Jesus giving communion, photo frame in Pettah.
There’s been a lot of talk about violence and hate speech towards Muslims, but it’s going on against Christians too. A lot. According to RSQ, “A mob led by three Buddhist monks attacked a prayer meeting in Colombo last week, beating the pastor unconscious.. On the same day, Praise Prayer Lanka Church cancelled their service after police warned of threats against them. A week earlier, a pastor in Hambantota had a narrow escape when arsonists tried to set his house on fire.”
Anti-Christian sentiment has been around since, well, forever. There was a lot of Christian conversion with the waves of colonials and there was always tension, especially and Christian, English-speaking people became elites. That has changed with Sinhala Buddhists comprising the political elite, but the insecurity remains. While many in the business and economic/social elite are Christians, the vast majority are average or poor Sri Lankans. As is the case with anti-Muslim sentiment, ire against visible wealth and privilege is directed against the poor and vulnerable by destroying humble places of worship and attacking community priests and worshipers.
More recently, people have gotten up in arms about unethical conversions, the allegation that Christians force people to convert in order to get social support. The fact is that Christianity is an evangelical religion (unlike Buddhism or Hinduism, for the most part) but the idea that conversion is pay-to-pray is quite largely false. Christianity (and Islam) do have elements of charity which Buddhism largely lacks (with most charity being directed towards monks, not the poor) and active Christians are active among the poor, and those people do convert.
What the disputes seem to be now is part of a broader wave of Sinhala Buddhist racism whereby practicing Christianity at all is a problem worth betraying everything the Buddha taught to attack people and burn their homes and churches. It should go without saying, but I’ll repeat. This is not Buddhism at all, nor does it represent the Sinhala people. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, being married to a Catholic, should understand as well as anyone that we are mixed communities and that to have peace is to live in peace. This ongoing racism is a pox on our society, whichever way it’s directed.
The anti-Muslim sentiment has got a lot of attention, but it’s important to remember that anti-Christian sentiment (and violence) is there as well. It’s all got to stop. For the dignity of the country, the Sinhala people, and Buddhism as well.