In an effort to seek broader support for ending the religious persecution of Christians worldwide, Johan Candelin, director of the World Evangelical Fellowship's (WEF) Religious Liberty Commission, invited the Dalai Lama, the exiled leader of Tibet, to an unprecedented meeting in Helsinki on June 20.
The discussion focused on the persecution of Christians in Sri Lanka by Buddhists. The Dalai Lama said that any Buddhist who persecutes Christians "misunderstands the true nature of Buddhism," though he acknowledged his influence in Sri Lanka is limited because Buddhists there practice an earlier form of Buddhism from the Theravada school, while his followers are mostly from the Mahayana school.
Violence against Christians, including church arson, has increased by 230 percent this past year in Sri Lanka, an island nation south of India, where 70 percent of the 18.5 million inhabitants are Buddhists (CT, Feb. 9, 1998, p. 87). Candelin says Sri Lankans associate Christianity with the "religion of the oppressor," stemming from the nation's 450-year history of colonial rule by the Portuguese, Dutch, and British.
Although agreeing on the principles of religious liberty, the two leaders disagreed on the role of evangelism. Instead of trying to convert Buddhists, the Dalai Lama said, "Christians should concentrate on truly living out their own faith."
In April, the Dalai Lama attended a conference in Japan with other Buddhist leaders to discuss ways to curb the conversion of Buddhists in Southeast Asia to Christianity and Islam. "Every day we are losing our youth to Christianity," says K. Sri Dammanda Maha Thera, a Buddhist priest from Malaysia who attended the conference. Buddhism is on the rise worldwide, but its growth is primarily limited to the West and China.
Both Candelin and the Dalai Lama agreed to continue their dialogue on religious liberty and share information on countries where both Christians and Buddhists are threatened, such as China, Laos, and Vietnam.
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