Baptist seminary in Liberia reopens after forced closure

Mercer University professor Richard Wilson finally began work Feb. 17 as president of the Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary after arriving in the country Jan. 4 to find it had been shut down.

By Bob Allen

A labor judge’s Jan. 6 order shutting down the Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary has been lifted, the school’s interim president announced Feb. 21.

National Labor Court Judge Comfort Natt ordered the closure over the seminary’s refusal to pay a $300,000 judgment to a former president who sued the school after his removal in 2007.

Richard Wilson, a Mercer University professor on loan for a one-year appointment at the institution described as the crown jewel of the Liberia Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention, said after negotiations with former President Lincoln Brownell’s legal team, the shutdown was lifted Feb. 14.

wilson jonahWilson, who arrived in Monrovia on Jan. 4 with plans to begin work immediately, said he entered his office for the first time on Monday, Feb. 17. His installation as sixth president of a school attempting to rebuild after decades of civil war and recent controversy over leadership changes in Liberian Baptist life is scheduled March 13.

“We lost time because of the obstacles in our path, but we did not lose hope,” Wilson said after meeting with administrative staff both individually and as a group. “There is important work to be done on this historic campus and we will see that the vision and mission of our Baptist founders in Liberia will be honored.”

Founded in 1880 to bring Baptist churches together for fellowship, cooperation and development of programs in Christian education and evangelism, the Liberia Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention will celebrate its 100th annual session March 23-30.

The ceremony was delayed more than three decades by the April 12, 1980, death of Liberian President William R. Tolbert Jr., in a military coup. Tolbert, a Baptist minister, served as president of the Liberia Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention from 1958 until his death and as president of the Baptist World Alliance 1965-1970.

In the wake of Tolbert’s death Samuel Doe became the first indigenous head of the country established as a colony by former American slaves. It also cast suspicion on Tolbert’s fellow Baptists, including some who were jailed or killed. The Doe government seized assets of the Liberia Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention, and they were never returned.

Doe led Liberia 10 years before being toppled by President Charles Taylor, who was convicted of war crimes and sentenced to 50 years in prison in 2012.

Liberia’s current president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first elected female African head of state, is serving her second term after winning election in 2011.

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