Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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Presidential elections and losing the battle for a pluralist state

Posted by harimpeiris on January 6, 2015

 

 

Presidential elections and losing the battle for a pluralist state

Published in the January ‘15 issue of Direction Magazine

“Be still and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10)

 

As this article is being penned, in mid December, in time for the publishing deadline of Direction Magazine, the outcome of the presidential election is hard to predict. President Mahinda Rajapakse’s unprecedented attempt to secure a third consecutive term of office, which was only a few months ago, thought to be essentially a no contest, has in the contest of a breakaway from his own party suddenly become a tight race between a unified opposition’s mass movement and the government’s electoral machinery. Irrespective of the outcome of the election, the following socio political realities would face the Christian community and her churches leaders in the decades to come.

The pluralist state is being replaced by a Sinhala Buddhist state

 

Sri Lanka is a multi ethnic and a multi religious society. That is just a demographic fact of life. That the various different ethnic and religious communities live together as equals in this country has been the idea that has been consistently challenged by Sinhala Buddhist nationalist dogma since the Anagarika Dharmapala Buddhist revival, which also led to the first Muslim – Sinhala riots. The rather worrying feature of the current variant of Buddhist nationalism is not a Buddhist revival, in fact if Buddhist nationalists actually practiced their noble teachings of Buddhism rather than focusing on fighting for it, everyone may be better off. Rather today we have an anti minority religions attitude growing in society, fuelled by the enabling environment created by the Rajapakse Administration, which has basically provided the socio political space and tacit support if not overt support to such extremists groups as the BBS.

The barely commenced process of post war reconciliation

 

Even a casual reading of the recommendations of the Sri Lankan State’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Report (LLRC) would indicate that dealing with the effects and the causes of Sri Lanka’s three decades long civil has barely commenced. Post war, the Rajapakse Administration governed as if the end of the war required no post war reconciliation and hence, there has been little to no serious attempts to move forward the process of reconciliation. To the Church, which has a Biblical mandate for reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18), not only between God and man but also between man and man, a renewed community level push on reconciliation will be required, irrespective of who had won the election. We must remember that the Church is the only ethnically integrated social institution in Sri Lanka.

The challenge of Christian children being forced to practice Buddhism

 

The Government’s education system, of course inapplicable to the wealthier Christian kids in international schools, but very applicable to the vast majority in the public school system, are required as per the public examination syllabus and guidelines to compulsorily, study a religion as a subject for their ordinary (O/L) level examination. Since most government schools except for Colombo’s largest and best, do not offer “non RC” as Christianity is known, the vast majority of non Colombo Sinhala Christian children are forced by government policy to study Buddhism as an academic subject. While far from ideal, even this situation can be borne up, after all the Biblical Daniel learnt and indeed excelled in the language and literature of the Babylonians (Daniel Ch.1). However, in recent years, under the Rajapakse Administration for the first time Christian children throughout Sri Lanka, studying Buddhism are being forced to observe and practice Buddhism, including participating in pre-poya pirith, to take “Sil’ and offer pooja. This is a scandalous state of affairs, which is the worst unethical religious practice which violates not only all norms of decency but also is a violation of international standards of the rights of a child. The Church has been powerless to stop this outrage against her most vulnerable next generation.

The challenge to evangelism and informal practice of Christianity

 

Twenty five years ago as a young man, during the Premadasa presidency and the NGO Commission days, I participated actively in the then raging debate about unethical conversion, the issue being the ethics of conversion from one religion to another. On one such occasion in the mid 1990’s, I wrote a piece in the Daily News, where I clearly stated that though the argument was being made about the ethics of conversion, what was really being opposed through the discourse was conversion itself. Two decades later, the church has got outshouted in that debate, the issue is no longer the ethics of conversion, but conversion itself per se is taboo. Though actually it is the Christian community, which has declined in Sri Lanka/ Christians were 10.2% of the population according to the 1900 census, but currently only 7.5% of the population as per the 2012 Census. Further informal Christianity worship in rural homes, is under sustained attack through the Ministry of Buddha Sassana and unlawful police activity to restrict such worship with no basis in law whatsoever.

All these and more would be challenges to the Church in the years to come, should our Lord tarry to come. United in our diversity we may be able to stand and withstand (Ephesians ch.6) the above. Divided we will grow our churches, but be in strategic retreat, as in the above areas in our land.

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