Keeping the faith in Sri Lanka

As in many failed states, Sri Lankan religious groups step up in unity to help citizens through a deep political and economic crisis.

Buddhist monks take part in a silent political protest in Colombo, Sri Lanka, July 7.

Last week, Sri Lanka was nearing such a state of anarchy that a former speaker of Parliament, Karu Jayasuriya, called on Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, and Islamic leaders to step forward and “provide the necessary guidance.” The economy had collapsed, leading to mass hunger, long lines for fuel, and blackouts. Protesters controlled much of the capital. Top leaders had fled their homes, leaving a power vacuum.

By Saturday, many religious leaders did step forward to offer advice.

“The country needs freedom and liberation. We can no longer live divided,” said one influential Buddhist monk, Ven. Dr. Omalpe Sobhitha Thero, in a joint press conference with other religious leaders.

“This government was only concerned about securing power ... by dividing people with their ethnicities and religion,” said Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo.

“The vast majority of our people are intelligent, honest and hardworking men and women who have seen their dreams shattered overnight due to no fault of theirs,” stated the leaders of the Anglican Church of Ceylon. “We must seek leadership which is capable of rallying our people.”

These religious figures not only calmed the protests but also backed calls for the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a member of a political dynasty that had long held power by playing off the country’s religious differences.

Now this island nation of nearly 22 million off the tip of India awaits a consensus among political parties to select a new president. In the meantime, Sri Lanka is showing how a country with failed government can fall back on its faith community to find unity and a deeper understanding of self-governance.

In many countries, chaos in central government does not always lead to social disorder. Individuals “devise their own ways of managing problems when the state is unwilling or unable to do so,” writes University of Pittsburgh scholar Jennifer Murtazashvili in the Journal of International Affairs. Places that seem ungoverned are usually self-governing spaces.

The role of religious groups in helping a society through chaos has become a hot topic for research and civic activism. “People of faith and religious organizations frequently are on the frontlines of peace efforts,” finds the United States Institute of Peace, a federally backed think tank.

Sri Lanka has several groups creating networks in villages to increase communication between religious groups. The Centre for Peacebuilding and Reconciliation, for example, encourages people to attend ceremonies or funerals of other faiths. It also invites inner transformation based on common values found across major religions.

One of the group’s mottoes: “Heal Oneself – Heal Others.” Perhaps that is why a leading Sri Lankan politician called for religious “guidance.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Keeping the faith in Sri Lanka
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today