In the wake of the Easter Sunday terror attacks on Sri Lankan churches, TGCA spoke to TGCA Council member and Dean of Sydney about the situation.
TGCA: Thanks for being willing to talk to us about this terrible situation. The media is currently reporting than almost 350 Christians were killed in the Easter Sunday blasts; and that the culprits seem to be connected to ISIS in some way. Can you fill us in on any other details that would help us understand the situation?
News has been sketchy and it is probably too early to speak with much authority. It was obviously a highly coordinated attack which is very disturbing.The bombers have now been identified and arrests made, including of Sri Lankans with links to Islamist extremism.
TGCA: Have you been in contact with friends or family in Sri Lanka? How are they responding to these attacks?
I have been in touch with family and friends—all of whom are safe—as have so many Sri Lankans living in Australia. We know people here who have lost family members. People are distressed and even those not directly affected by the deaths and injuries are deeply concerned about the wider political implications of these attacks. It’s clear now that they have been in planning for some time (quite possibly well before the Christchurch attacks), and they were executed with great deliberateness. All this points to a depth of wickedness and threat to the harmony and stability of Sri Lanka.
It’s clear now that these attacks have been in planning for some time (quite possibly well before the Christchurch attacks), and they were executed with great deliberateness. All this points to a depth of wickedness and threat to the harmony and stability of Sri Lanka.
TGCA: What can you tell us about Christianity in Sri Lanka and its relationship with other faiths?
About 70% of the population of Sri Lanka is Buddhist and ethnically Sinhalese. Another 12% is Hindu and ethnically Tamil. About 9% are Muslim and 7% are Christians of any denomination. Less than 2% are Protestants. But the Christian population is comprised of both the ethnic minority Tamils and majority Sinhalese, as well as English speaking ‘burghers’ (descendants of the Europeans) many of whom worship together.
There is church planting work especially in rural parts of the island. Parachurch ministries like Youth for Christ (led for many years by Ajith Fernando) and media ministries have brought the gospel to many who might not otherwise have met a Christian.
Churches are involved in work among the urban poor (there is very little government welfare) and since the war, in trauma recovery. Where new churches have been established there has been local opposition, sometimes involving attacks on buildings, pastors or worshippers. The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka has reported an increase in such incidents in the last six months.
The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion while giving Buddhism the ‘foremost place’ and State protection. The Supreme Court has found that there is no Constitutional right to propagate religion. Members of nationalist Buddhist groups have been prosecuted for inciting violence against religious minorities, but local authorities can be unresponsive to complaints.
TGCA: We understand that you are going to be conducting commemorative service for Sri Lanka at St Andrew’s Cathedral on Saturday. Do you know what you are hoping to say?
That Jesus is raised from the dead means that death has lost its sting for those whose sins have been paid for in the death of Jesus, and evil will be judged by Jesus who is raised as Lord and Judge of all.
Jesus stands at the tomb of Lazarus and weeps with those who weep, and he conquers death by his own death and rising, so that every tear will be wiped away. For those who grieve their loved ones lost in this wicked event, there is the sure hope that those who die in Christ will be raised with Christ, and that whether earthly justice succeeds or not, every evil deed will be accounted for.
So Christians are freed from the root of bitterness, hatred and revenge by the knowledge of the perfect justice to come, we are comforted by the hope of the resurrection and the reunion it brings and, filled with the Spirt who is poured out by the resurrected Lord, we are equipped to love our enemies, to bless those who persecute and to hold out forgiveness and life in Christ to those who do us evil.
TGCA: What are your fears and hopes for the future of the country of your heritage in the light of this tragedy?
Following the Constitutional crisis last year, there is a fear that political instability creates an opportunity for evil. But I have had the privilege of meeting with Sri Lankan pastors over recent years, and I am hugely encouraged, humbled and inspired by their faithfulness, prayerfulness and joy.
Not many Sri Lankan Christians are influential or affluent or highly regarded in a worldly sense, but many are proclaiming Christ, discipling new believers, serving the poorest of the poor, and rejoicing in Jesus. My greatest hopes for Sri Lanka are bound up with the progress of the gospel of Jesus.
TGCA: How should Christians respond (in a godly way) to terrorism?
The phenomenon of terrorism thrives on fear, hatred and grievance. Christians should be people who see others through the lens of God’s gospel—precious and made in his image, flawed and inherently sinful, offered forgiveness and adoption in Christ. We are no better than others who are different to us, we could not be more loved by God. We do not need to prove ourselves by dominating others or pulling them down.
In the aftermath of events like those of Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka, we should follow the commands of the apostle Paul in Romans 12:
…hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Bless those who persecute you. Live in harmony with one another. Do not take revenge, but leave room for God’s wrath, for ‘It is mine to avenge’, says the Lord. Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.’
All these are the fruit of the gospel that Paul expounds in the whole letter to the Romans—the fruit of the Spirit. (Romans 8:23)
TGCA: What can Australian Christians be doing or praying for our brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka?
- Pray for the grieving, that they would be comforted in the midst of the searing pain of this wicked and unjust suffering.
- Pray for church communities, and pastors and Christian leaders that they will have God’s Spirit of wisdom, and his power to minister the grace of the gospel with perseverance, faith and hope.
- Pray that the Christian community would shine like stars in a dark night sky.
- Pray for pastors and health workers caring for the injured and for the many more traumatised and fearful because of these attacks.
- Pray for the governing authorities, security and judiciary: that they will act for the benefit of the nation, with wisdom, integrity and justice.
- Pray that there would not be mischief making by the evil one, and that the community would be kept from division and fear, but pursue peace and unity, with humility and charity towards one another.
Barnabas Fund is working with local partners to bring comfort and aid. People who want to make a financial contribution could check out their website.