, “the most unfiltered figure in baseball, if not in sports, wants a do-over.”  His second try: “I respect Fidel Castro.  You know why?  A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that [expletive deleted] is still here.”

Why are Guillen’s comments still making news?  Because he made them in Miami.  More specifically, as the manager of the Miami Marlins, a club that plays in the Cuban community of Little Havana.  For cultural context, let’s turn to Amaury Pi-Gonzalez, a veteran Spanish-language baseball announcer: “It’s like going to New York’s Jewish district and saying, ‘Hitler wasn’t so bad.  He managed to stay in power for a few years.'”  Pi-Gonzalez fled Cuba at age 17.  He added, “Even a nine-year-old knows better than to say that in Miami.”

This is not the first time Guillen has voiced his admiration for Castro.  In 2008, while managing the Chicago White Sox, he was asked, “Who’s the toughest man you know?”  His response: “Fidel Castro.”  Why?  “He’s a [expletive deleted] dictator and everybody’s against him, and he still survives, has power.  Still has a country behind him.  Everywhere he goes, they roll out the red carpet.  I don’t admire his philosophy; I admire him” (his emphasis).

My guess is that if Ozzie Guillen ever visited Cuba and saw how the people really live, he’d admire their dictator far less.  I have made seven visits to Cuba over the years and have seen first-hand the repression of the Castro regime.  Freedom of speech is virtually nonexistent.  Those who protest the government are punished, jailed, or sometimes executed.  Conditions are not improving: so far this year, 1,575 politically motivated arrests have been carried out.  And the vast majority of Cubans live in oppressive poverty.

However, God redeems all he allows.  The Cuban people are among the most remarkable I’ve ever known—incredibly hard-working, industrious, and gracious.  And the church in Cuba is exploding, with more than a million conversions in the last ten years.  I pray by name every morning for four Cuban pastors with whom I share ministry and fellowship in Christ.

While Guillen’s remarks have made national news, his contrition for them is especially noteworthy.  Observers say this is the first time they have ever seen him so repentant.  He has lived in Miami for years, and seems genuinely troubled by the hurt his statements have caused those in his community.  At a tearful press conference, he said he was sorry and embarrassed for his remarks.  “I’m here to say I’m sorry with my heart in my hands,” he said at one point.  “I’m here to apologize on my knees,” he said later.  “You learn from my mistakes, and this is the biggest mistake so far in my life,” he admitted still later.  And he vowed, “Today will be the last time this person talks about politics.”

To state the obvious, Ozzie Guillen is not the first or the last person to say something he regrets later.  The bad news is that “men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken” (Matthew 12:36).  The good news is that God forgives all we confess to him, if we will come to him with repentance and contrition.

What were the last words you wish you hadn’t spoken?  Why do you need your Father’s forgiving grace today?