In Reaction to "The War Next Time: Fighting Fire With Fire"

By George Werner

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

August 28, 2002

I am writing in response to Theodore T. Hodge's article, "The War Next Time: Fighting Fire With Fire []", posted on on August 26, 2002. Mr. Theodore T. Hodges, whom I suspect is a Liberia living in the United States, writes with seeming authority about the role of the Liberian religious community in helping to alleviate the sufferings of Liberians, within and without Liberia. His perspective seems to be that the Christian Church should be a welfare institution and should be vocal about all the things that are wrong with the Liberian government. To convey his message, Mr. Hodge asks several questions about the role of the Christian Church in postwar Liberia:

"Has the Church lost its conscience?"

"What about the rest of the Church, apart from Archbishop Michael Francis?"

"Aren't there enough Catholic priests, Episcopal clergy, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran and other Church leaders who are appalled enough to challenge the government's immoral stance on the issues of the day?"

Have Liberian Church leaders become spineless?

"Do Church leaders stay silent about these highly violate issues because of the relative immunity they enjoy while the masses are submerged in utter misery?"

"Doesn't the Good Book warn us about cutting deals with Satan?" etc.

The intention here is not to dismiss Mr. Hodge's claims outright. He is as concerned about Liberia as any Liberian should be and is probably seeking a way that can best bring lasting peace to Liberia. However, reading his essay gives one the impression that he has very little or no knowledge about what or who the Church is and the role of the Church in any society. Furthermore, he seems not to be aware of the historical position of the Christian Church in Liberian politics, let alone the Church's role in Liberia since the April 12, 1980 coup d'état. There is also an insinuation that while the United States asks for a non-violent end to the Liberian Civil War, Washington is supporting violent efforts elsewhere in the world aimed at bringing about political change. One senses a frustration with the US government for not supporting the Liberian war agenda. By making these assertions, if they are to be seen in this light, Hodge places the Liberian Christian Church side by side with Washington. This kind of analysis is bereft of objectivity, to say the least. Here are a couple of facts in response to some of the questions Mr. Hodge wants answered.

1. Has the Church lost its conscience? - A simple description of conscience is one's ability to discern right from wrong. Conscience encompasses moral education or formation. God has endowed all of us with the ability to choose between right and wrong daily. Often that dividing line is blurred by other factors such as human willfulness, psychological and cultural needs. No one can downplay the role of the Liberian Christian Church in helping to form the consciences of Liberians for well over a century now. The objective has always been to form a citizen aware of his or her rights and responsibilities.

2. What about the rest of the Church, apart from Archbishop Michael Francis? - Archbishop Michael Francis best epitomizes the sufferings endured by the helm of the Liberian Christian Church, including the Interfaith Council of Liberia, for being outspoken about the culture of violence, the evils of injustice in the Liberian society, and cultural sycophancy. He has issued several pastoral letters, in collaboration with other bishops, to highlight the sufferings of the day. His efforts form part of the many saintly sacrifices of so many Liberian Christians about whom we hear nothing for reasons best known to the media. The people of God are the Church! That is why our choices are as essential as those of the Church's hierarchy. Church leaders write and speak about Liberia's moral challenges, but they cannot make choices for individual Liberians.

3. Aren't there enough Catholic priests, Episcopal clergy, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran and other Church leaders who are appalled enough to challenge the government's immoral stance on the issues of the day? - All the various Christian Churches in Liberia are contributing to the postwar rebuilding process. The Catholic Church has the National Catholic Secretariat that has various arms including Education Secretariat, Development Office (supported by Caritas), Health Secretariat, Justice and Peace Commission (JPC), Radio Veritas, Youth Secretariat. Archbishop Michael Francis has appointed both laity and clergy to manage these offices. The Methodist Church has a development office on 12th Street. The Lutheran World Service is very active in Liberia not only providing jobs for Liberians but also helping to rebuild the country. The Episcopal Church runs Cuttington University, which, while we're on the subject, has better learning facilities than the University of Liberia. In brief, all the Christian Churches, small and big, known and unknown, are contributing in some way to the integral development of postwar Liberia. Together with other religions (Islam and African Traditional Religion worshippers), they have formed an ecumenical group (Interfaith Council) that continues to play a positive role in the peace process. Church leaders are not responsible for the utter misery of the Liberian people. Successive systemic failures and those who finance and wage war are responsible for the suffering of the Liberian people. By doing good quietly, ordinary Liberians, Christian or not, contribute significantly to the emerging Liberia. With this said, it is safe to say that the Liberian Church, which consists of individual Liberians, is not spineless.

4. Doesn't the Good Book warn us about cutting deals with Satan? - In an article, Liberia: the Things That Make for Peace, published in the Inquirer Newspaper in October 2001, I made the point that while Charles Taylor must be held accountable for some of the atrocities committed against the Liberian people in the past twelve years, Liberians should not hold him alone responsible for our misfortunes. Liberia has never been a truly united country, before and after 26 July 1847. Some ethnic groups have always been "more equal than others." Stark divisions have always existed economically, politically, socially, and religiously. The history of Liberia is replete with stories of "dark things", stories of compatriots whose lives have been sacrificed on the field of greed for power and wealth, stories of a promise betrayed. All Liberians, collectively and individually, are being called upon to face Liberia's past and our own hands in it. Genuine peace is not attainable if we as a nation cannot acknowledge and reclaim our past. If the truth of our past remains unknown, it will be hard to heal memories, reshape the present, and refocus on the future. We must learn from the mistakes of the past. Part of the learning process includes desisting from "Satanizing" others. Not everyone who works for or with Charles Taylor is an evil person. Come to think about it, we are all good people who do bad things at times.

To conclude, Theodore T. Hodge's article, The War Next Time: Fighting Fire With Fire, is his own perspective on present day Liberia and what he thinks can be done to bring about lasting peace and relief for war wearied Liberians. He suggests that the Liberian Christian Church and the United States government are silent in the face of Liberia's many challenges, moral and developmental. These contentions are sidetracking what many Liberians know to be truths. One cannot depend on another country to repair damages one has deliberately brought upon oneself. Even if American weapons are being used in Liberia, Liberians who use them are educated enough to reject all that leads to self-destruction. While all of us are entitled to our opinions in a democracy, care must be taken to research assertions that are clearly distorted and questionable.

There is something both divine and human about the Church. The Church is God's but she is also "the people of God". At such, individuals within the institutional Church err and are in need of conversion. This should not, however, undermine the good efforts of the Liberian Christian Church (and the Liberian Moslem community) aimed at bettering Liberia. The Liberian War has killed many Church personnel, not forgetting the five American Nuns allegedly murdered by the NPFL.

As individuals, and as a people, we must seek peaceful means of ending warfare in Liberia. War doesn't end war, although one understands the impatience of those good people who use violence as a strategy in accomplishing their aims. In the same vein, every Liberian must at some point ask himself or herself the following questions: What is my part in the ongoing civil war in my country? What can I do to stop rather than financing it? What kind of Liberia do I desire?

As Archbishop Michael Francis writes, "If we examine our personal, societal and national lives there is much that is sinful, much that is wrong, much that calls God's wrath on us. We must therefore examine these and with God's Graces, repent of them, ask for God's and our neighbor's forgiveness and reform our lives. For what is going on in our society today, in our country and our nation one wonders if the past has taught us any lessons. We do the same things, commit the same sins and spiritually destroy ourselves. What kind of people are we? Can we learn from the past? Where are we headed to as a People and Nation? We always blame others for our negative and sinful behaviors, not ourselves." (Advent Pastoral 2001, Be Ye Perfect)

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