Bishop Kortu K. Brown, President, Liberia Council of Churches
Rev. Christopher Wleh Toe, I, Secretary General,
Other Officers and Members, LCC;
The Right Rev. Arnold Temple, President, All Africa Conference of Churches, Heads and Staff of the AACC present, Other International Guests present;
Distinguished Guest Speakers,
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am honored and indeed pleased to have been selected to perform the pleasant task of being the Keynote Speaker at the opening of your two-day Church Leaders’ Conference on Peace Building, being held here in Liberia, September 16-17, 2021, in collaboration with the All Africa Conference of Churches of Sierra Leone.
I wish to start off my remarks by first welcoming officers and participants of AACC to Liberia from our neighboring and sisterly nation of the Republic of Sierra Leone. I pray that your stay among us will be hospitable, rewarding, and full of pleasant memory.
I am delighted to address the general theme of this Conference: “Strengthening Peace Consolidation, Church Leaders Action in the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Process.” However, I have decided to divide the theme into two separate but interrelated views: Firstly, to speak about the role of the Church in Peace Consolidation; and Secondly, about the Church Leaders’ Action on the COVID-19 Response and Recovery.
STRENGTHENING PEACE CONSOLIDATION
Churches in Liberia have had a long history of Peace Building, beginning with the birth of our nation in 1847, when our Declaration of Independence was consummated at the Providence Baptist Church. Since then, the Church has always been a mainstay of the Liberian political landscape. Consequently, there has been a fusion between the church and the state at various levels from the colony period in 1822 to the coup d’état in 1980 that ended the first Republic.
Conflict in all human society is as old as society itself. It was clear that after the 1980 coup d’etat, the abrupt change of the political and social orders would engender impediments to the ginger sense of stability the nation had experienced till then. The resultant effects were 14 years of the destruction of lives and infrastructure. When our fratricidal and brutal civil war could not be ended politically or on the battlefield, our religious leaders (the Church and Mosque) stepped in because these religious leaders have had the potential to manage and resolve conflicts through their religious values and principles, which include love, forgiveness, tolerance, justice, and peace.
Beginning in 1980, our Muslim leaders would join with their Christian brethren in continuation of the tradition of church-state collaboration, especially in the process of Conflict resolution and Peace-making.
By 1982, the scattered Christian denominations, rather than working separately, consolidated their strengths when they combined to establish the Liberian Council of Churches (LCC) to serve as a fellowship of all organized bodies of Christians within the Republic of Liberia. The last statistics on the LCC in our possession shows that the Council is comprised of 29 members, which include 19 member churches and 10 member organizations.
The Council has since set itself on the path of a noble mission with these objectives:
To discuss religious and national issues and make relevant recommendations to the government;
To offer prayers for the survival of the nation; and
To mobilize resources to support the needy and advance other church programs.
Since its establishment, the Council’s active performance over the years records its accomplishments in the resolution of national issues for peace consolidation and development in Liberia. For example, the LCC has been an active participant in all peace negotiations or settlements of Liberian civil conflicts, including its most successful role in helping to negotiate the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2003 that finally ended our 14 years of civil war.
I feel therefore greatly honored to be selected to participate in this Conference as a keynote speaker, and must congratulate the officers and members of the LCC for continuing its noble mission to tackle a more universal conflict as it now endeavors to confront the challenges of the Coronavirus Pandemic with goal to proffer actions that Church leaders can undertake in the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Process. I have no doubt that this Conference will succeed during these two days of deliberations with that spirit of resoluteness to formulate, endorse, and sign a Statement as a roadmap to strengthen Peace, Reconciliation, and Healing during this challenging time of global devastation brought upon us by COVID-19.
It is noteworthy that besides its national engagements, the LCC has collaborated with various governments in West Africa as well as with other international community and religious organizations such as the All Africa Conference of Churches. Also, during the various periods of our Civil War, the Council demonstrated its inclusiveness and tolerance for diverse views in the arena of peacemaking when it joined with our Muslim leaders within the Muslim Council of Liberia, another religious organization, to form the Religious Leaders of Liberia (RLL), a combined and more forceful national partnership in order to resolve conflicts and strength Peace within our country so that we may no longer experience such a calamity that set our country back. The group transcended religious divisions to show the necessity of ending the violence and bloodshed that was tormenting the lives of Liberian citizens.
Such farsightedness, having both the Church and the Mosque working together to manage conflicts in Liberia, has strengthened the consolidation of the Peace we enjoy today, as both groups have over the years played an active and combined role in appealing for Peace following the violent civil wars that engulfed the country.
Generally, what is the role of the Church in Peace-making? The role is complex, but it simply involves either curbing or managing conflicts. Such efforts continue to be necessary and needed issues of conflicts are still prevalent in Liberia. In other words, our Peace is still FRAGILE! With the entrance of COVID-19 into this volatile landscape with its social and economic challenges characterized by poor governance, the role of Church leaders such as those assembled here at this Conference cannot be overemphasized.
The challenges of COVID-19 have now magnified even more the inequalities in our society, exacerbated by declining economic growth, lack of the Rule of Law, a Culture of Impunity, Corruption, and other societal vices should be a matter of deep concern today as they pose a growing risk of renewed conflict, casting a long shadow over the country.
Looking through the topics to be addressed by speakers at this Conference, I foresee a focus on pathways or the roadmap to overcome key challenges presently facing our country, which are necessary if we are to move our citizens towards a trajectory of maintaining a sustainable peace given the uncertainty about the duration of this pandemic.
In this light, the ‘Church Leaders Action in the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Process’ is not only an appropriate theme but also a strategic approach to peace building. However, if this Conference is to build positive peace, its central aim must be to advance meaningful reconciliation through citizen engagement within, between and among Liberia’s diverse populations, especially those citizens who are underrepresented, underserved, and vulnerable, especially those in the rural areas. Church leaders must take both their needs and views in their actions in order to foster constructive community involvement.
In doing so, I wish to suggest to Church leaders that they should engage the Government to involve more stakeholders, such as religious and community leaders, in the Incident Management Team (IMT) for deliberative purposes. For example, when the President declared the ‘State of Emergency’ in April 2020, religious institutions, both Christian and Islamic, were greatly affected, even having police to shut down their places of worship.
While most Liberians adhered to the condition of both the ‘State of Emergency’ and ‘Health Protocols’ (later announced and enforced by the Ministry of Health), the feelings, perceptions, thoughts and opinions of Liberians regarding the challenges and obstacles brought about by the pandemic were not fully taken into consideration. Thus, in most instances, some citizens violated the enforced health protocols and there were many confrontations between the security/law enforcement officers that could have resulted into violence. Had such incidents gone out of control, our fragile peace could have been derailed.
Going forward, the potential for conflict if the virus continues to spiral with any future new variant, the Government should manage more efficiently and creditably the stimuli packages than it did the last time and must use more prudently the Covid financial resources, both national and international. Even more daunting, the Government must as much as possible alleviate the festing economic, social, political and security challenges in the country rather than to break up violently peaceful protests by citizens as peace and justice are not gained through the barrel of the gun but through dialogues, negotiations and persuasions.
I said earlier that our peace is FRAGILE because it must be noted that while Liberians, giving the experiences of brutality during our civil war, do not want to resort to violence any more, they nevertheless perceive the current peace as primarily “negative”. However, the role of the Church and other religious leaders, which can be manifested through dialogue and conferences such as this can lead to the positive attributes of peace, which can foster social harmony, mutually beneficial inter-ethnic coexistence, trust in institutions, and productive citizen–state relations.
During this period of the Pandemic, the role of the Church leaders and other religious leaders for continual peace building and national reconciliation should become community-oriented.
As is obvious by many reports, the COVID-19 global health emergency and its economic and social impacts have disrupted nearly all aspects of life for all groups in society. People of different ages, however, are experiencing its effects in different ways.
We must be ever grateful to the Almighty God that He has spared our country from the worst level of deaths visited on our citizens as compared to other countries around the world. For example, statistics show that between January 3, 2020 to July 16, 2021, there have been 5,306 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 148 deaths, as reported by the World Health Organization. Liberia has administered at least 95,423 doses of COVID vaccines so far. Assuming every person needs 2 doses, that is enough to have vaccinated about 1% of the country’s population. Liberia is reporting 43 new infections on average each day, expressing a 23% peak — with the highest daily average reported on July 8, 2021.
We are blessed indeed as a nation because the situation could have been exacerbated as hospitals have been turning away patients due to their lack of medication. Unfortunately, two major referral health facilities are experiencing acute shortages of basic medical supplies needed to prevent and support treatment of COVID-19. Presently, in our country, the demand exceeds the supply of medicine to treat those affected by COVID-19 due to insufficient funds to support the purchase of medicine unlike in other African countries. This prevailing situation could have a significant negative impact on patient care with the resultant risk of adverse outcome, such as an increased death rate and the likely spread of COVID-19, especially if Liberia experiences an upsurge of any new variant of the virus.
In West Africa, our sub-region, the health care systems are also weak and not strong enough to respond to the pandemics as a Church, the best way out is to devise a strategy around an awareness programs to prevent the spread of the virus and other future outbreaks with health authorities in our countries.
While the Church is in the process of consolidating and strengthening the Peace and the gains we have made in our nation and in West Africa thus far, we are also fighting this horrible corona pandemic. This Conference should help to define the role of the Church as critical to strengthen and consolidate the Peace in our various West African countries by proposing bills that could be legislated for the consolidation of Peace in programs that involve the people taking into consideration their cultural differences and ways of life.
I therefore see the urgency for Church leaders to cater to the needs of the most vulnerable citizens among us.
I would most respectfully like to recommend the following actions to be taken by Church leaders, some of which could be added to the Statement from this Conference about your participation and contribution to the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Process, as follows:
To identify challenges and risks, and integrate concerns for gender equality into major decisions on issues ranging from economic stimulus packages to hazard payments, and improving policies and practices for gender equality and women’s empowerment as they make up majority of nurses and health care workers.
To pay special attention to youth as the COVID-19 poses great risk for young people because of the negative effects of loss in education, employment, mental health and disposable income.
To align short-term emergency responses with investments into long-term economic, social and environmental objectives to ensure the well-being of future generations.
To provide targeted policies and services for the most vulnerable populations, especially in the rural areas.
To contribute and distribute food, non-food items to people in need since the current lockdown has created serious economic hardship for households who depend on daily transaction to get food and other necessities.
To become an Acts-driven church, where the church is not about numbers but about meeting together in small groups to share life.
To connect with people to share Christ’s love, encouragement, and hope for the future.
I wish to conclude these remarks by reminding participants at this Conference about Peace. The Bible says to us to sustain ‘PEACE,’ we must seek and pursue PEACE!
935 total views