'Harvesting Souls for God' and Religious Harmony
Harendra De Silva
The review by Allen Carr of Paul Hattaway's Christian Evangelist publication
'Peoples of the Buddhist World' should be an eye opener to Sri Lankans
of all religious persuasions. During the past few years, certain misguided
Sri Lankan Christians wrote to the papers declaring the innocence of
Evangelical Christians, but this book quite clearly demonstrates the
weakness of their claims. To its credit the Catholic Church in the island
has condemned the way the fundamentalists go about their proselytism,
but sections of Sri Lanka's Christian community continue to deny that
there is a problem with the worldview of Christian evangelists that
is not conducive towards inter-religious harmony in a multi religious
country such as Sri Lanka.
What is clear is that Christian evangelists in Sri Lanka and indeed
the rest of the world are not interested in dialogue or coexistence.
What they desire is to ensure the demise other religions, whether it
be Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam or Judaism and their replacement with Christianity.
Currently in Sri Lanka there are numerous Christian evangelical groups
working to "harvest souls for God." They are represented by
the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL). This
umbrella group is actively working to convert not only Buddhists, but
Hindus and Muslims as well. The Tamils of the upcountry and those in
refugee camps, and the Muslims of Puttalam as well as the Malay community
are the main minority non-Christian groups targeted for conversion.
The NCEASL must realise that the aggressive and unethical activities
of various Christian missionary groups in the island have caused religious
tension in areas where previously people of different religions had
been living in peace. It must also realise that using poverty, destitution,
war and natural disasters as tools for conversion goes against accepted
norms of decency and morality. As much as freedom of religion is to
be cherished and upheld, it does not include the freedom to refer to
other religions in a derogatory manner, divide villages along religious
lines and create religious conflict. Such acts are not in the welfare
of the Sri Lankan people or the Sri Lankan nation.
Religious harmony requires a healthy respect for others and their freedom
to live in a society without religious coercion. It requires a recognition
of the fact that whilst we may not agree with other belief systems,
they may be equally valid paths to the divine. When one group aggressively
targets others for conversion, for "harvesting souls," and
characterizes their relationship with other traditions as a "spiritual
battle" the very foundation of religious harmony is destroyed.
The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka needs to re-examine
how its member organisations go about spreading the Gospel in Sri Lanka,
a country where memories of Christian oppression during the colonial
period still remain in the national psyche. The two largest non-Christian
traditions in the island, Buddhism and Hinduism, were severely oppressed
for close to 500 years at the hands of over zealous Christians with
temples destroyed, believers and clergy killed and prohibitions on the
practice of Buddhism and Hinduism in areas where Christians ruled. The
Muslim community were also not spared as their mosques were demolished
and their population expelled from Christian areas to other parts of
the island. Many Sri Lankans are worried over the possible return of
that aggressive and iconoclastic brand of Christianity that seeks to
oppress and destroy rather than coexist in peace and harmony.