Conversions spark violence

Published December 1, 2003

New Delhi
Churches in Sri Lanka have urged the government to give protection to Christians following recent attacks on churches and increasing demands for a ban on religious conversions in the Buddhist-majority nation. “We are appealing to the government and those responsible for law and order to [protect] innocent people to worship and ensure their fundamental right to practise their religion,” said Anglican Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe, chairperson of the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka. The Christian council, which groups Protestant and Anglican churches, issued a statement expressing “deep concern” over violence against church targets. “Over the past two months in particular, several churches have been attacked and on some occasions church workers beaten up,” said the council statement. The call for “unethical conversions” to be banned was made at a convention of 1,500 Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka ‘s capital, Colombo , on Sept. 23. The demand followed a ruling by the country’s Supreme Court in July that Christian groups cannot register as social charities since their proselytizing work contravenes the Sri Lankan constitution. “The ongoing debate [on conversion] and the atmosphere has been vitiated as a result of the court ruling,” said Bishop Frank Marcus Fernando, president of the Roman Catholic bishops’ national commission on catechetics. He insisted that relations between the churches and the Buddhist leadership were good, and laid some of the responsibility for the present tension on Christian groups. “Our own fundamentalist [evangelical] groups are also to be blamed for the present situation,” he said. His concern was echoed by Bishop Illangasinghe, who said the “aggressive evangelizaton” of “tiny” church groups was disturbing the harmony that existed between Christians and the Buddhist majority. However, if a law to ban conversion was enacted as demanded by some Buddhists, Bishop Illangasinghe said, “all the churches will have to suffer for the adventurism of a few [church] groups.” The National Christian Council appealed to church groups “to be more sensitive about the manner in which we interact with persons of other faiths.”

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