Sri Lanka (MNN) — Christians in Sri Lanka are under fire. Over the last 18 months, there’s been a spate of violence with little intervention.
Voice of the Martyrs Canada spokesman Greg Musselman explains, “Churches are destroyed, musical equipment is destroyed, and Bibles are burned. Terrible things are done to the church.” The violence has seen a dramatic uptick in the last six weeks with at least four major attacks on churches, prompting the United States to respond.
Three days ago, the U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Michele Sison met the National Christian Evangelical Alliance and discussed the recent attacks on two Christian prayer centers in Hikkaduwa. Following the meeting, the U.S. Embassy in a Twitter message said the Ambassador “calls for end of impunity in attacks on places of worship in Sri Lanka.”
The issue raises awareness that brings with it some accountability to protect Sri Lanka’s constitutional freedom of religion, adds Musselman. “You have international pressure that comes upon these governments. The outside world is looking and saying, ‘What are you doing? You say you believe in religious freedom, but are you actually trying to uphold that?’”
Christians are often left in legal limbo as the government now demands an additional letter of registration issued by the Ministry of Buddhist Sasana and Religious Affairs. This gives extremist monks leverage to instigate mobs against Christians and Muslims, and allows local authorities to put pressure on them.
Take, for example, the events of 12 January: Buddhist monks whipped a mob into frenzy, then led them to attack the Calvary Free Church and Assembly of God Church in Hikkaduwa, damaging the property while threatening the residents. Police have identified 24 suspects including 8 Buddhist monks, and the Galle Magistrate court ordered the police to arrest the suspects.
At the heart of the issue: national identity. “In Sri Lanka, you’ve got the Buddhists that are saying, ‘To be Sri Lankan is to be Buddhist. To be Christian is an affront to that.’”
Anti-conversion laws are in the works, which could trigger more antipathy toward Christians, regardless of the constitution. Musselman says while they do support the persecuted church in traditional avenues, they are also pursuing other ways to stand guard. “Part of our work has been on the legal side of helping a lawyer there, particularly, and the ministry there to fight off these anti-conversion laws that would make it illegal to convert to Christianity.”
Additionally, the struggle for power between the Muslims and Buddhists often increases the troubles for believers, notes Musselman. “You’ve got a lot of instability there. At times, Christians get caught in the middle. But as we’ve seen in the most-recent attacks, the Christians are actually the ones that are being attacked.”
Sri Lanka has a very small group of expat Christians, mainly in Colombo, and a large group of traditional and recognized churches, both Catholic and Protestant. Non-traditional Protestant churches as well as converts from a Buddhist background face the most persecution.
Ironically, Musselman explains,“It’s causing a real growth in the Gospel as a result of the persecution. Not only that, but it’s those that are the pastors, the leaders, that are instructing their congregations and people that ‘this is to be expected. And because it’s happening, we feel that we’re doing what God wants us to do. As a result, we’ll be strengthened in it.’”
Musselman admits that as harassment continues, there is a “chilling effect” on more traditional outreach avenues. “Be praying that there will be spiritual protection and also that fear will not overcome them.” Ask God to strengthen and encourage them. If you want to stand alongside believers in Sri Lanka, click here.