Chapter Four- THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
"I consider myself to be a bible-based Christian. I take the word of God very
seriously and do not believe that it should ever be compromised. How does a female
pastor, like myself, who claims to be a bible-based Christian reconcile with 1 Timothy
2:11-12 which reads: Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a
woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. (KJV) Or 1
Corinthians 14:34-35 which reads: Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is
not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also
saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it
is a shame for women to speak in the church. (KJV)
I’m going to be honest, when I first started preaching, I used to avoid those
scriptures at all cost. I can recall getting extremely nervous any time someone would
even read from those two chapters. While deep down inside, I knew that the Lord had
called me to preach, I was not yet fully mature in my theological studies to dissect the
true meaning of those scriptures. Those scriptures became my elephant—a huge elephant
in the room that I prayed would simply disappear. Wisdom, however, teaches us that we
should face our fears head-on. It is better to walk in the truth of the light than to hide in
the fear of darkness. I renewed my mind and decided to thoroughly study those scriptures
What are your fears? What are key verses that cause you to cringe or make you
uncomfortable? Have you avoided them for fear of being wrong, or have you faced your
fears head-on? You will never get clarity about God’s call until you confront your
questions. Confronting your questions doesn’t mean you are challenging the scriptures, or
discounting its validity. Confronting your questions means you take the Word so
seriously, that you want to understand what the verse means so that you don’t
misrepresent God as you teach it to others. "
The months of June and July were horrific for Americans. On June 12, 2016 Omar Mateen gunned down 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL. Omar, who allegedly pledged allegiance to the terrorist group—ISIS, was interviewed by the FBI in 2013. Despite Omar having been interviewed by the FBI in 2013, he managed to legally gain possession of a firearm. As a result of the devastating attack, Representative John Lewis along with Representative John Larson led a staged sit-in on the House floor. Joined by dozens of House Democrats, they protested against the GOP leadership’s lack of cooperation on allowing a vote on a gun control measure. The Orlando massacre was just one of many terrible incidents over the course of a few months. It is clearly evident that gun violence is a major issue in our country, so what’s keeping our government officials from cracking down on it? Moreover, why is it so easy for mentally-ill and/or terrorist-affiliated individuals to obtain firearms? President Obama addressed his thoughts on America’s gun issue post an interview and town hall meeting in Elkhart, Indiana. The President was asked a question by a proud gun-owner who, among many other things, said “Why do you and Hillary want to control and restrict and limit gun manufacturers, gun owners and responsible use of guns and ammunition to the rest of us, the good guys, instead of holding the bad guys accountable for their actions?” President Obama responded by stating that the notion that he or Hillary are hell-bent on taking away folks’ guns is just not true. The President suggested that we (America) establish commonsense gun laws so that it isn’t so easy for the “bad guys” to obtain firearms. I have to say that I agree with our President 100%. I believe that we (Democrats and Republicans) can intelligently reach a medium towards addressing gun violence in America without comprising the 2nd Amendment. How many more innocent people have to die before we seriously address this issue? We must also not be ignorant to the fact that obtaining a gun legally in America is just as easy to obtain illegally. We not only need to crack down on the flawed processes by which troubled individuals can obtain firearms legally, but we must also crack down on the millions of firearms that are illegally being sold on the Black Market each and every day. Here are some practical things that you can do as a concerned citizen to help combat gun violence in America: 1. Vote! You have the power to elect officials who are just as concerned about gun violence as you are. Exercise that power. 2. Support federal policy changes, and stay informed. 3. Write letters to your officials. Contrary to popular belief, letters are still significant. Make your voice heard! 4. Finally, spread love. With all the hate in the world, what we need more than ever is love.
Jennifer M. Joseph
Many Haitians are negatively criticizing the Clintons for their decades of involvement in Haiti’s economy and politics. The critics claim that the Clintons are thieves and that they are not to be trusted. Two, among many others, of the critiques have to do with Haiti’s rice farms, and a Haitian gold mining permit.
The Rice Farms Rumor:
When in office, former U.S President Bill Clinton established a policy that wiped out Haitian rice farms and destroyed Haiti’s ability to be self-sufficient. Years after the fact, the former President made a public statement apologizing for forcing Haiti to drop tariffs on imported, subsidized U.S rice during his time in office. In an interview led by journalist Kim Ives of Haiti Liberté, former U.S President Bill Clinton stated the following: “Since 1981, the United States has followed a policy, until the last year or so when we started rethinking it, that we rich countries that produce a lot of food should sell it to poor countries and relieve them of the burden of producing their own food, so, thank goodness, they can leap directly into the industrial era. It has not worked. It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake. It was a mistake that I was a party to. I am not pointing the finger at anybody. I did that. I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did. Nobody else.”
The Gold Mining Rumor:
Hillary Clinton’s brother, Tony Rodham, has been accused of owning one of Haiti’s gold mining permits. That rumor is only partially factual. The truth is that Tony Rodham does not exactly own the gold mining permit in Haiti, but rather is a member on the advisory board of the company (VCS) that does actually own the mine. Tony’s involvement with the mine has heightened a multitude of Haitian’s distrust of the Clintons. While many believe that Tony’s connection to Haiti’s gold mine is all a part of the Clinton’s agenda to capitalize off of Haiti’s resources, Tony Rodham says differently. Here is what he had to say on the topic during an interview which was conducted by the Washington Post: He said that he has never spoken to Hillary or Bill Clinton about the Haiti project and that he does not think the VCS chief executive and President Angelo Viard, a Democratic donor, approached him to join the advisory board because of his family ties. “I’m a very accomplished person in my own right,” Rodham said. He said his work with the company is to try to find investors, which he said has been challenging because of a lack of interest in Haiti. “I raise money for a lot of people,” he said. “That’s what I basically do.”
Having divulged those facts, where do I stand on the topic? Well, my stance is quite simple: Hillary Clinton is running to be the next President of the United Sates, not of Haiti. As a Haitian, I realize that we as a Haitian people have a lot of work to do and that we must fight against those who capitalize off of our resources. The Haitian diaspora need to hold American politicians accountable for their unwarranted involvements in smaller countries like Haiti. As an American, however, my focus is to see to it that the candidate most fit to become the next President of the U.S makes it to office in November 2016. In my opinion, Donald Trump is not fit to be the next President of the United States of America. So while the Clintons may not be good for Haiti, they are certainly better for America.
If I could sum up the upcoming U.S presidential election into one word, that word would be: paramount. This upcoming election is crucial and it is important that we understand just how critical it is. Serious issues that should really concern us during this upcoming election are: the fight against terrorism, gun control regulations, immigration reform, cost of education, healthcare, and the economic justice and the economy, among others. Our number one focus during this upcoming election ought to be to choose the best candidate who can intelligently pursue solutions to those critical issues. While our upbringing may have conditioned some of us to pledge allegiance to a particular party, e.g. Democrat or Republican, we must break with tradition and vote for the man or woman who is best equipped for the job and who will best serve the interest of the Country. In other words, don’t simply vote for Donald Trump because he’s a Republican just like you and vice versa for Hillary Clinton. Rather, research the candidate’s agenda and make an intelligent decision based upon your findings.
As for me, Hillary Clinton has my vote. She has my vote because her resume, in comparison to her opponent, is impressive. She was an active First Lady of the U.S for two terms fighting for issues such as women’s rights and children’s healthcare. She served as a U.S Senator from New York for two terms, and she served as the U.S Secretary of State under President Obama’s administration. Hillary Clinton is well-spoken, intelligent, and is supremely qualified for the job. Above all, she is undeniably a better choice than her opponent Donald Trump. Donald Trump has my respect for being a successful businessman, but his experience does not translate to being able to run a powerful country such as the United States. His views on immigration, on minority groups, and on terrorism are dangerous and are a threat to the progression of this country. His policies would place us in serious jeopardy and would compromise our safety and security. Furthermore, his inability to construct full and complete sentences on important political issues highlights his careless attitude. Simply put, there is nothing presidential about Donald Trump.
I charge all Americans who are able to vote to exercise that right in November. I realize that there are voters who dislike both candidates and who as a result are considering not voting at all. To those voters I say, do not be foolish. Whether you vote or not, one of the two candidates WILL be president. Wouldn’t you prefer the best person for the job to win? Would you leave your children’s future to chance? Exercise your right to vote—we owe it to our predecessors who fought for that right. Our future as a country lies in your hands.
Jennifer M. Joseph
Pastor Jennifer M. Joseph
Philadelphia, PA, 19139
July 28, 2015
I write to you in the matchless name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is my prayer that this letter has found you in complete and total peace, and that you will fully dissect it with an open heart and mind. Friends, the topic that I am about to address within this letter is a very sensitive and controversial one. I understand the complex nature of its origins and I am fully aware that a possible solution of any sort would be easier verbalized than enacted. Nevertheless, I am hopeful that with God, all things are possible and that every barrier that stands before the progression of God’s Kingdom can and will be surmounted. As a Pastor, Haitian-American, and native of Philadelphia, my heart is grieved to witness the current status of Haitian-American churches in the City of Philadelphia and vicinity. According to the Census Bureau, there are over 100 Haitian-American churches within the City of Philadelphia alone. The expansion of the number of Haitian-American churches in Philadelphia over the years may have been a positive progression at first, but over time we have seen that it is a sign of dysfunction and disunion. According to a survey distributed last winter, about 3 of the 100 or so Haitian churches in Philadelphia have a max of 150-200 consistent members or less. The remaining churches have between 20-70 consistent members. You may be asking yourself, what is the issue or why not consolidate memberships? Well, here are some of the issues that have been observed and/or verbalized:
“So many of these new church establishments are in proximity to one another and are founded on the recruitment of neighboring church memberships as opposed to the enrollment of new unsaved individuals.” Have you ever driven down a block and noticed that there were about 3 or more gas stations a few steps away from each other? By default, regardless of the minor differences in pricing, these gas stations are in competition with one another. Their proximity to one another has placed them into an inevitable rivalry. I always thought that it was a weird practice until I realized that the demand for the product (gas) is extremely high and that though the gas stations offer the same product, the demand justifies the logic. As a business woman, I had to understand that the number one goal of these gas companies is to make money. As business owners, they are not concerned with how placing a gas station in the same territory as other existing gas stations may negatively impact the progression of their competitors. That’s business. As Christians, however, we ought to have a different mindset and motivation. Opening a Haitian-American church in proximity of another Haitian-American church is self-destructive, because unlike those gas corporations, we all work for the same boss. 1 Corinthians 1:10 says “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” We can do much greater things together than we can apart. Now, this isn’t to say that we should place more emphasis on quantity of membership than on the quality of the church, because quality is as equally important to the church as quantity is. Truth is, we need both. We need quality to effectively enrich the members of our churches and we need quantity to have a voice within our community and to actually have the capacity to get things done. Having one unified voice within a region heightens the chances of achieving big goals. Furthermore, policy-makers and government officials don’t respect the church per say, they respect quantity. It doesn’t matter what you think, how you think it, or how much quality your church has; you are only important and valuable in the eyes of politicians if you have influence. As one who has a Bachelors Degree in Political Science, I understand the fundamental importance of being actively involved in political decision-making. We must understand that though we may not be thinking about politics, politicians are always thinking about us. The decisions that they make affect our education, our employment, our neighborhoods, and more importantly, our families. Though there are 100+ Haitian-American churches in Philadelphia, Haitian-American Christians in Philadelphia are overlooked because we are divided.
“Most of these newly established churches are founded as a result of unresolved quarrels between Pastors and Leaders as opposed to the blessing of overwhelming membership.” Throughout my research I have spoken to numerous Pastors as well as leaders and in speaking with them I learned that many of them left their previous church and/or started their own church because they had a disagreement with their previous Leader. While I absolutely don’t believe that starting a new church is the answer to an unresolved quarrel, I must not be ignorant to the fact that there are usually many attempts to resolve the issue before one finally makes the ultimate decision to leave. This part is what I’d like to refer to as “The Big Elephant in the Room.” The elephant is big, everyone sees it, but no one wants to address it. Well, it needs to be addressed and further ignoring it will only increase the size and weight of the elephant. As a Haitian-American who was raised by two Haiti-born parents, and as one who grew up in the Haitian-American church, I can confidently say that Haitians are characteristically prideful. On the positive end, we are resilient, we love who we are, we never allow anyone to put us down, and we don’t take no for an answer. On the negative end, however, we think we’re always right, we have a hard time admitting and/or apologizing for our wrongs, and we often want to see others do well but never better than us. To go a little deeper, let’s review our Haitian roots: On November 18, 1803 we defeated Napoleon’s troops at the Battle of Vertiere and declared our independence from French colonial oppression on January 4, 1804. That realization was without a doubt the result of a collective resolve. Without both the quality and quantity of our mutual tenacity, we would not have been able to accomplish such a great mission as our national victory over slavery and colonial oppression.
It is my belief that the positive aspect of our inherent national pride is what led us Haitians to win our independence back in 1803, but it is also the negative aspect of such pride that has kept us from making any sort of significant and palpable shared progress since. It is sad to know that the first black republic and first to defeat slavery, colonialism, and white supremacist ideology is now a third world country widely known for living under one crisis after another. There has been a long trend of political and economic instability in Haiti since the duping and capture of Toussaint L’ouverture, Haiti’s founder and liberator, by Napoleon’s army. Because the two main industries since the country’s founding have been government and farming, the country has been plagued by adventurous henchmen and foreigners looking to line their pockets by taking control over the reins of government and by extension over the means of production. Let’s take Baby Doc and Papa Doc (Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier) for instance, whether or not Haiti was in better or worse shape under their régime is debatable, but the one thing that we can all agree on is that they did not want to relinquish their power, ergo control over government and means of production. This has and continues to be a huge issue among Haitian people. Those who have power are loathed to share or relinquish it, and those clamoring for a share go out of their way to place traps and other obstacles in the way of those holding on to it. I believe that the resolution to this ever-growing elephant is simple: humility. Yes, we must humble ourselves. 1 Peter 3:8 says “Finally, all of you have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” We must humble ourselves enough to admit our wrongs and we must be humble enough to know when it is time to pass on the torch to another qualified and capable individual. We should never think that we are better than someone else and we should never put our personal desires before the betterment of everyone as a whole. If we don’t learn to work together we will only continue to hurt ourselves. If we don’t get our acts together, Haiti will continue to be a dysfunctional third world country and our churches will continue to be small and ineffective. As Leaders it is important for us to understand that being in a position of power has no value if the very entity we have power over is falling apart. It is when what we are in charge of is flourishing, is fruitful, and is effective that our title holds weight. Furthermore, passing on the torch to others does not diminish our accomplishments. In fact, it leaves a legacy of excellence and a trail of honor behind. Finally, no wrong should ever be unresolvable. If there is an existing quarrel between leaders, we should work it out and take the necessary steps towards seeking a resolve. One can only hope, however, that all parties involved will humble themselves. With the guidance of the Holy-Spirit, all things are possible.
“Many of these same churches are financially unstable due to low membership numbers, inexperienced leadership, and the resulting low productivity in various church ministries deriving from the intersection of these two challenges.” This particular issue really highlights the importance of quantity. Currently, most Haitian-American churches in Philadelphia lack leaders in various departments and due to low membership are unable to establish financial stability. Financial stability is of great importance. Money talks, and without it, there are many things that a church simply cannot do. Among such things are: meeting building maintenance needs, successful community outreach efforts, evangelical/missionary travel efforts, philanthropy etc. A church that isn’t financially stable is not in a position to be able to aid its members or its community. This is extremely problematic, because as entities with NPO statuses, (Nonprofit Organization status) we (churches) ought to provide “public benefits” to our communities. The only way to establish financial stability apart from fundraising efforts is to increase church membership. Because with great membership, comes great contribution.
As far as placing inexperienced individuals in leadership positions is concerned, that isn’t wise at all. Often times Pastors with low membership appoint inexperienced individuals into leadership roles, because they don’t have a more qualified alternative. There usually isn’t an equipped candidate available to take on the job, so the Pastor, desperate to fill the position, works with what he/she has. When an individual is prematurely installed into a leadership position, he or she is bound to fail. We know of course that God sometimes equips the unqualified to take on roles that no one ever imagined could, but this isn’t to say that we should just go around placing people in roles prematurely. During my research, I had the opportunity to come in contact with leaders who felt overwhelmed by the load attached to their positions, and who so desperately desired to throw in the towel. Many of them expressed their wish to attend a church where they didn’t feel pressured to lead before their time. If leaders feel lost and inexperienced, the departments in which they govern will inevitably produce poor and mediocre results. Furthermore, very few people desire to attend struggling churches. A church that lacks functional departments with experienced and trained leaders will continue to have a hard time increasing membership, because let’s face it, there’s nothing appealing about a struggling organization. Quality births quantity, and quantity births effective change.
“In an effort to sustain a network between Haitian-Christians in Philadelphia, Haitian-American churches have made a ritual out of fellowship and support of each other’s annually recurring programmatic events. While the idea of supporting other churches is a great and necessary function of the church, the number of programmatic events has increased to the point where the cross support merits consolidation of some of these churches.” My church, like many other churches, has about ten annually recurrent events. As a church, ten events are very doable and do not pose a threat to the overall productivity of the church. The problem, however, is that of the 100+ Haitian-American churches in Philadelphia, almost all of them also have at least ten (or more) recurring annual events. As a result, instead of having to attend ten recurring events in a year for one church, members now have 100 or more annually recurring events that they are exhorted to attend every year. That is of course assuming that of these 100+ churches, each Pastor has at least 10 churches in their circle of Pastors with whom they have “fellowship”. The swelling of church events in the Haitian-American community in Philadelphia has left very little room to tackle more important things. In addition, such events have become redundant and indistinguishable. The supporting of church events is not the kind of networking our community needs. What our community desperately needs is a network of Haitian and Haitian-American elected leaders, doctors, lawyers, engineers, educators, scholars, artists, business owners and other professionals to further the mission of strengthening our communities and families in Philadelphia and in Haiti. This could be done through programmatic workshops, training sessions, seminars, business and professional networking events etc. Occupying our time with redundant and repetitive church service events not only take away from our advancement as a people, but they also weaken our growth. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that we should get rid of those annually recurring programmatic events. My point is that we should consolidate churches, because if there weren’t so many little churches, there wouldn’t be so many of the same redundant and repetitive events each week.
“Last but not least, the straining and striving described above have led many Haitian-American youths and young adults who grew up in the Haitian-American church to either leave to attend non-Haitian churches or to cease from attending any church at all.” This issue really hits home. I have witnessed firsthand the amount of 1st generation Haitian-American youths who have either left the church or don’t attend church at all. Many of these youths are discouraged by the current status of the Haitian-American church and are disinterested. We always say that the youths are the church of tomorrow, but our actions don’t depict that. It is important to embrace the youth because they are the ones who will replace us. After speaking with several young people, the most consistent excuse that I have found for their absence from the Haitian church is that they don’t feel connected. Many of them feel that they have outgrown the old traditional ways of doing things and that they desire more sound and critical teachings. Furthermore, they feel that their talents are not being fully embraced and that some of their leaders don’t trust them to take on greater roles within the church. The decrease of American-born Haitian youths in the Haitian church is extremely problematic, because many of them are college graduates who have a lot of knowledge that they can contribute. In addition, their absence further adds to the lack of financial stability in the church. It is important that our predecessors use wisdom to realize that change must occur. I don’t believe that the complete entrusting of power to the youth is the answer, but I do believe that a sharing of power between the young and the old is necessary. Those before us should serve as mentors and advisors, not as dictators and imperishable leaders.
Friends, having reviewed all of these things, my questions to you all are as follow: Is God pleased? Do our churches accurately represent the splendor of God? Are we reaching our full potential? Philippians 2:2 says “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” No one person is responsible for the current state that we are in; we all are responsible. We must all take full responsibility and be willing to work together to rectify our wrongs. It is never too late to start over again. Let us leave the past where it belongs and work together towards a better future. May the Spirit of the Lord convict your hearts and I pray that a burning desire for the work of God will ignite in you to do what you know is right. Change begins with us…
Pastor Jennifer M. Joseph