Renewed violence against Christians erupted in mid-December when a prominent anti-conversion Buddhist monk, Gangodawila Soma Thero, died suddenly while visiting Russia. Nationalist Buddhist groups allege a "Christian conspiracy" behind his death.

Christians disputed the charge, and the autopsy report confirms the monk died of natural causes.

Still, many churches have been stoned or burned down. Three churches were attacked the night of February 15. Church workers were assaulted and faced death threats; some attackers accused them of seeking "unethical conversions."

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Sri Lankan authorities recorded 91 attacks on Christians and churches last year and 41 incidents so far this year. Christians are especially vulnerable in rural areas. Radicals have been able to shut down 146 churches in a four-month span.

"There is a sense of insecurity and fear," said Godfrey Yogarajah, general secretary of the National Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka.

Christians constitute about 8 percent of this prominently Buddhist country's 19.7 million people. Seventy percent are Buddhists. Evangelicals are growing at 11 percent a year, according to Operation World. More than 280 Buddhist monks declared their candidacies in parliamentary elections set for April, many of them pledging to pass an anti-conversion law and make Sri Lanka a "righteous state."

"The fundamentalist Buddhists want to turn Sri Lanka into a Buddhist kingdom and bring [an] anti-conversion law," said Jude Simion, an evangelist in Colombo. "There is tension all around."

Buddhist nationalists are determined to stop conversions. "We will not allow Christians to convert Buddhists to Christianity," said Neville Karunatilake, spokesman for the Sihala ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.