The airwaves in Liberia have been in recent times inundated with the debate on whether Liberia should be declared a Christian nation by law. This proposition, sponsored heavily by a group of church leaders during the recent Constitutional Review Conference, held recently in Gbarnga, was voted for by Christian delegates who attended the conference while the Muslim delegates boycotted the vote. There was even a shouting match between the Christian group and Muslim group, who had gathered around the Administrative Building, the venue of the conference, in order to make their voices heard. I, as a devout Christian, who had had all his elementary and secondary education in Lutheran schools before traveling abroad for college and advanced degrees, intend in this article to put across my personal views, with documentary evidences, my opposition to declaring Liberia as a Christian nation by law.
Definition of a Christian
The dictionary definition of a Christian tells me that “a Christian is one who believes in or follows the religion based on the teachings of Christ; a person who exhibits Christian qualities of kindness, fairness and decency”. This speaks volumes about Christianity. It is all embracing and full of love, and good moral attitudes as Christ himself displayed while on earth; as the hymn says, “in Christ there is no East or West.”
Those who are proposing that Liberia becomes a Christian nation are saying that the preamble of the 1847 Constitution of Liberia speaks of the founding fathers’ desire and intent to make Liberia a Christian nation, and because Liberians changed that path in the 1986 revised constitution, by making Liberia a secular state, Liberia was undergoing many challenges, detrimental to its progress. Being a religious nation is not a bad idea; in fact, Liberians are, by nature, a very religious people. According to a statistical research on Liberia by Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandrigk in their 21st Century edition of Operation World, 38.33% of Liberians are Christians, with an annual growth rate of +8.6%; Muslims are 13% with an annual growth rate of +11.3%; while the traditionalists are 48.37% with an annual growth rate of 7.8% (http://www.liberia2027.com/627324). It is however, an error to assume that Liberia is, or was ever a Christian nation, or founded on Christian principles. In fact those above statistics are saying that over 60% of Liberia’s 3.5 million people are not Christians (Ibid.). Although the signing of the declaration of independence was done by Christians in the Providence Baptist Church, nowhere in the 1847 Constitution is there an article declaring Liberia as a Christian nation. In fact, based upon the definition of a Christian and seeing how Christianity is all inclusive, the definition of a Christian nation cannot fit Liberia since, based on historical facts, it was actually founded on divisive principles. Even assuming that the founding fathers had Christianity in mind, since their intentions were to civilize and Christianized the indigenes, the assumption that Liberia is a Christian nation is yet to be proven; it overlooks the fact that traditional religion practitioners and Muslims were present in this region long before 1822, when the newcomers arrived.
As stated earlier, Liberia was actually founded on a divisive principle. In his book, Rise and Fall of the First Liberian Republic, George E.S. Boley (1983) mentions that the preamble of the declaration of independence spoke of a people returning to Africa from slavery in America, who claimed to have originated from America-when indeed they had earlier originated from Africa-speaking condescendingly about the land to which they were now returning. According to him, “a native or aboriginal Liberian was considered inferior to an Americo-Liberian by reason of his alleged heathenism; similarly a native… was not considered a full citizen unless he was, by the standards of the settlers, completely detribalized, or civilized…”(1983, p.28). The motto of the Republic of Liberia only speaks of “The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here” as if those met here did not matter. The late Bishop George D. Browne observed in his book, The Episcopal Church of Liberia: Under Indigenous Leadership: Reflections on a Twenty Year Episcopate: “Our constitution provided for two legal systems: for Tribal or Customary laws or Interior Regulations… meant for the ‘illiterate-Liberians’ or ‘the country-people’ who lived in the hinterlands… and other laws intended for the coastal and ‘literate’ Liberians who lived in the cities. While we were talking about ‘one nation indivisible’ we were actively sowing the seed for a divided nation” (1994, p. 150).
Christianity is all inclusive based upon the teachings of Christ; in Christ there is no East or West. However, the settlers never consulted the indigenes or natives on the well-fare of Liberia as they were not considered citizens but heathens who needed to be civilized and Christianized. As pointed out by Joseph Saye Guannu, in his Short History of First Liberian Republic, the indigenes were denied citizenship of Liberia until 1904 when President Arthur Barclay granted them a blanket citizenship (2010). Even so they did not benefit from the fruits of democracy until President William V. S. Tubman created the four new counties of Bong, Nimba, Grand Gedeh and Lofa, and allowed them have representatives sit in the National Legislature (Ibid.). Again, the Liberian Constitution has never embraced the idea of having other races become citizens of Liberia except black, which, of course, is against Christian principles. Even citizens, who were forced to relocate to other areas of the world as a result of the civil war and political instability, are being denied dual-citizenship by the current constitution.
The call by some Liberians for Liberia to move from being a secular state (meaning a state not affiliated with any particular church or particular faith) to being declared a Christian nation is a move in the wrong direction at this juncture in Liberian history. It will never make any individual Liberian more Christian than he or she has been, neither will it bring any more development to Liberia than exists. It is rather a monkey wrench being used by some politicians in order to derail the fragile peace that we enjoy now, as well as the reconciliation process underway. Lest we forget, history has taught us that the unwholesome collaboration of church, state, True Whig Party and the Masonic Craft in the past aided the entrenchment of corruption in Liberia. This is where the “so say one so say all” phrase originated from. The church compromised the integrity of the gospel by refusing to push for righteous life style in Liberia, as heads of state also became top cleric men of the church and secret societies; men, whose decisions could not be questioned. This collaboration helped to solidify the Americo-Liberian hegemony over the indigenous Liberians as evidenced by their 133 year-rule over the country from 1847 to 1980.
From the reactions of some members of his church, as observed by the late Bishop Browne, in his book, mentioned supra, (1994, pp. 125 &134), there was a major myth that the Liberian society was built on four foundations-the church, the state, the True Whig Party and the Masons, and the only way that one would climb the ladder of success in Liberia was to become a member of the craft. Many believed that the church existed along with the state and the state was the same as the Masonic craft and the True Whig Party. Currently, it is believed that some politicians and some clerics who have churches that have grown wealthy from their charismatic/Pentecostal churches are once again trying to return to the status quo which existed in Liberia before 1980 and this is dangerous for the country.
Let us Liberians beware and be wise. Mixing religion with politics is dangerous, especially at a time in Liberia when the country has just recently emerged from a prolonged period of instability-1980-2003. Relative to the mixing of politics and religion in Nigeria, Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi, of Jos, Nigeria, observed, “Religion, by its nature and content appeals not so much to reason. It is a heart matter and carries with it huge emotions” (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-31026554). It is a ‘divide and rule’ technique (like money) often used by politicians (Ibid.); so Liberians should not allow politicians to once again divide and rule them by this means. Liberians need to wake up and live in the 21st century, not in the 19th century. Liberians need to move forward, not backward. Liberians must open their eyes and see all the red flags raised around them and the world, when it comes to mixing politics with religion. It is important to take note of what Boko Haram has done in our own backyard, Nigeria – the atrocities carried out in their attempt to declare Sharia laws in claimed territories of Nigeria; what happened in Kenya recently with the indiscriminate killing of 148 non-Muslim students at Garissa University College by the militant terrorist group, al-Shabab; see Iraq, Syria and other places where the Islamic State (IS) has created havoc in their quest to create an Islamic Caliphate. Who, in his right mind, will see his neighbor’s house burning down due to fire and then will send his own children to play with fire in their living room?
Let Liberia remain a secular state (one not associated with any church or faith) in which all religions will live and worship according to their religion in peace and harmony; with no one religious sect set above the others as the 1986 constitution says. The framers of that constitution foresaw the danger far ahead. Let sleeping dog lie. Liberians have suffered enough and seen many hardships. Liberians need to heal, and we can only do this by turning our backs on those old divisive practices and prejudices that divided us in the past. Liberians should be more concerned now about stamping out corruption and other vices which have had more devastating effects on Liberia’s development. Tagging Liberia, as a Christian nation, has no direct effect on the country’s development.