By Bob Allen
Reports from Africa say a labor judge ordered a shutdown Jan. 6 of the Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary, the latest move in a series of disputes involving a group calling itself “Concerned Baptists” opposed to Liberia Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention President Olu Menjay.
Mercer University Professor Richard Wilson, recently named to a one-year appointment as interim president of the seminary in Liberia, said it would be inappropriate for him to comment on the controversy.
Wilson, who has traveled to Liberia nine times in the past seven years — five of them with the university’s Mercer On Mission program — was called in “to provide strong leadership on the heels of recent crucial leadership crises,” according to a Mercer press release.
He accepted the challenge after Menjay, a Mercer alumnus who now serves on the faculty of the Baptist-affiliated school based in Macon, Ga., told Mercer President William Underwood about the need for a seminary president.
“Four days later, I was in the president’s office, and he looked at me and said, ‘I think you need to go to Liberia and be president of the seminary,’” Wilson recalled in the university press release.
Menjay came to Mercer in 1993 as a refugee of the First Liberian Civil War who had earned his associate’s degree at a junior college in the United States. After graduating in 1995 he earned master’s degrees from Duke University and Boston University and a Ph.D. from the University of Wales.
Following the end of the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003, Menjay returned to Liberia and became the principal of Ricks Institute, a K-12 boarding school in Monrovia founded in 1887 trying to rebuild after 14 years of civil war.
Menjay’s 2012 election as president of the Liberia Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention reportedly aggravated a faction including former leaders, who have accused him of actions that are hard to document but make the most heated rhetoric of the Southern Baptist Convention inerrancy controversy in the last two decades of the 20th century seem mild by comparison.
Recently the news aggregator AllAfrica.com described Liberia’s “Baptist church in crisis.”
The executive committee of the Liberia Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention affirmed Menjay’s election. The convention is currently gearing up for its centennial annual meeting in March, to be held at Ricks Institute, and meeting planners say they expect a strong turnout.
The New Dawn, an independent daily newspaper published in both English and French, reported that Labor Court Judge Comfort Natt shut down the Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary for debt. The closure reportedly followed a court ruling favoring Lincoln Brownell, the seminary’s former president, and the first Liberian elected to the post, who was dismissed in a leadership dispute with the board of trustees in 2006.