AN OPEN LETTER TO LIBERIA

0
954
J. Railey Gompah_web.jpg

 

Dear Motherland:

Greetings! This is a letter from my heart to yours; and I beg you to read it carefully and thoroughly before making up your mind.It was with deep concern, and a sense of spiritual brokenness, that I read the banner headline: “Christians, Muslims divided over Liberia’s state religion.” SO, I AM WRITING TO REQUEST THAT ALL LIBERIANS AND DECISION-MAKERS BE EXTREMELY CAREFUL. For more information and clarification, please contact me directly (if publishers include my contact information).

  1. The “Sixty-Four-Dollar Question”

Is Liberia a “Christian state” or “secular state” or something else?The expression “sixty-four-dollar question” came into being when the CBS radio quiz show “Take Italian  or Leave It” (1941-1948) made US$64 the highest award for the correct answer to the most difficult question. It simply means “a crucial question expressing the basic issue on a problematical subject” (Merriam-Webster). As it relates to Liberia, the question — Is Liberia a “Christian state” or “secular state” or something else? —requires more than a simple “YES” or “NO”answer. Some commentary or explanatory note is necessary.

II.Liberia is NOT a “Christian state” and has never been one.Hold your breath, and you will soon find out why.

A.First, Liberia’s ancient history does not support the claim.The First Constitution of Liberia (1847) never specifically classified Liberia as a “Christian state” but simply and vaguely referred to Liberia being based on “Judeo-Christian core values” in passing, thus reflecting an American influence.

B.Second, the Preamble to the 1847 Constitution was far from being “Christian” in view of its divisive nature. Biblical Christianity supports “unity in the faith” (Ephesians 4:13, New International Version). Instead, that Preamble stated: We the people of the Republic of Liberia were originally the inhabitants of the United States of North America.By precluding and excluding the 95-percent segment of the Liberian population (West African tribal landowners) that welcomed an estimated 19,000 Americo-Liberian and Congolese settlers, our Brothers and Sisters who came rejected their kith and kin they met in the homeland. It could be argued that this preclusionary/exclusionary Preamble to the 1847 Constitution of Liberia provided a tacit approval of the “divide-and-concur” policy toward the network of ancient African tribal chiefdom-states of the “Grain Coast” (now Liberia) dating back to the 11th and 12th centuries.

C.Third, my own recollection of recent Liberian history (1974-1978) negates the claim that Liberia is a “Christian state.”At age 27, I was appointed by President William R. Tolbert Jr. to the famed (or infamous… depending on whom you talk to) “Deshield Commission on National Unity” that was created by an Act of the Liberian Legislature on July 22, 1974, and charged with a Divine Mission: “…stamping out every and any idea that may suggest class distinction, separateness or sectionalism among the people of Liberia” (see Historical Dictionary of Liberia by D. Elwood Dunn et al, 2000, page 108). Following a nationwide broadcast by Commission Chairman McKinley A. Deshield, the content of which was diametrically opposed to the purpose of the Commission, several diehard True Whiggers hijacked and manipulated the process, so much so that President Tolbert’s historic vision for a “Wholesome Functioning Society” in Liberia became a total fiasco; and posterity will judge Dr. Tolbert kindly. At our opening session  of the Commission at Monrovia City Hall, I sought permission from the Chairman to address the Preamble to the 1847 Constitution (which was granted); and began to speak when suddenly one True Whig political warhorse (named withheld at this time), himself a Commissioner like I was, called me a “country ass” (excuse me but that’s history) and shouted that I sit down; to which I forcefully replied, “I wouldn’t touch that with a ten-foot pole, you Americo-Liberian-Congo idiot,”and continued to speak. That rather unfortunate exchange ended our first session, and it was downhill thereafter for the Commission and its intended purpose. (Find J. Railey Gompah on page 108 of Historical Dictionary of Liberia, 2000, among four other distinguished Commissioners from Nimba County including Honorable Jackson F. Doe). Now, don’t get me wrong; I had many great friends, and still do, among our blood relatives from the Americas who returned to help us develop the “Land of Liberty,” the “Gem of West Africa,” and the “Lone Star” which championed the cause of continental African freedom for decades.

D.A page out of Liberia’s most recent past contradicts any claim that we have a “Christian state.”According to a globally acclaimed media research and publishing organization, we had a totally different picture:

The testimony and impact of the Church, compromised in the past, must be regained in power and purity. African traditional beliefs, tribal secret societies, fetishism and Freemasonry pervasively influenced every confession of Christianity in Liberia. These resulted in a lack of holiness and spiritual power and the enemy’s insidious influence in the Church. Lack of compassion and care for the most vulnerable was another problem…Pray for the Holy Spirit to purify, renew and build up the body of Christ (Operation World, 7th Edition).

Liberia a “Christian Nation”? Think again!

  1. Reality in postwar Liberia today undermines the claim that Liberia is a Christian state.”No true Christian state can be guilty of “lack of compassion and care for the most vulnerable” (Operation World, 7th Edition).An estimated 1.7 million “children of war” and countless numbers of helpless girls and young women (mostly widows) fend for themselves. While the haves live large and the have-nots live in “quiet desperation” in some of the neediest and emptiest of places in 21st century Liberia, some proponents of Christian statehood are fasting and praying for God’s grace,  but have yet to read the Biblical Mandate (the Guidebook for Biblical Faith) which states in simple English:

No, this is the kind of fasting I want:Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;lighten the burden of those who work for you.Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people.Share your food with the hungry,and give shelter to the homeless.Give clothes to those who need them,and do not hide from relatives who need your help.Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!Feed the hungry,and help those in trouble. Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes. — Isaiah 58:6-12, New Living Translation

If Liberia does NOT do these things, is it a “Christian Nation”? Think again!

  1. To be a Christian nation, Liberia must practice “pure religion” that pleases the LORD God.The Scripture is direct and to the point:Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you”(James 1:27, New Living Translation).
  2. Liberia is not, constitutionally, a “secular state.”

The very definition of the word “secular” or secularism”makes the concept both anti-democratic and antitheticalto the principles of democracy including “freedom of religion” which the 1986 Constitution of Liberia guarantees for every Liberian citizen and resident (see Chapter III, Articles 14 & 18). Webster’s New Dictionary of the English Language (2005) defines being “secular” or holding a view of “secularism” as “indifference to or exclusion of religion”(page 448), In other words, whenever a nation and its people are “secular,” they are diametrically opposed to organized religion by any name or designation (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc.). In practical terms, to say that Liberia is a “secular state” simply means that Liberia is against organized religion. Liberia cannot guarantee “freedom of religion” for its people while, at the same time, being a “secular state” that is opposed to organized religion. The ambiguity speaks for itself. That’s “double talk.”

Moreover, all humanistic philosophies — evolution, atheism, relativism, secularism (and a long list of other “isms”) are intrinsically religious by their very definitions.Webster’s New Dictionary of the English Language (2005) gives four specific meanings to the word “religion”  summarized as follows:

“(1) the service or worship of God or the supernatural; (2) devotion to a religious faith; (3) a personal set or institutionalized system of religious beliefs, attitudes, and practices; (4) a cause, principle, or belief held to with faith and ardor” (page 421).

Major world religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) generally fall in categories 1-3 of the definition above, because the object of their belief and worship is Creator God; although they differ markedly in many ways. The immediate purpose of this communication is not to compare and contrast their respective theologies. From the fourth category of the definition of religion, it is clear that all anti-religious humanistic philosophies (including “secularism”) have a common agenda: “a cause, principle, or belief held to with faith and ardor” (Webster’s, page 421). Assuming thatLiberia’s 2008 National Population and Housing Census report is accurate, the national population is divided into several groups along religious/non-religious lines:Christian (85.6 percent); Muslim(12.2 percent); people claiming no religious affiliation(1.5 percent); members of other religious groups(1 percent); and followers of indigenous religious beliefs (0.6 percent).

          It can be deduced from the definition of “secularism” that a “secular state” of Liberia will have an anti-religious “cause, principle, or belief held to with faith and ardor” (see Webster’s) that contravenes the very democratic principles (“freedom of religion” included) guaranteed by the 1986 Constitution of Liberia, which mirrors the 1847 version based on the United States Constitution. If so, only “people claiming no religious affiliation” (1.5 percent of the population) will enjoy real freedom in Liberia; and guess what that is: “freedom from religion” — which is implied, but not stated, in the Liberian Constitution.So, let me repeat: Liberia is not, and cannot be, a “secular state”and at the same time equally guarantee “freedom of religion”(not excluding “freedom from religion”) which the Constitution glowingly promises. And that, my friends, is a classic example of duplicitythat borders on a philosophy leading from “nowhere to nothing.”

  1. So, then, what type of body politic is Liberia?  Let us revisit the two versions of the Liberian Constitution (1847 and 1986):

“…a Free, Unitary, Sovereign and Independent State, by the name of the Republic of Liberia [with] the Constitution based on the ideals of democratic government” (1847, Article I).Liberia is “…a Free, Sovereign and Independent State[and] the form of government is Republican…”(1986, Preamble& Chapter I, Article 3,). So then here’s what Liberia is:  “a Free, Unitary, Sovereign and Independent State, with a Republican form of Government, based on Democratic Principles”(no reference to “Christian” or “secular” state).There exists no basis here for “Proposition 24.”

What does the 1986 Constitution say about “Freedom of Religion” and other types of liberty in the Republic of Liberia?Chapter III can be summarized as follows (see color-coded emphasis):

All persons shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religionand no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment thereof except as may be required by law to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. All persons who, in the practice of their religion, conduct themselves peaceably, not obstructing others and conforming to the standards set out herein, shall be entitled to the protection of the law. No religious denomination or sect shall have any exclusive privilege or preference over any other, but all shall be treated alike; and no religious tests shall be required for any civil or military office or for the exercise of any civil right. Consistent with the principle of separation of religion and state, the Republic shall establish no state religion.Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof. This right shall not be curtailed, restricted or enjoined by government save during an emergency declared in accordance with this Constitution.All Liberian citizens shall have equal opportunity for work and employment regardless of sex, creed, religion, ethnic background, place of origin or political affiliation, and all shall be entitled to equal pay for equal work (Articles 14, 15 & 18).

Constitutionally declaring Liberia a “Christian Nation” is both a contravention and violation of the provision that holds that “the Republic shall establish no state religion” (see last color-coded emphasis immediately above).  Stated otherwise, any attempt to undo these provisions of the Constiution of Liberia (1847 and 1986 versions) cited above  — by placing any religious or anti-religious preference in the pages of the Liberian Consitution — could be interpreted and considered in  all its ramifications: (1)  an affront to democratic principles; (2)a detractionfrom the spirit of unity in diversity in any post-conflict environment including Liberia;  and (3) a costly mistake that posterity could phrase as“graffiti on a wall of shame”:failure to learn from mistakes of Liberia’s past history.

For the sake of national unity and peace in postwar Liberia, may I request (plead with) our honorable, distinguished, God-ordained Leaders and Lawmakers to personally and collectively consider the “four fragile freedoms”proposed by U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his “State of the Union” speech before the United States Congress (January 1941). That same year, his proposal was included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights now observed and cherished by all nations of the “Free World.” The “four fragile freedoms” are as follows:

  • Freedom of Speech and Expression— which comes with concomitant responsibility to answer where the exercise of that freedom injures others or limits their freedom.
  • Freedom of Religion/Worship —not excludingfreedom “from” religion/worship.
  • Freedom From Want — lack of basic amenities of life or quality of life.
  • Freedom From Fear — the behavior and practice of subjecting people to man’s inhumanity to man, to the extent that they are made less than human.

What we need today is a “New Liberia” — for all people from all backgrounds and walks of life — with a “Wholesome Functioning Society” (Dr. William R. Tolbert, Jr, 1972). Remember what the Creator says, "Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” The 1847 Constitution of Liberia had legitimate reasons for providing that “only persons of color may be admitted to citizenship and granted the right to hold real property in the republic”(1847 Liberian Constitution, Article V). The Constitutional Convention of 1847 explained what had happened to the African American emigrants who had relocated to Liberia (West Africa):

In some parts of that country (the United States), we were debarred by law from all the rights and privileges of men…We were everywhere shut out from all civil office. We were excluded from all participation in the government. We were taxed without our consent. We were compelled to contribute to the resources of a country, which gave us no protection. We were made a separate and distinct class, and against us every avenue to improvement was effectually closed. Strangers from all lands of a color different from ours, were preferred before us. We uttered our complaints, but they were unattended to, or only met by alleging the peculiar institutions of the country. All hope of a favorable change in our country was thus wholly extinguished in our bosoms, and we looked with anxiety abroad for some asylum from the deep degradation.— Constitutional Convention of 1847

And yet, 139 years later, the 1986 Liberian Constitution left that provision intact, by explaining: “In order to preserve, foster and maintain the positive Liberian culture, values and character, only persons who are Negroes or of Negro descent shall qualify by birth or by naturalization to be citizens of Liberia” (1986 Constitution of Liberia, Chapter IV, Article 27b).REALITY? In today’s “Global Village” where people, uprooted by circumstances beyond their control, relocate and naturalize irrespective of skin color? How do you explain Liberia’s position to predominantly “White” America, where an estimated 500,000 Liberian Americans and Liberian immigrants live, work and study while supporting their own people in Homeland Liberia? PLEASE, THINK AGAIN!

Let me conclude with an encounter I had with Policymakers of Liberia about 34 years ago. Some members of the People’s Redemption Council government (1980-1985) proposed creation of a “Liberian Ministry of Religious Affairs” that, initially, would be headed by a Christian. My opposition to that proposal (a minority voice which miraculously carried the day) was this: “Any majority religion you prefer now may become a marginalized, mistreated minority religion tomorrow.”Unconsciously, you would have created an opposition movement, with unpredictable ripple effect and consequences. That remains my positon today. “Let sleeping dogs lie”!  In fact, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” (Thomas Bertram Lance, 1977).

LONG LIVE THE REPUBLIC OF LIBERIA: THE “LAND OF LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL”

 

Authors

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here