The Liberian Episcopal Church Election: A Follow-up

By Theodore T. Hodge

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
December 5, 2007


In my first article on this topic, I argued that Father Jonathan B. B. Hart should not be disallowed to contest the newly scheduled election for Bishop of Liberia; it clearly wasn’t his fault that an irregularity occurred in the process. I also argued that the alleged irregularity was based on a minor technicality and to disqualify the leading vote-getter was out of sync with the issue at hand. Laws of social institutions are not written in stone. The laws should be flexible to conform to the wishes and desires of the members of the church. The voting members of the Liberian Diocese overwhelmingly chose Father Hart to succeed Bishop Neufville; the numbers tell the story. To disqualify him on the basis of a flimsy rule is unconscionable.

In an email I just received from a member of the Episcopal Clergy, this is what he had to say, “The canons of the Church are not or should not be legal tools, instead they should be used as pastoral tools.”

I also received another email from an Episcopalian who happens to be a lawyer as well. He claims to have just read up on “canonical laws” in regards to this case. He is of the opinion that a procedural error occurred in this matter which should not preclude Father Hart from the next election. According to him, “Dean Hart’s name was never forwarded to the West African Synod. The election results were, therefore, nullified as a matter of procedure… The section of the canon would only apply if Father Hart’s name was rejected by the Province of West Africa and thus, there had to be a new election…”

It seems we both agree that Father Hart should not be disqualified simply because an error, through no fault of his, occurred. Now, whether the error was a “mere technicality” or a “procedural error” is immaterial. It is simply unfair that he has to bear the harsh consequences for an error over which he had no control.

There are those who argue that ‘the law is the law and it should be applied no matter who’s involved or what the circumstances are.’ This is a rather dim view to which I don’t apply, as already stated. Laws do not exist in a vacuum, but are a mechanism of dynamic social institutions established by man. Simply put, a law is “a rule of conduct or procedure established by custom, agreement, or authority.” To therefore argue that a law is inflexible and should be irresponsive to the human element is flawed analyses.

I quote a recent article from the Analyst of Monrovia: “As supporting document to his claims, Archbishop Akrofi cited the nullification of two separate election results in the Province both by the late Archbishop George D. Browne of Liberia, when he headed the Province; and Archbishop Koforidua, Ghana, when he also led the Province as Archbishop”.

But one must wonder whether the Archbishop conveniently forgets his own election to the present post and the controversy it engendered based on a technicality or a procedural error. Let’s bring the story up to date for the benefit of those who may not be aware of it.

Our Archbishop Dr. Justice Ofei Akrofi was elected to the position as Primate of the West African Province on September 7, 2003. The election was conducted by Chairman of the Transitional Team and the Chancellor of the Diocese of Accra, Mr. S. Annancy.

That was a procedural error that almost cost the Good Bishop an opportunity to climb the ecclesiastical ladder. According to the same constitution from which he quotes so readily, “The election of a new Primate is expected to be supervised by the Provincial Chancellor and the Provincial Registrar.” However, it is a matter of record that neither of the two was present when the election was held.

The election was nullified, at least temporarily, until an appeal was made to the Episcopal Emergency Synod, otherwise referred to as the extraordinary synod. The enthronement of Archbishop Justice Akrofi, which was to take place on January 25, 2004, was therefore postponed until the intervention. Although there was a clear violation of the constitutional procedure, a compromise was reached and the Bishop of Accra was promoted to Archbishop of the Episcopal Province of West Africa.

Shouldn’t Father Hart be extended the same compassion that Archbishop Akrofi received? I think he is entitled to no less because he has emerged as the favorite choice of the electorate of the Liberian Diocese; that should mean something, just as it did for Bishop Akrofi in the midst of a controversy.

Again, here are the facts as we know them: When the first round of election was held, there were three contestants who garnered the following votes: Dr. Browne, 71; Dr. Sellee, 181; and Rev. Hart, 211. Because none of the contestants got the required two-third majority, a second round was held after Dr. Browne dropped out. In the second round, Dr. Sellee pulled 157 to Rev. Hart’s 296.

It was known that although Rev. Hart got the majority votes, it was quite not enough to constitute the two-third majority needed. But Dr. Sellee is said to have conceded and withdrew. The chancellor who was in charge of the election then declared Rev. Hart the winner.

Well, it can be argued that the election should be held all over again; to start “a fresh”, in the words of Archbishop Akrofi. But to exclude the Rev. Father Hart is a heartless decision --- one that does not take the hopes and aspirations of the Liberian Diocese to heart. These are the kinds of rigid and unscrupulous rules one comes to expect in secular politics. The Church is held at a higher standard and therefore has a responsibility to rise above such pettiness. The decision to disqualify Rev. Father Hart must be reversed, anything less will be lamentable.

© 2007 by The Perspective

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