Baptist leaders in Liberia have spoken in opposition to a proposed constitutional amendment declaring the West African republic a Christian state.
A committee charged with reviewing Liberia’s 1986 constitution recommended 19 changes during a five-day conference March 29-April 2. The most controversial, adopted overwhelmingly by about 400 delegates, according to media reports, would declare Liberia a “Christian nation.”
The Liberia Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention, the nation’s oldest Christian denomination, responded with a statement declaring the amendment inconsistent with “Baptist Christian principles.”
The statement, signed by convention president Olu Menjay, said Liberian Baptists “have no room for sectarian arrogance within the country’s diverse Christian persuasions and in a progressively more pluralistic world where Liberia is for all persons regardless of faith persuasion or affiliation.”
“A nerve center of our denominational sensibility as Christians called Baptist is not merely religious toleration, but religious liberty,” the statement said, “not merely sufferance, but freedom not just for us, but for all people. As such, we affirm our stance against making Liberia a Christian nation.”
The proposal, which will be submitted to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf before passing on to the national legislature for approval before being put to a referendum about a year later, sharply divided Christians and Muslims.
Muslims, who make up about 12 percent of Liberia’s 4 million residents, say the proposed amendment is discriminatory. A national Muslim student association that just met declared if it passes, territories that are predominantly Muslim could secede.
A representative of the Christian community at the conference urged delegates to vote for the amendment because the country was “built on Christian principles.” When the result of the vote was announced, the meeting hall went noisy with Christians shouting and singing hymns, while members of the Muslim faith walked out in anger.
Supporters blame changes in the original 1847 constitution making Liberia a secular state for disrupting the nation’s peace. Last year a meeting of the Liberia Council of Churches passed a resolution saying the Ebola virus was a sign that God is angry with Liberia because of rampant corruption and immorality, such as homosexuality.
Liberia, about 85 percent Christian, was founded as a colony for freed American slaves. The American Colonization Society, founded in 1817, was the brainchild of Robert Finley, a Presbyterian minister who believed blacks would never be fully integrated into American society and could only fulfill their potential as humans in Africa.
The effort had backing from some of America’s most influential leaders, among them “Star Spangled Banner” author Francis Scott Key and three-time presidential candidate Henry Clay.
Motives of individual members varied. Some genuinely supported blacks and were concerned for their welfare. Some hoped the effort would eventually end slavery.
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SOURCE: Baptist News Global