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Haitian-Americans see conference as painful opportunity (May 6, 2004)

Haitian-Americans see conference as painful opportunity (May 6, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Haitian-Americans see conference as painful opportunity

May 6, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0068}

An e-Review Feature
By Michael Wacht*

PITTSBURGH - The Rev. Jacques E. Pierre and his sister, Judith Pierre-Okerson, view the 2004 General Conference both as a painful time and an opportunity to make a difference in their denomination.
Both from the Florida Conference, they are the only two Haitian-American delegates to The United Methodist Church's highest lawmaking body.
General Conference is an opportunity for the church to hear the voice of Haitians, according to Pierre-Okerson. "I believe it is important to have a Haitian voice in the general church," she said. "Everybody is trying to speak on behalf of and for the Haitians, which is good, but at the same time, it's good to hear from people from Haiti."
Pierre hopes his voice will make a difference. "I think my voice as a United Methodist clergy of Haitian descent...brings a different perspective, a theological perspective rooted in faith in Jesus Christ and my upbringing in Haiti and the African culture in the Caribbean."
Pierre said his role is not to speak for all Haitians and Haitian-Americans, but "to bring another point of view to the debate."
That point of view comes in part from a church that focuses on daily survival, Pierre said. "The Methodist Church of Haiti is thinking about how to save souls, feed the hungry, clothe the to provide medical care."
Pierre-Okerson is concerned to see the church prioritize some social issues over others. "It is troublesome to see the church spend so much time on the debate over homosexuality and abortion, while neglecting other issues, like hunger and poverty. That is painful," she said. "So far, we have not heard anything about all the wars going on, not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Palestine and other places; all those people going to bed hungry; all those children orphaned because of AIDS in Africa. Those issues are, to me, more important than homosexuality."
Pierre said the different points of view come from different life contexts. "The struggle for daily food is not a struggle for United Methodists in the United States," Pierre said. "It is interesting that even though we are trying to be inclusive, the language and discussion are geared toward the United States-that majority perspective. It is not good or bad, just different."

For additional coverage of the news and events taking place at General Conference visit the Florida Conference Web site at


This article relates to General Conference.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service. He is also a member of the Florida Conference delegation.