Churches Face Harassment, Closure in Sri Lanka

June 27, 2013

Facing opposition from their Buddhist and Hindu neighbors, Sri Lankan Christians fear their religious rights will erode as extremist groups attempt to shut down churches in the island nation.

According to International Christian Concern´s website, over 30 churches have been “violently attacked” in 2013 alone. Last year the organization reported 52 incidents of Christian persecution.

Accounts of harassment against Christians have increased with the resurgence of nationalism and a backlash against anything considered a “foreign religion.” Sinhalese Buddhists, victorious in 2009 after a 20-year civil war with Tamil separatists in the north, view Western influences as a threat to their traditional culture.

As minorities in the predominantly Buddhist society, both Christians and Muslims suffer persecution. However, evangelical churches seem particularly targeted.

“The violence has escalated in the sense that it is more visible now, but the incidents are localized,” said Sarla Mahara, the South Asia Director for Christian Aid Mission. “After the war ended, Christians began preaching more openly and now more churches are springing up.”

A Christian Aid ministry partner in Sri Lanka emailed Mahara this week with news of isolated attacks against Protestant congregations. The ministry has been instrumental in training missionaries and planting churches throughout the country.

Six Christians were injured and their Methodist church was damaged June 16 when a worship service allegedly grew too loud and angered a group of Hindus holding a religious celebration of their own.

“During the Sunday service the church used a sound system. At the same time Hindus were celebrating thiruvela in a nearby temple. The Hindus asked the church people to stop the sound system, but they didn´t turn it off. Therefore, the Hindu people assaulted six church people and attacked the church,” he wrote.

The ministry partner expressed concerns that the group´s aggression against the Christians was politically motivated and asked for prayer.

Numerous reports indicate local officials are ordering the closure of churches because they have not been “authorized” by the government. While the registration of religious organizations is not mandatory, pressure is mounting to require all such groups to come under the watchful eye of the state.

Mahara sees a silver lining in the hostilities. Instead of undermining the evangelistic efforts of churches, those instigating acts of violence are unintentionally creating greater unity among the body of Christ.

“Persecution really brings out a stronger church. With the war over, people can travel freely again and there´s much more potential for the gospel to go across the country,” said Mahara.