Churches urge calm after videos of Monk attacking Christians go viral

Bishop Asiri Perera, head of the Methodist Church in Sri Lanka is appealing for calm after videos of a Buddhist Monk attacking Christians in Batticaloa went viral in the past few days.

Perera, in a statement released to the public yesterday, Dec 29, exhorted Christians and “all peace-loving people” not to react “to these videos that are going viral which can cause religious tension and disharmony in our motherland, which is the last thing we want to see happening.”

The videos in question feature the controversial 50-year old Buddhist Monk, Ampitiye Sumanarathana Thero, chief incumbent of the Sri Mangalaramaya temple in Batticaloa, attacking what appear to be Christian evangelicals in the city.

Already a social media star for his vituperative, obscenity-laden verbal attacks against public servants and others, Sumanarathana has re-emerged around this Christmas. He has been condemned by some, but for others, he is a hero.

A previously viral video posted on the Neth FM website

In one video he is seen slapping a man who appears to be a Church worker and in the other verbally challenging evangelicals including a man wearing what looks like the Cassock usually worn by Roman Catholic priests.

Sumanarathana is seen castigating these evangelicals for distributing pamphlets in what he calls is a Buddhist majority region.

The first reaction from the official Church to this incident came from the Catholic Church with Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith’s spokesman Fr. Jude Krishantha saying that the Christian Priest subjected to attack in the videos is not from his church and also not from any recognized Christian denomination in Sri Lanka.

Fr. Jude Krishantha spokesman for Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith

Krishantha also said that Catholics do not attempt to convert non-Christians to their faith.

Methodist leader Perera identified the man under attack as Nalaka Fonseka, a former worker in his church, who was asked to leave due to “disciplinary reasons.” Perera added that Fonseka was never ordained as a priest “during the time he served my church.”

Former Methodist Church worker Nalaka Fonseka and Ampitiye Sumanarathana Thero in Batticoloa last week/WhatsApp image

The Methodist President also added that since leaving his church Fonseka “seems to have operated on his own as a freelance evangelist without being accountable to any Church body for his ministry work.”

WhatsApp video of Ampitiye Sumanarathana Thero challenging evangelists in Batticoloa that went viral/WhatsApp video

Perera also condemned Fonseka’s attitude in the video. “His body language and facial expressions do not reflect a spirit of humility. He should have got down from his bike when speaking to the monk. He is not wearing a helmet when he rides the Motor Bike as if he is not under the law of the country,” he said.

Perera also commented that Sumanarathana’s “particular behaviour in this video and a few other videos which are circulating do not in any way reflect the noble teachings of the Lord Buddha, I leave it for the Ven. Maha Nayakas and Maha Sangha councils to do the needful to put the house in order.”

He noted that the viral videos are “causing embarrassment to both Buddhism and Christianity, two religions that have coexisted in Sri Lanka even in the 6th century A.D. in Anuradhapura.”

He also pointed out that in recent times “police inaction has escalated to alarming heights. The Methodist Church like several other Christian Churches has experienced and suffered certain discrimination carried out by certain law enforcing authorities, about which we have lamented but not heard much. I am also displeased with religious dignitaries of one religion taking the law into their hands to do policing over another legitimate religion that has the right to function, practice and publicly proclaim its own faith in this land.”