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When the Clergy Faltered, The Faithful Cringes: Liberia’s 170th Independence Oration

Herman B. Brown, Clergyman & President of Cuttington University in Liberia

Historical facts suggest that Liberia was never colonized, and in fact, the country known as Liberia today did not obtain independence from any colonial power, notably the United States as is erroneously theorized. But the truth is free slaves from North America were shipped by their slave-owning masters to this part of Africa, and together with their indigenous native hosts, some educated free slaves established a republic known as Liberia.  Hence, Liberia became Africa’s first independent republic on July 26, 1847––a date regarded as Liberia’s Independence Day.

Reverend Dr. Brown chairs the board of directors of the country’s petroleum processing corporation

Since then, Liberians have always celebrated July 26 of each year with fanfare and glamour, and traditionally, someone is positioned as the Independence Day’s orator. This year’s (2017) orator was no other than the Reverend Dr Herman B. Brown, former dean of the Trinity Cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Liberia and now president of the Episcopalian owned Cuttington University based in Suakoko, Bong County.

It is also important to note that the Reverend Dr Brown is a high-level official of the current Liberian government in which some people at his level earn between US$12,000 to $25,000 dollars a month in a country where children die from malnutrition and where women lose their lives daily from childbirth due to poor or the lack of efficient medical opportunities. A country where poverty is extreme despite vast natural resources and potential; where underage girls sell sex to feed their unemployed parents and sibling; where ritualistic killings for electoral victory are rampant, and where official and systemic corruption, money laundry and drug dealings are indescribable.

We should add though that the Reverend Dr Brown, the selected Independence Day’s orator, drives around in a US$50,000 dollars government-owned and purchased vehicle and receives a regular board-sitting fee/check, as chairman of the lucrative Liberia Petroleum Refinery Corporation’s (LPRC) board of directors. These out-of-whack incomes are twice that of the combined salaries of teachers in any elementary and secondary schools in Liberia, three times that of nurses in emergency rooms at any public hospital in the country, five times that of the police and firefighters assigned at any local station, and perhaps more than the combined income of a band of medical physicians assigned at any government hospital throughout the country. This is the orator, an honorable man of God who does not realize that students at the public universities in the country lack instructional materials not to mention tuition fees.

Rev. Dr. Brown (second from left)

Why is it that a glimpse of the 2017’s Independence Day’s orator important to us? Well, there are several reasons but we shall focus on his pivotal role and training as a Shepard––leader of God’s people.

Benjamin L. Corey once wrote that, “When Pastors Live in Multimillion Dollar Mansions, It’s Not a Sign of God’s Blessing– But Our Sinfulness.” We agreed with the first portion of Corey’s thesis but refused to accept his conclusion because it should be the sinfulness of the pastor not the faithful. We should also add that when pastors receive fat paychecks, dine with the wealthy and the powerful including the president, drive around in luxury cars paid for by tax payers’ money and neglect their solemn responsibility of standing with the poor, it diminishes God’s poll numbers amongst the faithful.  Our 170th Independence Day’s orator fits this bill.  His actions and association with the Liberian government and his assignment in government undermine what Jesus commissioned him to do as an ordained Anglican priest.

The 2017’s Independence Day’s orator got some things right, but he also got the essential elements fundamentally wrong. He neglected the poor, the disabled, the hungry, the unemployed, the abused, and the falsely accused and imprisoned.  These people constitute 98.99% of the Liberian population, and they are a reflection of Jesus in Liberia.  Yet, the ‘man of God” who is ordained by the Anglican/Episcopal Church of Liberia tells them that they are on their own, that the media is their enemy because it speaks for them by reporting the theft of public funds in the country.

Why did the orator, an ordained Anglican / Episcopal minister abandoned what his vocation demands, but instead opted to lash out at the media for exposing the small good and the increasing ills in Liberian politics and governance, criticizing media practitioners as being “propagandists and tabloids that engage in ill-informed assumptions that often form part of their discussion?”

If one is a clergy like Episcopal Church of Liberia claims the orator is, a man of God and yet sits at the helm of a government-run oil company as the orator does, a suppressive and abusive regime is good for them.  So instead of siding with hungry, the unemployed, the abused and the poor, the orator lashes out at the media that takes its duties and responsibilities faithfully by creating a check on the ills of the Liberian government and its bad officials.

Officials of the LPRC

When the media reports nepotism, widespread and organized corruption, social stratification, extreme poverty, hardship and massive unemployment, disease and deaths, poor educational system, and inaccessible health care; is that propaganda and tabloid? When the media reports that you (Honorable Orator and “man of God”) and others receive fat paid checks while Liberian kids have no access to preventive healthcare, is that tabloid and propaganda?

Any wonder Liberian culture is in crisis, the economy collapsing and no one seems to have any solutions? Liberia is being fundamentally changed, and a decay of conscience seems prevalent, even among the clergy, too.    If you ascribed “Reverend” to your name then follow Jesus’s teachings. If not, stop deceiving and remove that label in front of your name so that the poor, the hungry, the disabled, the abused, the homeless and the unemployed will know that you don’t represent Jesus.

Jesus said: “If you want to follow me, you should first remember that I am a homeless person.” (Mt 8:20).  Jesus also said: “If you want to follow me, grab a shovel and start digging your grave now.” (Lk 9:23)  Jesus summed up and also said: “If money is what motivates you, it’s impossible for you to follow God.” (Mt 6:24)

So, the question becomes: how the clergy supposed to show solidarity with our poor and hungry brothers and sisters in Liberia when some of them sit on lucrative corporation’s boards, drive around in cars that cost US$50,000 and more, and have wall-mounted televisions and sound systems?

How the clergy supposed to bring healing to the nation when some noted clergymen and women are collaborators in what is wrong?  If Liberians were to vote on God’s performance in their country based on the oration and actions of this 170th Independence Day’s orator, perhaps, God’s poll numbers would have been in the zeros.  If you are call to do God’s work do it and leave board’s membership in lucrative government enterprises alone because such representation would blur the lenses of any good pastor.  So it has been with our orator who praised a system that offers him milk and honey and rebuked a profession that seeks to educate Liberians about public information.  How dare you attack the media for doing its work just because you deliberately and intentionally failed to do yours?

What a missed opportunity to tell suffering Liberians that there is hope and that God is on their side rather than the side of the exploiters and the economic vampires.

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