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The Christianity of Indigenous Africans

Broadly speaking, the churches to which indigenous Liberians belong have been of two kinds?those thought of as kwi and those that are not. In this context being kwi is not necessarily more highly valued but is simply a characterization of the style of the organization, a style marked by relative formality and decorum. Services in churches that are not kwi tend to be more ebullient; dancing and occasional street processions in colorful costumes are features of their practice. Many emphasize the possibility of direct experience of the Holy Spirit. In some, prophets, who interpret dreams and visions and prepare amulets containing Biblical inscriptions, play a leading role. In most of these churches, some form of spiritual or faith healing is practiced. These churches are characterized by the congregation's active participation in services as well as in organizational and other activities. Usually, there is such a proliferation of offices within each congregation that as many as one?third of the members have specific roles within the hierarchy at any time. This pattern of involvement may be a major reason why these churches tend to split, thus doubling the number of available offices. No clear distinction can be drawn between the adherents of kvoi and other churches. Methodist and Roman Catholic (or other kwi) churches have been attended in the rural areas by nonliterate villagers and in the urban areas by barely literate unskilled workers. The latter, having been converted in their home territories, retain their memberships in kwi churches because these are, in a sense, their traditional churches. For many, however, affiliation with a kwi church is part of their commitment to a kwi way o life, often associated, under the first republic, with a devotion to success in politics and in the economy. There has been a tendency for the educated elite to perceive the spiritualist or apostolic churches as the churches of the uneducated. Although a few of the highly educated and upwardly mobile Liberians attended churches of this kind, minor officials, clerks, and skilled craftsmen were members. If such people dominated a congregation, its style tended to be somewhat more formal and restrained than that of a rural or uneducated workingclass population. Referring to Pentecostal and similar churches in the mid1960s, anthropologist Merran Fraenkel made the point that "these are congregations of the underprivileged, and the sermons are, more often than not, against the wickedness of the `world,' the materialism, the corruption, the immorality, the greed, and the hypocrisy of the rich and influential." This approach also characterized the kind of church that appealed to an AmericoLiberian who was not a member of the elite. This protest, however, rarely took the form of direct attack on specific political, economic, or social institutions or on specific members of the elite, nor did it appear that these churches were foci of anti?regime political mobilization in the 1960s and 1970s. In a sense they helped indigenous Liberians, who had access to few of the rewards of the society, to value themselves by rejecting the values of the elite. They did not, however, strive to change the society. Further, the churches were small and ethnically fragmented, conditions not conducive to the formation of politically relevant groups. To the extent, however, that membership in such churches has reflected, among other things, a sense of alienation from the status quo of the first republic, it is possible that a change in the political and social order will lead to a change in the orientation and membership of some churches.

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