Liberia: 2 Women Join Race for Lutheran Bishop

From left: Rev. Janice Gonoe and Rev. Oretha Miller Davis

For the first time in the history of the Lutheran Church in Liberia (LCL), female pastors are aspiring to become bishop of the ecumenical body in an election scheduled for April of this year.

The two female pastors, who have expressed their intents to participate in the election, are Rev. Oretha Miller Davis of the Harrisburg Lutheran Parish and Rev. Janice Gonoe, Pastor of the Saint Peter Lutheran Parish in Monrovia.

If the two individuals are qualified by the electoral body of the institution, they will compete alongside three male pastors.  

Rev. Davis is a pastor and regional supervisor of the Lutheran Church in Liberia (LCL) and currently heads the Church’s HIV & AIDS program. She has a master's degree in Theology from the U.S. and a bachelor's degree in education from the University of Liberia. She has served as pastor of two parishes within the LCL.

Rev. Gonoe, the pastor of Saint Peter's, once served as director of the same HIV & AIDS program now being headed by Rev. Davis.  She also holds a master degree in theology from Luther University in the the United States of America. 

Though both women are yet to release their platforms publicly because the church's election commission has not yet qualified the candidates, the issues of pastors’ welfare, education and health remain as priorities of their visions, the Daily Observer has learned. 

Meanwhile, ahead of the election in April, it is reported that a number of the church’s pastors have declared a protest against one of the male aspirants on grounds that the pastor in question is no longer active in the pastoral ministry of the LCL. According to the protesting group, the aspirant is domiciled in the United States of America.

It can be recalled that some delegates of the 2020 LCL convention raised concerns about the tenure and qualification of the aspirant in question. But since then, this issue is yet to be addressed by the Executive Council of the Church or the Board of Mission Theology Evangelism and Adjudication (BMTEA), a body also responsible for policy issues within the LCL. 

According to the LCL constitution before becoming a bishop of the church one must have served the church for 10 years, be at least 50 years of age and possess a master's degree in Theology. 

As a result of the protest, the electoral body has released a circular suspending the publication of qualified candidates.

The announcement to suspend the publication of qualified candidates for the ensuing bishopric election began circulating in Lutheran social media groups since last week. 

“The LCL 2022 bishopric election regrets to inform members of the LCL that the publication of the list of qualified candidates for the position of bishop for the LCL will be delayed for a few days. The reason for the delay in publishing the list in accordance with the committee guidelines and timetable is due to a protest filed against one of the aspirants for the position of bishop,” the communication, signed by Elder James M. Fromayan, chairman of the LCL Committee on Elections, stated.

Mr. Fromayan, who is also a former chairman of Liberia's National Elections Commission, released the above communication on February 16, but did not mention the actual reason for the protest, nor did it identify the aspirant who is the subject of the protest and the protesting pastors.

The pending election will replace the current bishop of the church, Reverend Bishop Dr. Daniel Jensen Seyenkulo who has served the institution for nearly ten years, comprising two 5-year terms.

The protest by the pastors has become a subject of debate among constituent Lutherans; some see it as a practice of democracy, while others think it is simply not healthy for the Church. 

The communication by the LCL Committee on Elections further said that due to the nature of the protest, the Committee has communicated with the office of the bishop to make certain clarification on the aspirants in question before the publication of the list.

“It is the fervent hope of the committee that a list of candidates for the aforementioned position will be published on the aspirant in question before February 23, 2022. 

At the same time, the communication said that the committee on the election will ensure that qualified candidates are still given ample time to canvas.

In a phone interview with the Daily Observer, Mr. Fromayan clarified that the complaint from the pastors against the aspirant in question is about tenure.

“Well, we are aware that some pastors have concerns about the process, which our committee is looking into. We are working to make sure that such a problem is resolved as soon as possible,” he said.

When asked whether the Commission was in consultation with the BMTEA in finding an amicable solution to the protest, Fromayan said the office of the Bishop will find out what are the legal implications to the matter that will enable the committee to clear the candidate.

Meanwhile, some pastors told the Daily Observer that they are so dismayed about the process in which the aspirant, who is the subject of the protest, is being reportedly accepted by the Commission.

According to them, they are not personal about the issue and are not prepared to comment, but are waiting for the decision of the Executive Council or the BMTEA.

"This is a serious issue that we think the Executive Council should have addressed since then. We will not speak to the press at this moment until we can get redress from the legal team or the BMTEA," one of the protesting pastors said.

"Does  the Bishop want to leave the church in crisis? Why will he want to support a candidate who will stay away from the country and only return to contest as a leader? Isn’t this a form of deception? We would really like to see this matter being resolved," another pastor added.

Still, another source said: “The protesters have their rights, but it is not safe for our beloved church. My stand is that we allow the commission’s decisions and we move on with the process.”