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President Weah? Or Pastor Weah?

By Tewroh-Wehtoe Sungbeh

Forky Klon Jlaleh is a traditional Krao-Kru (Liberian) name that could have been a relative’s name.

The name in question is not about a relative, but a church, yes, a church founded, pastored and owned by the current President of Liberia, George Manneh Weah.

In his previous life, Weah, the private citizen always flirted with organized religion; and had Liberians guessing whether he was a Moslem or a Christian.

To put an end to the national guessing game, Weah, during a watch night service that ushered in the new year, 2019, dedicated his Forky Klon Jlaleh Family Fellowship Church.

To the fanfare of his adoring cabinet ministers, family, and friends, pastor Weah gave a rambling sermon that defines the man’s inarticulate delivery of the English language.

Referencing Matthew 25:14-30, President/Pastor Weah said:

“God gives to everyone talent according to their own managerial ability. God doesn’t give you things that you can’t take care of.”

“You work with government then you want to sabotage the government. You are a minister in the government but you want to sabotage the government. You are an executive then you want to sabotage the government. You want to sit right here so that government work. You are also part of the government.”

“Let’s forget about all the setbacks in 2018 and focus on the prosperous New Year, what God gave you is enough,” he said.

True to their nature, Liberians debated Weah’s newfound Biblical Saul-like conversion from that of a fledgling politician to a novice pastor of a Church, with some in support and other against their president mixing his day job as president of a country with his weekend job as pastor of a church.

“At least we (Liberians) should be proud that our president is a man of God who is not out there doing bad things,’ a Liberian who found himself arguing with me on this issue said.

Surprisingly, the Liberian who argued with me so passionately about Weah’s pastoral duties that he claimed will not conflict with his official duties as president of Liberia, told me days ago that he was wrong to say what he said to me.

“I didn’t think he (Weah) was actually going to pastor his church. I thought he founded the church and was going to turn it over to another person, a trained and ordained person to be the pastor as he runs the country,” he said.’

Now I see why these Liberians always believed that George Manneh Weah is a‘messianic’ figure who was sent by God to deliver Liberia from evil; a prophet who came from the heavens to take Liberia to the paths of development, progress, and prosperity.

However, as is already known in Liberian politics, Weah is not the first sitting president to share his secular political role as president of a country with a religious role as pastor of a church that seemed to conflict with the overall diverse religious preferences of the nation’s population.

As a peaceful country before the senseless civil war that killed hundreds of thousands and maimed many others, and destroyed properties, Liberians boasted of a country and their fellow citizens as people who proudly co-existed with others in their shared religious experiences even as their political leaders wore their own personal beliefs on their sleeves on the national stage.

The slain William R. Tolbert, Jr., as President of Liberia, was an openly devout Christian and an ordained minister of the gospel, who often found it difficult to separate his public political role as president from his religious role as a follower of Jesus Christ.

Mr. Tolbert’s vice-presidents Bennie Warner, who was Bishop in the United Methodist Church, and Mr. Warner’s predecessor, the late James Greene of Sinoe County, was an active senior member in the United Methodist Church in his home county. Other influential Liberian politicians past and present once held and currently hold ranking positions in various churches.

At the end of the day, however, the former president’s profound religiosity did not save him from the evils that he preached against during his many sermons.

While it is true that there hasn’t been any kind of religious violence in Liberia since the nation’s founding in the 1800s, absent is the separation of Church and State and the blurring of the lines that happens when political leaders inject into the public sphere their religious beliefs and practices that become a quasi-national policy.

The celebration of the various Christian holidays in Liberia, and the closing down of commerce (stores, shops) on Sundays, are few examples of Liberian presidents and politicians imposing their own personal religious beliefs on the population.

I am not against organized religion. Period.

I am, however, against mixing politics with religion and infringing on the rights of others.

Mixing politics with religion, especially the Christian religion in Liberia is undemocratic, and unfair to a larger section of the population who are not Christian.

Mixing politics with religion can be divisive and deadly as it has been in other countries with a minority-majority or majority-minority religious population.

As a democratic society comprised of citizens of diverse religious beliefs and practices, religion should remain in a person’s heart before the individual and his or her God.

Also, religion belongs in the pulpit, in the church, and in the mosque; and politics should remain in the political arena – in the Liberian case, in the Executive Mansion where political decisions are supposed to be discussed and often times are made.

And the religious rights of all Liberian citizens must be respected and protected, and a particular religion should not be favored over other religions in the country.

Knowing Liberia’s historically oppressive and imperial presidency, a Liberian leader who is both president and pastor is prone to using the pulpit to influence national policies by abusing his or her power in an overt and subjective way to trample on the rights of non-religious citizens, and those of other religions in the country.

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