The U.S. Government through its embassy in Colombo as usual has expressed concern about attacks on Christian churches by “Buddhist extremists” in Sri Lanka. In its latest International religious freedom report USG has urged GOSL to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators. Has Washington at anytime really pondered on the root causes of religious friction in the island? When it protests against attacks on Christian Churches does it mean American-funded new evangelical churches or the main stream, long-established Christian churches? Virtually no mob attacks have taken place against the latter over religious issues in the period covered by the report or even the year before, although some degree of friction between them and Buddhists do exist on certain issues.
Here is a question for U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and other American panjandrums pontificating on the ‘lack of religious freedom’ in Sri Lanka. Do you endorse the following or not?
“The accepted theory of freedom of religion is the freedom to believe in any particular religion of one’s own choice, changing one’s religion should be a personal decision taken independent of any coercion, influence, terror, deceit or secrecy.” (Excerpt from the Report of the Commission the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress appointed in 2006 to inquire and report on the unethical conversions of Buddhists to other religions)
If the USG does endorse the above and therefore is sincerely interested ensuring genuine religious harmony in Sri Lanka the first thing they should do it to admit that the majority of American-funded Christian evangelical are engaged conversions through deceit and inducement.
If the U.S. embassy needs proof it should study in full the English edition of the 385-page ACBC report which was ceremonially launched under the patronage of World Federation of Buddhists Vice President Dr. Ananda W.P. Guruge at the ACBC Hall, Colombo on July 2.
Even the Catholic Church has been compelled to come out strongly against the American fundamentalist churches. The U.S. report admits Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith as accusing the fundamentalists of converting Catholics through inducements and calling upon the government to control these new churches. What has Hillary Clinton got to say about it?
It is obvious to any intelligent observer that the U.S. wants Sri Lanka to give American-funded evangelists full freedom to engage in proselytizing by any means in predominantly Buddhist and Hindu areas. Unlike being a member of any of the old established Christian and Catholic Churches embracing the new fangled Christianity of the American fundamentalist churches will make the follower strongly pro-U.S. Washington cannot expect such loyalty from either Buddhists or Hindus. This obviously is USG’s main reason for opposing the enforcement of laws against unethical conversions in this country.
Neither Buddhists nor Hindus suffer from the conversion craze. If anyone is interested in these two religions they have every opportunity to learn about them and convert on their own accord – with no deceit, inducement or compulsion. The same should apply to all religions.
Proselytizing by dubious means, not surprisingly fuels resistance to so-called religious freedom. Sri Lanka has been facing this menace since the late 1970s. Following the outbreak of LTTE terrorism ‘harvesting souls’ among the victims of violence and trauma became a lucrative business for these evangelists. Following the tsunami hordes of them descended on the island and started distributing Bibles and other religious material under cover of providing the surviving victims with relief assistance.
Hilary Clinton should realize that the status of Buddhism in Sri Lanka is no different from that of the Orthodox Christian Churches of Eastern Europe, where religion is inextricably linked to culture and national heritage. This is very different from the Western Protestant concept of a gathered congregation of individual believers. Most Orthodox churches identify strongly with a particular ethnic and cultural history a nation concretely represents. Thus an Orthodox Church expects the state to represent and protect the interests of the church.
Let me conclude with an excerpt from China’s People’s Daily Op-editorial comment August 3, titled ‘U.S. should stop acting like God’s ‘spokesperson’:
“The idea of “religious freedom” is nothing but a stick the United States uses to hit others. Within the United States, there is no absolute and unlimited religious freedom either.”