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Faith leaders slam bid for Christian state

(ENInews) In Monrovia, Liberia's capital city, hundreds of civilians have been signing a petition that is seeking to make the West African country a Christian nation.


But the campaign is being questioned by prominent Christian leaders who caution that the change will split the country on religious lines and lead to instability. The leaders in Africa’s oldest republic spoke after the petition was introduced on Feb. 18 by The Liberia Restoration to Christian Heritage, a campaign group.


“This (campaign) is not an official action of the Church in Liberia. It is a small radical group that does not stand for anything good or orderly. Its actions will not materialize as it will not be possible to legalize such a proposal,” Bishop Sumoward E. Harris of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Liberia told ENI news.


Amid a heated national debate, Roman Catholic Archbishop Lewis Jerome Zeigler of Monrovia said the country should remain a secular state, where all faiths practice their faith freely including Christians.


“(A main) Christian principle is love your brother and your sister … are we practicing that as Christians? … Why do we want to select one religion among other religions?” Zeigler was quoted as saying in the New Democrat.


Liberian’s constitution separates state and religion. It grants all citizens the freedom of religion, thought and conscience but the campaigners are seeking to amend parts of that constitution to revert to the 1848 Christian one.


“The move is not in the right direction at the moment … For the sake of peace consolidation and the fragile peace we now enjoy, it is premature to begin the process of having a Christian State,” the Rev. Tolbert Thomas Jallah, a Liberian who is Secretary-General of the Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in West Africa said in an e-mail interview.


The campaigners say they want to “give back the country to God.” Jonah Woiwor, the committee’s chairperson, told reporters at the nationwide launch that the campaign was not opposing the existence of other faiths in the country.


According to the law, 10,000 signatures are needed to change any portion of the constitution. By Feb. 22, the organizers said they had collected nearly 50,000 in anticipation of gaining 1 million.


A week into the campaign, Muslim leaders had not issued an official response, but some Muslims had commented in the media, terming the campaign unconstitutional and unpatriotic.


In an opinion posted on the All Africa News service, Manyou Mas Bility, a Muslim, urged Muslims to see this as struggle between patriotic Liberians and religious “bigots,” but not a clash between Christianity and Islam.


“True Christians will only opt for an equal society … Diversity will not harm us, but better us,” he said.


With sectarian violence continuing in Nigeria, about 900 miles to the east, some Liberians are concerned that similar violence could unfold in their country, where Christians are 85.5 percent of the population and Muslims 12.2 per cent.