Liberia’s Woman President
Commander in Chief, the new ABC television drama chronicling the fictional presidency of the first woman President of the United States, has not presented us with a pretty picture of politics as usual in Washington, D.C. Suspecting that we are still seeing a less brutal version of what people will do to make their own political will known, I am at once startled by what we have been able to accomplish as a country under such internal adversity, and saddened by the amount of energy and resources wasted on undermining other people’s success.
Not so in Liberia.
Ellen Johnson-Sirlenf is Liberia’s new president, and the first woman president in African history. Although her opponent, former soccer star George Weah, claimed election fraud and demanded a rerun of the poll, the United Nations mission in Liberia saw the elections as free and fair, as did other international observers. With 97 percent of the vote in as of this past Sunday, Johnson-Sirlenf, a Harvard-educated economist, who served as finance minister and with the World Bank, Citibank and the United Nations, had earned 59.4 percent, Weah, 40.6 percent. The basis for her victory can be traced back to a campaign earlier in the year to get women to register to vote. Johnson-Sirlenf also encouraged women, on her travels through the country, to go to the polls to make history by having a hand in electing a woman leader. Apparently this made sense to a lot of women.
My guess is that this emergent political force had little awareness of its own strength until the right leader wove a thread among its members, gathering them into a unity with a purpose. But they do understand the basic needs of their country, and how they affect day-to-day living. Electricity, water, education and health care cannot be disguised as luxuries when managing a business or a family household. The people who elected Johnson-Sirlenf know she means to help them take action to make these improvements a reality in their own lives.
Liberia’s challenges remind me that within many congregations there are a number of threads that can be woven among groups of people, ready to be gathered together by a leader who understands their strength before they realize it themselves. Paul knew this about the church at Corinth. Well-known for its struggles to become the congregation Paul envisioned with the Corinthian membership as they initially came together as a church, Paul continued to hold up that vision to them. Paul visited the congregation whenever he could, and when he couldn’t, he wrote the letters that give us a glimpse of who they were and how they came to be. Writings on spiritual gifts and vocational ministries allude to discussions held on who was to do what job in the church structures, and how each effort strengthened the body called Christ’s. The verses so often quoted about what love looks like, and doesn’t look like, were born of human frustration over imaging God in daily living in extraordinarily harsh times and circumstances. In Paul’s words are the threads gathering these emergent manifestations of God’s grace together in God’s name. Paul’s affection for these people was clear. “I give thanks to God always for you because of the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him with all speech and all knowledge.” (I Corinthians 1:4-5)
The Liberian people have survived civil war and economic hardship, and are now ready to manifest the vision Ellen Johnson-Sirlenf shares with them, a vision of physical security, political inclusion, and the basic conveniences of life we take for granted. This first gathering thread is only the first, and a potent beginning for a new Liberia.