Liberia: Churches Chided for ‘Neglecting the Poor’

Reverend Dr. James Bombo Sellee.  

— “We take big collection boxes and carry them around to collect offerings while the people in our midst are hungry. Shame on us,” says Bishop Sellee

The Bishop of the Episcopal Church of Liberia, Dr. James B. Sellee has chided churches for neglecting the “oppressed, underprivileged, and distressed,” many of whom are members of their congregations. 

Bishop Sellee, speaking at the induction of Reverend Dr. Samuel B. Reeves as President of the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC) on June 3, reminded some of the country’s leading prelates in attendance that the church as a body has failed in catering to the needy.

Sellee made the statement on June 3, just two days before his enthronement as Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Liberia. He noted that while churches are collecting offerings from their members, including the poor, they are doing nothing to help those in need — many of whom do much to contribute to the Church through offerings and tithes. 

“We take big collection boxes and carry them around to collect offerings while the people in our midst are hungry,” Bishop Sellee said.  “Shame on us! It is not about reading the scriptures to the people, but doing something for those who are in need. Shame on us, when we have hungry people in our midst and we cannot feed them.” 

“Let’s think about the ordinary people. You are their representatives. You are the voice for the nation. You have to be the voice of God to Liberia. You have the prophetic gift. The prophets were people who told the truth on all of the issues of the day. You are the voice of the oppressed. In your advocacy, take care of those who are in need. It is to serve those who are in need,” the Bishop said while criticizing the churches. 

Dr. Reeves is the Senior Pastor of the Providence Baptist Church and President of the Liberia Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention. Providence Baptist Church is the oldest church in the Republic and celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2021. 

The LCC is an Ecumenical Christian organization in Liberia, founded in 1982. 

Bishop Sellee meanwhile argued that until there is love for one another in the Church and people learn to support the cause of God for the good of the nation, there will never be a collective success that might embody the spirit of unity.

Relying on Romans 13 verse 7, he said everyone should be given what is due to him or her.

“Give to everyone what you owe them: taxes, if you owe taxes; revenue, then revenue; respect, then respect; honor, then honor,” the Bishop said. “I call on Dr. Reeves and his co-workers to be agents of change and stand up for the poor and the oppressed as well as ensure the rights of people are defended and guaranteed.”

And touching on disagreements among religious leaders, Bishop Sellee noted that the act of criticism without proffering solutions is bad and is eating up the fabric of the church and the society at large.

“Paul tells us in Romans Chapter 12 verse 10: ‘Be devoted to one another in love.’ Honor one another above yourselves. This is what we want. A peaceful transfer of power is not only about politics but the Church, too,” he said.

Bishop Sellee’s reproving remarks come a week after the Pastoral Network for Peace condemned the election of Dr. Reeves as President of the LCC and called on the election committee to nullify the election results.

The group, among other things, fears that politics might sway the advocacy of the LCC given Dr. Reeves’ political background even though he is also a preacher of the gospel. If he is allowed to take the helm, they believe, he might not be neutral. 

In 2017, as a clergyman, Dr. Reeves detached himself from pastoral duty and contested on the ticket of Movement for Economic Empowerment (MOVEE) as Vice Standard Bearer to the former Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia, Dr. J. Mills Jones. After that election, he resumed his position and it is not clear if he is still a member of the party, which has close links with the governing CDC. 

Defending his group’s position, the leader of the Pastoral Network for Peace, Bishop Justice Nyonsiea, said political neutrality should be the hallmark for those assuming leadership at the level of the LCC — although he did not cite any particular clause of the constitution of the Council of Churches that speaks against any member or leader’s participation in politics.

The pastoral group, sometimes called the National Pastoral Network for Peace, is on record for having endorsed the 2020 senatorial bid of Representative Thomas Fallah, Montserrado County District #5 Representative. 

The group was accused of being paid for the political endorsement, an accusation they denied. “We stand to make godly leaders through constitutional elections to enhance spiritual oversight of leaders,” the group said then in defense of their endorsement.  

In 2017, they also endorsed President George Weah's presidential bid. Last year, the President gifted them a vehicle to “perform regular spiritual warfare” and for their work in helping Weah get elected.

Responding to his colleagues’ claims, Dr. Reeves noted that he is no longer a politician and is committed to the declaration of political neutrality and objectivity as rooted in the council of churches’ preamble. 

He added that no member of this administration will serve as a spokesperson or affiliate of any political party, as they stand ready to do God’s work and “the work of our people with neutrality and objectivity.”

Dr. Reeves noted that while the Church of Liberia has been divided for over 200 years, it is imperative that they come together in unity, and strive in accordance with the words of the Apostle Paul in “Ephesians 4:5-6, to clear the way and open it up for the realization of unity.”

“In the words of our Preamble, — as the conscience of the nation, and a reconciling force in time of disharmony and cognizant of our role in always maintaining peace, and, because of the diversity of our ministry, ecumenical commitment and unity, we the officers inducted here today, hereby reaffirm our commitment to the following propositions:  the declaration of political neutrality and objectivity as rooted in godly integrity,” Dr. Reeves assured the public and his critics.

Dr. Reeves is noted for speaking out against bad governance and has said he will be neither an enemy nor a friend to the Weah administration.

He added that despite his commitment not to be the enemy to or friend of, the Council of Churches under his watch will partner with the government on national concerns, providing wisdom and the promotion of free speech and the separation of state from religion — as well as resisting evil and corruption in Liberia at all levels — in government and the Church.

“We commit to the promotion of freedom of religion, food security, better health, education, and Peace and Justice, as well as the promotion of gender parity. We commit to being a voice in the promotion of peace, good governance, and human rights in Liberia,” he said. “We commit to gender equity in the dispatch of our nation’s resources; we oppose ‘get-rich-quick’ activities through the misuse of government positions and powers.”

Dr. Reeves added that there is an urgent need for the church to join the fight against corruption as corruption has deprived the country of its full potential. 

He promised not only to ensure the LCC is gender and youth sensitive but also regional, so as to do away with an exclusive Monrovia-based organizational idea by moving “quickly to strengthen our efforts to have a national presence by putting offices in the capital city of every county around the country.”

Meanwhile, Bishop Kortu Brown, the immediate past president of the Council of Churches, said members can disagree and agree and can have different aspirations but should always learn to celebrate one another in the end.

Bishop Brown is the founder and general overseer of New Water in the Desert Apostolic Pentecostal Church.