The people of Liberia are set to go to the polls on 10 October 2023, to exercise their franchise when we elect our political leaders in a general and presidential election. This year’s election seems to be the most contested in the nation’s recent history. While there are much enthusiasms, euphoria and excitements, characterizing the process, sadly, there has been a wave of recklessness campaigning and electoral violence perpetrated by some aspirants and electorates, leading to the loss of lives and property. A Couple of weeks ago, news about the death of a young man in Nimba County filled the airwaves, because of dispute over opposing candidates. Few days ago, journalists reported the death of two people in Foyah, Lofa County because of campaign violence between supporters of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and the Unity Party. This is unacceptable and contravenes the process of peaceful, free, fair, transparent and God-centered elections that most Liberians pray for and desire.
By Rev. Dr. Jerry Paye-Manfloe Kulah, Contributing Writer
The peace, stability, social and economic progress we desire for our nation, and families, our communities, ourselves, following the elections, are largely dependent upon the governance system of Mama Liberia. It takes the concerted effort of every well-meaning Liberian in general, and the national leadership in particular to make the governance system law abiding, efficient and effective. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that the ones who are aspiring for leadership begin to demonstrate their leadership by fostering peaceful campaigns.
We take cognizance of the fact that our 1986 Constitution labels Liberia as a secular state. However, given that Liberia has had 85.5 percent of its population ascribing to the Christian faith (LISGIS, 2022), suggests that many in every sector of the Liberian society, including national government ascribe to the Christian faith. The implication is that Christian ethical principles and values should dominate the lifestyles and decisions of the majority people within the Liberian society. One may therefore safely assume that many of those contesting for elected positions are associated with the Christian faith. Based upon this understanding, it is vital that the church continues to speak out to the Liberian society as we go about national campaigns, leading up to the general and presidential election.
The Scripture declares, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD” (Psalm 33:12). This means that most electorates should endeavor to elect leaders who would ensure that the Almighty God is the LORD of Mama Liberia, leaders characterized by honesty, credibility, integrity, innovative, vision, love Mama Liberia and its people. Second, if Christianity dominates the Liberian population, then Liberian Christian should endeavor to ensure that our continued campaign activities exhibit the Christian values of love, respect, critique of national issues void of verbal mayhem.
Based upon these concerns, this article aims at providing some scriptural admonitions for Christians participating in the ongoing national political campaigns leading up to the legislative and presidential elections scheduled for 10 October 2023. The campaign momentum is growing high by the day. However, while some aspirants and their supporters are maintaining civility, and are respectful of their opponents, there has been incidences of some uttering hate speeches. In few cases, there has been issues of crisis proportion.
In fact, there are several declared Christians and clergy contesting for some legislative and presidential offices. Others are serving as chairpersons for some political parties. Given this reality, this guideline aims to assist the process of encouraging Christians participating in the campaigns and elections to do so in ways that glorify God and serve for the common good.
The missional nature of the Church that calls for its active involvement in the social, economic, political, cultural and religious life of the nation and its people motivates me to proffer these guidelines. God has appointed the Church over the nations and kingdoms to reveal his will and purpose. Christ has made believers the “salt” and “light” of the world so that we might “shine before men that they might see [our] good works and glorify [our] father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Therefore, I proffer these guidelines in the hope that it would contribute to ensuring a peaceful and civil campaign that prioritizes the issues at bar, where opponents are respectful of one another, without venting verbal mayhem at each other.
Conceptual Framework for the Admonitions
These admonitions draw insights from John Wesley, the founding father of Methodism, as well as from divine wisdom (the Holy Bible). John Wesley played a very significant role in Britain’s national elections in 18th century England when he provided some guidelines to vulnerable electorates. Wesley, a Priest of the Church of England and Evangelist took the gospel to a larger population than just those familiar with the Church of England. He was therefor able to respond to the holistic needs of the ordinary people of his day, as well as confront national issues, including the inhumane practice of slavery, alcoholism, repressive conditions of prison inmates, as well as other form of injustices.
He was passionate about preaching the gospel to the poor, people whom no one else was seeking. Following their conversation to faith in Jesus Christ, Wesley organized them into societies, bands and classes for discipleship purposes. They were among the most vulnerable during seasons of political elections, because they were poverty-stricken, and could easily be deceived with little gifts to sell their votes. Their situation at the time was no less different from Liberia’s poverty stricken and vulnerable population who are victim of deception and bribery, to sell their votes for a little amount of money due to their destitute conditions.
According to his October 6, 1774 journal entry, which was during an election period in England, Wesley admonished Methodist Society members at the time to do three particularly important things that I find very relevant for the Liberian context. They are:
- To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy
- To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and
- To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”
These three-fold admonitions of Wesley point to the fact that our Christian stewardship regarding our participation in national governance is to be good citizens in the way we run campaigns and votes. Therefore, like Wesley, our prophetic voice must be clear about how Christians should engage the process of campaign and election. We must promote justice in elections, and ensure that Christians demonstrate the highest degree of honesty and faithfulness in providing guidance to our national and community leaders, and in speaking out against the ills of society, especially during this period of the election.
Lessons from John Wesley’s admonitions
- “To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy”
Wesley challenged the vulnerable Christian community of his day not to take bribe for their votes, not to accept payment to vote for certain individuals. For by doing so was a form of corruption, and hence, sin. Besides, by doing so, it was possible that they would vote the wrong person into office, whose performance could impede progress of the nation.
Similarly, we encourage the Christian community and all well-meaning Liberians not to sin against Mama Liberia, against Liberia’s future generation and against God by receiving fee or reward for their votes. We encourage all to vote for Mama Liberia by voting for the person of their choice whom they are convinced serves the interest of the nation, and not because of a fee given to them.
Biblical foundation: The Scripture is emphatic about the perils of bribery.
- “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous”(Exodus 23:8). Bribery is an act of inducement, enticement, or kickback. That is, money or some material goods received to do the wrong thing that one would not otherwise do in good conscience. It is a persuasion to do the wrong thing against yourself, other people, and society in general. For example, giving sex for grade, or receiving money for your vote, even though the person bribing you may not be the best-qualified candidate for the position.
2. “Curse is the man who accepts a bribe to kill an innocent person” (Deuteronomy 27:25). To kill means to take away life. It also means to assassinate, destroy or eradicate. An “innocent person”, according to this verse it may mean a child, a family member, and the people of your village, town, district or county who depend on you for guidance as to who to vote for during this electoral process.
This text, Deuteronomy 27:25, is contextually revealing. It tells us that there are many ways by which one may “kill an innocent person”. When you use cash violence, deception, and give false hopes to people who look up to you for direction in life and persuade them to vote the wrong person in office, you have killed them. Because, they may live with the consequences of their wrong choice for decades, if not for a lifetime.
For example, if as a consequence of voting for the wrong person, your people continue to drink from polluted creeks, wells or streams because the one elected to office does nothing to improve their lives, you have killed them. Because, some may eventually die from diarrhea, cholera, and other preventable diseases. When due to bad governance the elected fails to create jobs for your youthful population, thereby impeding their socio-economic progress, you have killed them.
Instead of accepting a bribe to “kill our people”, let us love them and serve them faithfully. To do otherwise is to expose one to God’s wrath. As the text points out, such a person who deceives innocent, poverty-stricken, and vulnerable citizens to vote wrongly for their personal aggrandizement risks being cursed by God.
Regarding our attitude toward money, the Apostle Paul admonishes and reminds Christians in general and Liberian aspirants as well as electorates in particular, “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry, nothing out of it…For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows”. (1 Timothy 6:6-10).
3. “Do not pervert justice or show partiality…Follow justice and justice alone, so that you live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 16:18-19).
Associated with the unethical practice of accepting fee or reward for your vote is electoral fraud. An example of this is voters trucking. Some politicians bribe people to leave their communities and go to other communities in which they have not domicile to vote. Of particular concern are those candidates in counties that boarder other countries, Cote D’Ivoire, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Some politicians have the audacity to bring people from other countries to cast votes in a place where they have no socio-economic, political, cultural and spiritual interest. This is a betrayal of the interest of Mama Liberia; an injustice to the core, and we decry it.
II. “To speak no evil of the person they voted against”.
John Wesley’s second admonition to 18th century vulnerable population was that they must avoid verbal mayhem. That is, to avoid badmouthing or saying nasty things such as assassinating the character of their opponents by gossiping, and telling lies about them to their supporters. Election campaign is primarily about attempting to convince the electorates to consider you as the best choice for a contested position. To do so effectively, one must present a platform, and speak primarily about his or her skill set for the contested position, backed by testimonies of past records of quality performance, competence, and character. In addition, the contestant must persuasively address issues of concerns to the electorate and provide some strategic approaches he or she would pursue along with the electorate, when elected to accomplish them for the common good. This is campaigning with integrity. To speak ill of another while in pursuit of a position is to demonstrate your fear of that person, and your lack of ability to serve in the position being pursued.
Biblical Foundation. Here is what the Bible says about speaking evil about others.
- “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it”. (Psalm 34:13-14).
In other words, one must not use his or her tongue to destroy others. To do so is to speak ill of God, because God made all humanity in God’s image. The point is, because of the sinful human nature, (Romans 3:23; 5:12), we all have our faults and failures. No one within the human race is completely good or evil. We all have elements of both. Our goal, even in politics is to help one another become their best for Mama Liberia. We do so by analyzing issues, and persuading voters to consider our candidacy so that we can lead them to address the societal concerns they have. If you cannot help a person, do not hurt them with verbal mayhem. The Apostle James reminds believers to be mindful with their tongue, so that they do not use it to destroy others and themselves (James 3:5-10).
Of a truth, your choice of a particular candidate does not necessarily suggest that the person you are not voting for is less qualified or is incapable of providing quality leadership. So, do not badmouth him or her. The evil things we often say about others do not only hurt them, sometimes they come back to haunt us. Over the years, we have heard of some individuals as well politicians who spoke ill of others, including some of their leaders in private, without ever knowing that some of the people with whom they were speaking might have recorded their conversations. Even though it is unethical to record a person without their knowledge, but this is what many evil people do.
We have witnessed with dismay how when political association changes, some have the audacity to expose their former colleagues by playing recordings in which they perpetrated verbal mayhem of some of their leaders or colleagues, sometimes, to the detriment of their political career. Consequently, one destroys himself or herself and others. Scripture admonishes all Liberians to demonstrate wisdom by the wise use of our tongue. Hear King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked…He who holds his tongues is wise…The tongue of the righteous is a choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is of little value. The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of judgment” (Prov. 10:11, 19-21)
Let us commit to saying kind words about one another and about Mama Liberia. Liberia is all we have. For Liberia to move forward socio-economically, politically, culturally, and spiritually, it takes our collective efforts. Our collective efforts requires that we exhibit the highest degree of respect for one another, even when we disagree on issues. The undergirding principle and practice of such respect should be “love”. The Apostle declares,
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away (I Corinthians 13:4-8).
III. “To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”
In Wesley’s third admonition to his disciples and the Christian community in 18th century England, he challenged both the electorates and the candidates to use their freedom of association and choice to vote for the candidates of their choice without holding “bad blood” against their opponents. That, following the election, they needed not to hold malice against individuals or a group of people who may have preferred another candidate to their candidature.
In the context of the upcoming general and presidential elections, we appeal to all voters and aspirants to practice civility and orderliness; to focus on your candidates and give reasons to electorates why you think that your candidates are deserving of the votes of the electorates. Then, of their own volition, let the electorates exercise their rights to vote their choice candidates. No one should be threatened or intimidated to vote against their will, not even those serving in government. Being a government employee does not necessarily suggest that every member serving in government should vote a certain way to please their employers. That would be a justice issue.
Wesley therefore enjoins believers, “Do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God”. By doing so, even during this campaign and election season, we shall all help to develop Mama Liberia, not to destroy its future.
As the campaign season enters its final week, leading up to the legislative and presidential elections, Josh Tinley, in his book, Kneeling in the End Zone: Spiritual Lessons from the World of Sports, (2009), encourages believers do the following during times of election that I have modified for Liberian context. They are:
Spend time in prayer, not only reflecting on whom you should vote for but also asking God to guide your words, attitudes, and actions toward those with whom you disagree. “Pray without season” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
Reflect on the candidates you will be voting for. Are these candidates “most worthy”? If so, why? Are they people of quality, competence, and character? How has your faith in God, and love for country informed your decisions?
Think about the candidates you will not be voting for. Reflect on these candidates’ good qualities and reasons why other people consider them “most worthy.” Do not assume the worst about opposing candidates and their supporters. Be respectful of them.
Resist any urges to write nasty, anonymous comments about opposing candidates on the Internet. In addition, if your candidate loses, do not write ridiculous things like “This is the end of Liberia,” or accuse the winning party of cheating.
Pray for the well-being of Liberia, regardless of which candidates emerge victorious on 10 October or after the official count. Understandably, the process of waiting for the election to happen and get official results can be painful and stressful. However, the more you pray, the better it would be for you, as God promises to endow you with his peace (Philippians 4:6-7)
Remember that your representatives, senators, and president elected represent you, regardless of whether or not you voted for them. Following the elections, let these people know what issues matter to you and why. Work with these elected officials for the benefit of all people, and particularly those whom Jesus called the “least of these”; the poverty-stricken, and vulnerable (Matthew 25:40).
This season of general and presidential elections is proving to be one of the most contested in Liberian history. Many of the leading candidates are investing significantly their human, material and financial resources into the process to ensure that they win the votes for the positions they desire. However, sadly, the process has already witnessed waves of violence resulting to the loss of lives. This is unacceptable. That is why we have written this article to encourage righteousness in the Land. “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). Righteousness simply means, “Doing the right thing. This article encourages the Liberian Christian community in particular and the citizenry in general to do the right thing by ensuring that they vote without fee or reward, and avoid verbal mayhem of opposing candidates. After all, we are all Liberians. We are one people striving for the common good for all Liberians. National campaigns and elections should not divide us but unite us to forge ahead as one people with a common destiny.
Therefore, we decry election corruption and violence of all kinds. Liberia is all we have. Let us put the interest of Mama Liberia first and last, above our candidates and above our personal interest. Let us endeavor to vote for candidates with impeccable character, and records of accomplished service to Mama Liberia. When we do, we can be certain of a nation with a sustainable future.
Rev. Dr. Jerry Paye-Manfloe Kulah
Vice President, School of Graduate & Professional Studies
United Methodist University
October 3, 2023