A prophet of modern times : the thought of William Wade Harris, West African precursor of the Reign of Christ
The purpose of this study was to discover the thought and intention behind the religious breakthrough provoked in 1914 by William Wadd Harris of Half Graway, Liberia. The methodology entailed an examination of Harris's origins and pre-prophetic influences, and an exegesis of primary sources. Following a report of Harris's mission in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast and Ghana, and a historiography of related writings, part I (the making of the prophet) describes the Glebo context of Harris's birth ca. 1860. It traces the effects of the introduction of Christianity into the traditional milieu in the ensuing religio-cultural conflict which produced the prophet. The influences which conditioned the prophetic call are thus exposed: the village of Glogbale, the colonial Liberians, Harris's pastor-uncle John C. Lowrie, the Liberian Methodist Church where he converted, his kruboy life, his years as a catechist-teacher in the Episcopal Church under Bishop S.D. Ferguson and the Liberian Republic. Harris's alienation from the Church-supported Republic is traced; special attention is given to alternative currents of thought coming from Edward W. Blyden and Charles T. Russell. His political activity is followed until his 1909 arrest and trial for treason, and a later imprisonment during the Grebo War of 1910. Finally, a thorough study is made of his prophetic call of that year. Part II (prophetic thought patterns) examines from 1910 to 1929 the prophet's biblical hermeneutics of analogy and fulfilment, giving special attention to his eschatological key. As prophet, Harris was the Elijah of Malachi, preparing the masses for the imminent establishment of Christ's earthly reign, after an apocalyptic judgement of all recalcitrants; as judge-to-be over West Africa in that reign, his mission until then was to create a peace-loving, brotherly and prosperous constituency. His African-styled spiritual gifts were obtained through his experience of Pentecost; his symbolic instruments, some with power, had Christian meanings. His major gift and instrument was the prophetic word, which is examined in depth. Harris attributed to the churches a subsidiary teaching role in view of Christ Church, a new non-denominational universal Christianity which was to merge into the reign of Christ; political government was located under the political authority of Christ, whose prophet he was and whose kingship was soon to be revealed. In a final appreciation made of Harris's Christianity, mission, Africanity and universalism, his Christian messianism reveals him to be more Christian, African, political and universal than most interpreters have known. Part III presents the primary sources used for exegesis.