Feature Article

Under attack, Christians fear militant Buddhism

[TamilNet, Sunday, 10 December 2006, 03:29 GMT]
Amid growing violence in Sri Lanka that Church leaders have likened to the 'killing fields' of Cambodia, Christians in the island are facing increased persecution from Buddhist extremists, Release International reported this week. Christians in Sri Lanka are appealing to the international community for help, RI which monitors persecution of churches around the world, said. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) also says Christians in Sri Lankan are facing more intense persecution as mob violence becomes an increasingly visible trend in the country.

“Violence and militancy are not normally associated with Buddhism, which is usually seen as peaceful,” says RI’s Chief Executive, Andy Dipper.

“But in Sri Lanka religion has become mixed with politics and nationalism - creating a toxic brew of hatred and fear. And Christians are often caught right in the middle - as so often happens when a nation slides towards civil war.”

“Extremists believe this country belongs to the Sinhala Buddhists, and if you are a true Sri Lankan you must be a Buddhist,” Godfrey Yogarajah, the General Secretary of the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL), Christian Today reported.

Officials of the NCEASL that the government has turned a blind eye over the matter for a long time

Recently a 50-strong mob led by four Buddhist monks confronted Christians gathering for a service at an Assembly of God church, RI said. They accused the pastor of bribing villagers to convert to Christianity and they warned him to close down the church “or face the consequences.”

In an earlier incident, Buddhist extremists attempted to forcibly convert Pastor 'A', a woman. RI reported that they also tried to rape her.

“We looked out and we saw a lot of men who had come and surrounded us,” she told RI. “They were local Buddhist monks who threatened us and told us to stop our [Christian] activities.”

But the threats quickly moved beyond words.

“They forced us to kneel down; ordered us to declare that Buddha is our God and kept beating us. But we refused to say anything. We sat on the ground and kept silent.”

She fought off an attempt by one man to rape her, RI reported.

Militant Buddhists are continuing their campaign against Christianity, attacking churches and threatening Christian schools, RI said.

In Jaffna, a church minister vanished without trace after government forces searched his church for Tamil Tigers sheltering among refugees, RI added.

On 22 November 2006, the Lighthouse Church, Mawatura, Gompola in Kandy District, was attacked while the pastor and a church worker were inside. Rocks were thrown at the building, shattering the front window, and the church worker was seriously injured when a rock hit him on the head, CSW report.

Ten days earlier, on 12 November 2006, members of the congregation of the Assemblies of God Church in Yakkala, Gampaha District, were prevented from attending a church service by a mob of over 100 people, some of whom were armed with clubs.

Four Buddist monks accompanied the crowd of attackers and anti-Christian posters had appeared on the walls.

Four days later, a young woman from the congregation had a container of black oil thrown over her as she travelled to the home of the pastor and his wife, Christian Today learnt.

The church has temporarily stopped holding services as a result of developments.

In Kandy District on 12 November, the Sunday service at Mizpah Prayer Ministry was disrupted by a crowd of 35 people who were accompanied by 12 Buddhist monks and a Provincial Council member. The church’s pastor reported that the mob threatened to flatten the building if the congregation gathered together to worship again, CSW said.

On the same day, four members of the Prayer Tower, Anamaduwa in Puttlam District, were threatened by a group of men as they returned from a funeral. They were told not to return to the village and were hit with fists and rocks.

“At a time when ethnic violence is escalating in Sri Lanka, this recent spate of religiously motivated attacks is particularly discouraging,” CSW’s Chief Executive, Mervyn Thomas, said.

“We call upon the authorities in Sri Lanka to ensure that all citizens have the opportunity to practice their chosen religion with out fear of harassment by mobs and urge all faith communities to show tolerance and respect for one another.”

According to Yogarajah of the NCEASL, these are tough times for the church.

“But we have seen that with persecution there is also growth. There are people coming to know Christ. There are Buddhist monks who actually persecuted the church coming to say they are sorry, that they were misled. They realise that even though they have done evil, the Christians have repaid them with good.”


External Links:
FT: Persecuted..but not defeated
RI: Research International
CSW: Christians targeted by mobs
CT: Violence Against Christians Escalates in Sri Lanka
CT: Persecution Intensifies


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