Buddhist Monks Destroy Church in Sri Lanka, Attack Pastor

A group of Buddhist monks and a mob of locals destroyed a church in Sri Lanka and attacked the pastor earlier this month, adding to the already escalating anti-Christian violence in the south Asia country.

Calvary Church in Thalahena, Malabe, northeast of the capital Colombo, was destroyed after a rumor spread that Christians had attacked a local Buddhist temple. A mob of some 500 villagers had descended on Calvary church and surrounded it as Sunday service was about to take place on July 6, persecution watchdog group Release International recently reported.

The 100 church members in attendance were told to leave by the pastor and police, who were called in earlier by the pastor when he noticed that the church's cross was damaged.

"Fearing violence, the pastor and the police sent away the congregation. Soon after the mob – including the monks – entered the church and completely destroyed everything within, leaving only the walls standing," said the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL), a partner of Release International.

"The mob then turned on the pastor and five workers, beating them with clubs and rods. A police officer who attempted to shield the pastor also received blows."

According to the NCEASL, the pastor and his father were both injured and were taken to the hospital.

Sri Lanka, which has been entangled in a two-decade long civil war in the north, has seen increased violence against Christians in recent years. Anti-Christian propaganda has increased due to coordinated campaigns, including that of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (Buddhist Heritage Party).

The Buddhist political party was formed to promote "anti-conversion" legislation in an effort to prevent conversions to Christianity. These campaigns have led to a series of violent attacks on churches nationwide, with some of the attackers never convicted.

The latest attack came only a few days after the home of an Assemblies of God pastor in Middeniya, southern Sri Lanka, was set on fire while he and his family were inside. Tires were reportedly piled outside the door of the pastor's house and set ablaze. Fortunately, however, the pastor's family woke up in time to put out the fire.

And in February, a pastor was murdered and his wife shot in the stomach over what the NCEASL believes was his involvement in conversion.

"The basic human right of Christians to worship must be upheld, along with their freedom to speak about their faith," commented Andy Dipper, Release International's CEO, in a statement regarding proposed anti-conversion laws in Sri Lanka. "The authorities must act to protect its citizens from militant extremists – whose violent brand of intolerance seems to be gaining ground."

Sri Lanka's population is 69 percent Buddhist, nearly 8 percent Muslim, and 7 percent Hindu, according to the CIA World Factbook. Christians make up only about 6 percent of the population.

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