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Radical Buddhist group threatens evangelicals in Sri Lanka

Sixty churches and prayer centers targeted so far this year reporter, Colombo
Sri Lanka

July 19, 2014

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A Buddhist hardline group has carried out a campaign against evangelical churches in a Sri Lankan town and warned them to cease their religious activities in majority Buddhist villages.

Ravana Balaya, a radical Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist organization, visited more than 20 evangelical prayer services from July 15 to 19 in Polonnaruwa and told pastors to stop holding services and cease trying to convert Buddhists and Hindus, according to the Venerable Ittekande Saddhatissa Thero, General Secretary of Ravana Balaya.

“We have gotten hundreds of complaints from Buddhists and Hindus that evangelical pastors convert Buddhists to their religion and offer gifts and money to them,” he said. “If the evangelical churches fail to stop their mission, we will take legal action against their prayer centers.”

Saddhatissa Thero said that 20 monks and some Hindu priests had taken part in the campaign.

“Some of the pastors agreed with us to remove their prayer centers from Buddhist villages, but some opposed the suggestion,” he said.

So far in 2014, about 60 churches and evangelical prayer centers have been targeted while 105 were attacked in 2013, according to the National Christian Evangelical Alliance (NCEASL).

“Many pastors have been beaten and threatened to halt their prayer meetings,” said Godfrey Yogarajah, General Secretary of NCEASL.

“People have logged complaints in police stations but it is very rare that culprits are identified,” he said. 

“Many of the mobs who have attacked prayer gatherings have been led by Buddhist monks,” said Yogarajah, adding that monks have faced no legal repercussions for these acts of violence. 

The government launched a special police unit in April to address the rising religious tensions between Christians, Muslims and the Buddhist majority.

Pastor O.S. Fernando, president of the Pastors’ Fellowship Group in Polonnruwa, denied allegations that evangelical groups had offered money or gifts to converts or potential converts.

“We never convert by force [or] put up new houses to attract the faithful. It’s their own decision,” he said.

At least some of the tension has resulted from misunderstandings.

“While a pastor was putting up a new house, Buddhists monks had misunderstood that it was a new prayer center and so they lodged a complaint,” he said. “Over 150 people came with Buddhist monks to stop construction of the new building.”

“Now the pastor has been given police security,” he said, but added that “many pastors fear to work in the area now.”

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