United Methodist shares Nobel Peace Prize

By Kathy Gilbert

United Methodist Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen were awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for their work on women’s rights.

Johnson Sirleaf, a member of First United Methodist Church, Monrovia, Liberia, in 2006 was the first woman to be elected a head of state in modern Africa. She is up for re-election this month.

Bishop John Innis, who leads Liberia’s 170,000 United Methodists, has urged support for Johnson Sirleaf from the first days of her presidency.

“You are going to be a sweet mother to us all,” he said when a delegation of United Methodists from the United States and Liberia met with the new president on her third day in office.

She calls herself “Mama Ellen” and has made equality for women a top priority. In her inauguration speech, she said: “Women have endured injustices and inhumane treatment; yet, it is the women who have labored and advocated for peace.”

She thanked the women in Liberia who “had an unmatched passion” for her candidacy. She said she would work to make sure women had their proper place in the economic process.

Johnson Sirleaf addressed the United Methodist 2008 General Conference. “This is a special honor for me,” she said. “I am the first African leader and the first female president to address the General Conference of The United Methodist Church.”

She was the first recipient of the James K. and Eunice Mathews Bridge Builder Award, which was created to honor a person “who has played a significant role in building global community and dismantling barriers that separate people.”

In a statement released after she learned of her award, Johnson Sirleaf said progress has been made in the last five years of her presidency and a new foundation for Liberia has been built.

“Dear Liberians, as we look at the work that must still be done, let us not forget that we are at peace with ourselves and our neighboring countries. Liberia is no longer a place where its people are fleeing in the thousands. On the contrary, Liberia is a country that Liberians and the world are returning to.”

“I can think of no one who is more deserving than Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. This award is powerful example of the impact of women as peace builders,” said Thomas Kemper, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

The three prizewinners share the 2011 award “for their nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work,” Norwegian Nobel Committee president Thorbjoern Jagland said in his announcement.

Kathy Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tennessee.