One of the two female candidates contesting for the Lutheran Church in Liberia (LCL), Rev. Oretha Miller Davis, has been denied the right to contest.
Rev. Davis was denied based on what the bishop of the diocese, Dr. Jensen Seyekolo, described as "unchristian behavior".
Rev. Davis is the pastor of the Harrisburg Parish and head of the HIV and Aids program of the LCL. She is one of the two female pastors who, for the first time in the history of the LCL, has aspired for the church's highest position.
However, her ambition has now come to an end after Bishop Seyenkolo revoked the Church's electoral body's decision by issuing a notice of suspension. The suspension means her bishopric bid has been disqualified as hundreds of delegates and non-voting members gathered today to elect a new bishop for the Lutheran Church in Liberia (LCL).
The election, which is taking place in Gbarnga, Bong County at the St. Mark Lutheran church, brings together parishioners from across the country and other guests from outside the country and within.
The 19th Biennial Convention and 162nd Anniversary of the church bishopric election is expected to replace Bishop Seyekolo who has served the institution for nearly 10 years consisting of two five year terms based on the LCL constitution.
However, the decision to stop Rev. Davis from participation in the election has sparked some mixed reactions from the conventioneers, some terming it as not being reconciliatory while others see it as a deterrent.
A deacon from one of the parishes, who preferred to remain anonymous, told our reporter that he was not pleased with the manner in which the Bishop of the church has conducted himself to decide to deny the candidate.
“I see the decision as a challenge, meaning that as leader of the church before decisions are taken they must be thoroughly examined. The Leaders in Africa, even in Liberia, we don’t like for people to tell us the truth as the truth makes many leaders very angry. Whenever some leaders are wrong they fail to accept. You must put God first because this is the body of Christ. Apny decision that is not good will truly affect the church,” our source explained.
“Having an election of the church with more candidates in itself is a division. We had five aspirants and now we are left with four. Where do you expect these supporters of the aspirants who have been denied to carry their votes? This is not the right thing to do in my mind and so I think the Bishop shouldn’t have taken this erroneous decision for the peace and unity of the church,” he added.
But on the contrary, another delegate who also asked not to be named said that the decision was something that the convention cannot undo.
“This is the church and as such we as ministers must be very careful how we behave. Considering that the decision was not only taken by the Bishop and it was also the Executive Council we have very little to do about it,” this source told our reporter.
A supporter of the aggrieved candidate, Jerome Kollie told the Daily Observer that the right of his aspirant of choice has been violated.
“I see this as a witch hunt, something that violates the right of my leader to participate. This is the issue that was raised at the women’s convention when my leader was said to have created the padamodium. The Bishop set up a committee to have my leader investigated which was not independent. Some members of the committee are the very pastors who are contesting this election today. Why were such people placed on the Board to investigate my Reverend? We feel that it was not a rightful thing for the Bishop to do,” he said.
Jerome went as far as narrating that his candidate did reach the Bishop to apologize to him in order to find a common understanding of the issue, but to no avail.
“This is the tradition of the church that once you wrong your leader you must extend an apology. My leader also attended the Men’s convention sometime last month and apologized, yet the Bishop has insisted,” he sadly narrated.
“I hope this issue will come on the floor today for discussion for a convention to decide. However, if this does not happen we will have to live with the decision and support another candidate of our choice we think is capable to lead our church,” he continued.
Accordingly, earlier there were five contestants qualified but they are now left with four — three male pastors and one female. The eligible voters will determine today through the ballot which one of the candidates is best suited to lead the church for the next five years.
It is not yet clear whether that the convection will today bring the issue of Rev. Davis on the floor for discussion.
The Lutheran constitution states that the convention is the highest decision making body of the church but, in the absence of the convention, the Executive council decides critical matters for the church.
Delivering his annual report on Friday, Bishop Seyekolo said that the state of the Lutheran church as he leaves it is relatively cordial, although there are some levels of misunderstanding.
He said that the Laity has blamed the pastors for most of the problems in the church.
Commenting on the status of the Rev. Davis, the Lutheran bishop said that the aspirant in question was suspended for two months from the pastoral office and, therefore, her chances to run as a candidate today no longer exist.
He said that the decision was taken after a thorough investigation conducted by a special committee along with the Executive Council and endorsed by him.
The bishop explained that the problem came from the National Women Auxiliary election a month ago where the aspirant and some other women exhibited some level of disrespect toward him and others.
“The convention was beset by conflict and unfortunate incidents for most of the session. There were things like an electrical fire, snake stampedes and, worst of all, like unchristian behavior to one another behavior that lasted throughout the convention and beyond,” he informed the convention attendees as he delivered his annual report.
The Bishop said several other individuals, including the aspirant, are currently under suspension as the result of their involvement in the commotion during the National Women Auxiliary election. He however, did not name other other persons involved.
Dr. Seyenkolo said as the result of the conflict he has nullified the outcomes of the women’s election and has mandated that the same leadership continue to steer the affairs of the Auxiliary for a period of one year.
This decision of the Bishop about the women’s election has also come under serious criticism by some members of the church who have stated that it wasn’t the right of the bishop to render such a decision but should have been handed to the election committee set up by the women auxiliary.
Meanwhile, the Daily Observer attempted to speak with some of the decision makers of the church and the election committee but they declined to comment on the issue regarding the denial of Rev. Ortha Miller Davis.
The four candidates now in the race for the LCL bishopric election are, Rev. Moses Gobah, a pastor serving in the United States whose status to run for bishop in Liberia was earlier challenged by some pastors; Rev. Victor Padmore of the St. Luke Lutheran church; Rev. Mulbah Zayzay of the Millsburg Lutheran Parish and Rev. Janice Faijue Gonoe of the St. Peters Lutheran Parish.
Rev. Mulbah Zayzay, among other things if elected, has promised to transform the church by expanding the ministry of the LCL to increase visibility across Liberia, engage in active human rights and social protection interventions and improve the educational and health systems of the church.
Rev. Victor Padmore, whose fourth time it is in LCL bishopric elections, has vowed to improve evangelism, specifically in rural parishes and ensure the development of a vibrant Sunday school department and sustainability of the church, among others.
Rev. Moses Gobah has said that he remains committed to improving the human resource development of the church through education and enhancing spiritual growth amongst others.
Rev. Janice Gonoe says she intends to financially sustain the church through investment and foster unity among the clergy and members of the church.
The chairman of the election committee, James Fromayan, who is an elder of the church, has promised a transparent and peaceful election.
He told participants at the convention not to worry about the outcomes of the election because he is going to ensure that it goes well.
“Though a member of the church, we don’t have interest in any of the aspirants. We will make sure whosoever deserves this opportunity through your votes cast has it,” he assured the convention.
He further said that it was not possible for any candidate to obtain fifty percent of the votes cast to emerge as a winner, but rather people should expect that there will be a second round in the process to determine the winner.
Mr. Fromayan is a former commissioner of the national election body of Liberia.