They are insisting that Liberia should be officially Christian, which places our lives and the character of our country at massive risk. I believe that this viewpoint has not been reflected on carefully, despite the political support it has received. I seek here to refocus the conversation on the Constitution (1986) and to shed light on its complexities. People who proffer this view ought to answer the following questions. Is there anything in the Liberian Constitution (1986) that gives preferential treatment to Christianity? What were the intentions of the framers of our Constitution? Did they intend to make Liberia a Christian state or give Christians special preference amongst all religions?
The answer to all of these questions is No. The 1986 Liberian Constitution is a completely “secular”1 document. It does not mention Christianity or Jesus Christ. In fact, the Constitution refers to God only twice in the Preamble, ‘acknowledging God for our existence as a sovereign state and relying on God’s guidance for our survival as a nation.’ God is mentioned in the Constitution generically. All religious groups can claim that God. It is not the exclusive right of Christians. Our nation’s governing document ensures religious freedom for every Liberian. Article 14 of the same Constitution (1986) reads: “Consistent with the principle of separation of religion and state, the Republic shall establish no state religion.”2 Both of these provisions are evidence that the country was not founded as officially Christian. The Founders of the Liberian state did not create a secular government because they hated religion. Many were believers themselves. Yet they were well aware of the dangers of church-state union in England, which led to religious groups breaking up to start the United States. They had seen or lived the difficulties that church-state partnerships produced in the United States from which many originated.
They saw how religion was manipulated by the White ruling class to subjugate and dehumanize the Blacks. As such, they did not see any value in codifying a national religion, perhaps to protect the church from influence of the state and vice versa. Our country has been nearly free of sectarian division for almost all of its lifetime. Does a true faith need the support of government to thrive? The framers of the Constitution understood that separation of church and state would be good for all faiths including Christianity. Liberia might be a Christian state culturally, but definitely, not legally. Today, Liberia’s religious landscape is changing. Diversity has greatly widened since our nation’s founding.
The number of Moslems has increased and more Moslems are living in Liberia than ever before. African Traditional Religion, which has been here from the very beginning, is still being practiced. Its followers do not claim that Liberia is an African Traditional Religious State. A myriad of other religions are now represented in Liberia and some Liberians profess no religious faith, thus identifying themselves as atheists or agnostics. African Traditional Religion was in what is now called Liberia, hundreds of years before Islam, and Christianity followed Islam hundreds of years later. Is it therefore not sheer arrogance on the part of Christians who were the last faith group to arrive on this soil to claim that Christianity should be the nation’s official religion? This assertion falls flatly in the face of the manifold Scriptures which call for humility, including Philippians 2:3, which says: “Do nothing of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather in humility value others above.” Liberians should be proud that we live in a multi-faith democracy. In many nations around the world, millions of people still live under repressive regimes where religion and government are entangled.
Only the principle of church-state separation can protect Liberia’s notable religious freedom. Only this principle can free us from the mayhem we have seen in other nations where religious violence is raging. The individual rights and diversity that we currently enjoy will not be maintained if the government promotes Christianity or if our government takes on the frills of a “faith-based” state. It is true that Liberian institutions and perhaps its laws have Christian origins. Yes! Christianity played a role in Liberia’s founding and history. These two cases are not in dispute. But accepting the view offered by the Christian Right would violate the Constitution, specifically its intention to keep religion and state separate. The bigger question might also be which Christian denomination would then serve as the gold standard when Liberia becomes a Christian nation: Pentecostal?
Conservatives? Liberals? Roman Catholics? Nondenominational? Would theology be the litmus test – immersion versus sprinkling; speakers in tongues versus non-tongue speaking people? Is the goal of proponents of this ‘Christian Theocracy” the deepening of the faith of Christians or commitment to the critical aspects of faith – “mission and ministry” to the poor, needy, weak, and hungry? Is it to draw from the power of the Sermon on the Mount – which rebuked the rich people of Jesus’ day for their neglect of the downtrodden? Liberia’s poor and needy are in huge numbers. Instead of taking the power of the Gospel to address the needs of vulnerable people, could the quest here be to force their faith on others unwillingly and to discriminate against others who do not accept Christianity as the national religion? Could they be seeking state approval to oppress others and marginalize non-conformists as well as dissenting and freethinking Liberians? Would this not take us back into the dark period of our existence?
Was this kind of religious-based intolerance and associated rage not just what the framers of the Constitution envisaged and thus separated religion and the state? Our government is neutral on religious matters, leaving such decisions to individuals. This democratic and pluralistic system has allowed broad array of religious groups to develop and thrive. It has also guaranteed every individual Liberian the right to determine his or her own spiritual path or to reject religion entirely. As a result of this public policy, Liberians enjoy more religious freedom than most people around the globe. We should be celebrating and preserving the constitutional principle that made church-state separation possible. As our fellow Christians reel from violent attacks in Nigeria, Kenya, India, Iraq and other parts of the world, it bodes well for Liberians to avoid this dangerous path. Any religion that carries the mantle of discrimination and bigotry is bound to lose influence and draw the indignation of people. To make Christianity an exceptional case above all other faiths will be outright discrimination, which is unconstitutional.