PUT RIGHT—OR WRONG—WHERE IT BELONGS

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About a fortnight ago, on Friday, June 24, a noted Liberian entrepreneur and politician, Mr. Benoni Urey, delivered what the Daily Observer Newspaper informed us through a scathing editorial, was an “Important Speech on Craft Masonry.”

Mr. Urey and a number of his Masonic brothers were celebrating June 24, the Feast Day of St. John the Baptist, one of the two Patron Saints of Free Masonry.

Last month’s ceremony “…had been set aside by the Subordinate Lodges in the Liberian Jurisdiction, to pay homage to Saint John the Baptist,” on his Feast Day. The ceremony was held at the Saint Thomas Episcopal Church on Camp Johnson Road in Monrovia, with Mr. Urey as the orator of the day.

But the 11-page speech turned out to be about more than John the Baptist and the Masonic Craft. And it went down well—until he reached the final page.

For the benefit of some of those who knew very little about John the Baptist—or, of the Masonic Craft, for that matter, we briefly will go over a few of the important points the speech contained.

The speaker began with a short explanation about what kind of man John the Baptist, their Patron Saint, had been.

“It is said that John the Baptist was a man of strength and fire, uncompromising to evil or expediency; yet he was courageous, humble, sincere and magnanimous,” Urey explained. “The Baptist was considered a stern and just man, intolerant of sham, pretense, or weakness”, the speaker pointed out among other things.

The orator then shifted to what he called a brief historical analysis of Free Masonry in Liberia, past and present. While at it, he paid homage to the works and suffering of Prince Hall, a Mason and black preacher of distinction who helped plant the seed that led Craft Masonry from the United States to Liberia. He praised the pioneering role of the early Craftsmen as well.

Out of the Prince Hall jurisdiction in the U. S. would come morally upright men, headed by the Rev. Brother Thomas Amos, who championed the cause of opening the Grand Lodge at a Convention in Monrovia in 1867. That group included the First President of Liberia, Joseph Jenkins Roberts, the speaker added.

Mr. Urey then referenced the qualities that those stalwarts showed: “Those were honorable men who risked their lives to come back home to build a black nation, where free men and women would govern themselves. They brought Freemasonry with them and established the Fraternity in Liberia. They labored for Liberia. Some even gave their lives,” he explained.

It was after he spoke on “The role of Freemasonry in the ‘New Liberia,’” that he proclaimed the words that would bring the press, disbelievers and other critics, after him:

“THE ‘NEW LIBERIA’ WE ENVISAGE, WILL BE AND MUST BE ONE WITH A MASONIC HEAD. This new Liberia must have a God-fearing leader who loves and cares for his people. The leader of this new Liberia must be his brother’s keeper. He must be patriotic, honest, and hardworking. He must be, and must stay, in good moral–standing,” the orator pontificated (preached).

And that was what almost ‘did Benoni Urey in’. Had he left out of his speech the first sentence in the paragraph above, he would have found himself ‘home-free,’ by the end of his oration.

A BIT TOO FAR

But the young man had gone too far, many believed; “He went looking for his own trouble—maybe, in the wrong place and at the wrong time as well,” they lectured.

So, shocked by Urey’s unnecessary bravado (courage and bravery, absent common sense) the thinking of the Daily Observer’s editorialist’s, as he picked up his pen to tear Benoni apart, probably ran like this: ‘Is this young man really serious about bringing this nation back to the past? How ironic that he can find none other than a Mason to do us the honor! A Mason, of all people! And bring us back to what? More “Words” again, after so many of his “morally-upright fathers and older brothers promised “Deeds”, but fell short, leaving Liberia a failed state?”

Has he forgotten that unfortunate past so soon?” What would be the point in reverting (moving back) to a previous, undesirable type of behavior—the very definition of ‘recidivism—as the way forward? And at such a critical point in time!

The editorialist’s work was cut out for him. Here’s how he went about it: he took what he dismissed as an arrogant statement, and turned it into a question; then he proceeded to answer his own question. That became the title to the editorial he was going to write. Here it is again:
“Masonic Craft “Must” Lead Liberia? It Is They Who First Must Answer: “What Happened to Liberia?”

The editorial that emerged from that title seemed well crafted, at first glance. And it transitioned pretty smoothly as well, allowing readers to take a sober look back and appreciate the difference between how things had gone wrong in the past, and how they might now be corrected.

But something was missing that helped to undermine the case that the editorial was trying to make against the Craft. Though overweening (arrogant, pompous) some Masons might have been, (their error was more a case of overreaching (extending too far and failing through over-ambition) in a lukewarm effort to fostering (promote, encourage) good governance, that naturally fell short.

But it was upon reading a copy of Benoni Urey’s speech for myself, after one Craft-leader passed me a copy, that I got a clearer picture.

NO SPEECH TO WORK WITH

The Daily Observer had not secured a copy of the speech, as it should have, before writing or publishing its editorial of July 1, 2015. The staff could have arranged for an advance copy or waited for a copy right after Urey had taken his seat. Had the paper followed that cardinal journalistic practice, it would have read and found that Benoni Urey had already answered the fundamental question before it was even asked by the Daily Observer! If that cardinal journalistic rule had been followed, the editorialist would have had no moral, ethical or intellectual courage to write an editorial demanding an answer that Mr. Urey had anticipated and already had answered. So, having inadvertently ignored Urey’s confession of sorts—on behalf of past leaders, today’s leaders and himself—the Observer was forced to again disregard the actual sequence of events related to the receipt of the speech and the confession it contained. Finally printing the entire speech at some point as it has now done, does not cure the ethical breach of standard journalistic practice

Let’s go back to what the Observer demanded: “Masonic Craft “Must” Lead Liberia? It Is They Who First Must Answer, What Happened to Liberia?

Now here is the answer Benoni Urey had prepared, preempting the editorial’s demand for an explanation of “what happened to Liberia.” Take a look:

“We must build a new Liberia. There is a dying need for a New Liberia. Our ancestors are crying from their graves. We have destroyed what they worked for. We participated in the destruction of this country, directly or indirectly. Our failure to voice out against the ills of this society makes one of us as guilty as (the others) who participated in the destruction.

Our children deserve a better Liberia. We must give them (someplace) worthy of being called home. Our citizens are scattered all around the world because they do not have a home good enough to come (back) to.

Our Brothers are languishing in jails all across the world because of petty crimes committed in the process of trying to survive. Our relatives have died because of a shortage of medicare.

We are saddled with a generation that lacks the requisite education to survive in this abhorrent world. Our quality of education is at its lowest ebb ever, in the history of Liberia. Dishonesty, lying, crime in general, have become the order of the day in this nation.”

DEBT PAID

Now if this does not meet the test of a mea culpa (a formal acknowledgement of personal fault or error) that the Daily Observer missed out on through its own negligence, then what would? What other form must a confession take that the Observer would find acceptable? If it requires a pound of flesh, then it is those who were in control of the country during the period in question, that must answer the Observer’s pointed question. Unfortunately, they are not around to do so. But they did give an answer—back then—and paid the ultimate price; and paid it with their lives. And there the matter rests. So then, let’s move on, and forward!

But Benoni Urey’s actions go further. In admitting the guilt of the older generation of the Craft, Mr. Urey acted nobly. It was doubly noble of him to impute (attribute, assign) some of that guilt to himself and to his generation of his brothers and sisters, even though it was unnecessary. The law does not support visiting the sins of the fathers upon the sons. So, demanding that a younger generation take the blame for the failings of one that is no longer on the scene, will not lie (has no foundation in the law). This means that before the law, every man must take responsibility for his own deeds.

Needless to say, it was those very confessions, along with Urey’s declaration of his readiness to correct and “restore the years that the locusts have eaten”, that earned him the right to offer himself as a candidate, ready to correct those errors—especially if he does possess some of those laudable characteristics he so movingly spoke about. Can anyone deny him that right? “He that is without sin let him throw the first stone!”

So, to conclude, in making our way forward, we must learn to forgive, though many of us will not always forget. What must always be remembered is to put right—or wrong—where it belongs; and leave the younger generation alone.

About the author: Keith Neville A. Best is a member of the Daily Observer family. He is also an attorney-at-law at the Pierre, Tweh and Associates Law Firm. He is not a member of the Masonic Craft.

Editor’s Note: We are afraid Mr. Urey did not say he was apologizing on behalf of the Masonic Craft for Liberia’s sins of the past. He only said: “we” have failed our country. Urey did not say: “we the Masons have failed our country.” Indeed he attempted to exonerate the past Masonic leaders when he declared in his Address, “Our ancestors are crying from their graves….” However, he admitted in his Address that the Free Masons had always been in charge, veritably part of the group that ran Liberia. And everyone knows that most of the crucial national decisions were made in the Masonic Temple. Hence our solemn admonition, “It Is They Who First Must Answer, What Happened to Liberia.” Remember that for over a century, since 1878 when Masonic brother Hilary Richard Wright Johnson, son of Elijah Johnson, became President, the True Whig Party had consistently ruled Liberia, until 1980. Most of the TWP’s standard bearers—who as members of the all-powerful ruling TWP—were all Presidents of Liberia— and they were also all Free Masons. Many of them attained the position of Most Worshipful Grand Master. And Grand Masters who did not reach the presidency were nonetheless always among the most powerful men in the country. Ever heard of Grand Masters Frank E. Tolbert, President Pro Tempore of the Liberian Senate and brother of the President; McKinley A. DeShield, Postmaster General of Liberia and the perennial Secretary General of the TWP; and Everett J. Goodridge who, while serving as Grand Master of Masons, was also Minister of Internal Affairs and Chairman of the TWP? So our statement remains absolutely legitimate: the Free Masons should be the first to answer, “What happened to Liberia.” – ED

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