A quiet movement has been taking place in Sri Lanka to take Christ out of Christianity to make Christianity accessible to all; to make it a culture rather than a religion. It began with Wesley Ariarajah of the Dialog Unit of the World Council of Churches whose ideas were opposed publicly by Bishop Sabapathy Kulandran in 1985.
De-Christianizing Christianity has taken strides in North America and Europe. In the words of Alana Massey (1 May 2015) in the Washington Post, Christianity is the dominant religion in the United States, but the cultural experience of Christianity here varies at least as widely as its practice does across denominations, families and individuals. Despite the persistence of Catholic guilt, only a third of people who identified as Catholic in a General Social Survey in 2014 were actually practicing the faith. Polls conducted by the evangelical research firm Barna Group found that young people leave because of factors such as the church’s views on sexuality and science, and its failure to acknowledge “the problems of the real world.”
At Toronto’s West Hill United Church on the faith’s holiest day, Easter, it will be done with a huge difference. The words “Jesus Christ” will be excised from what the congregation sings and replaced with “Glorious hope.” Thus, it will be hope that is declared to be resurrected – an expression of renewal of optimism and the human spirit – but not Jesus, contrary to Christianity’s central tenet about the return to life on Easter morning of the crucified divine son of God. Generally speaking, no divine anybody makes an appearance in West Hill’s Sunday service liturgy.
How did West Hill succeed when Sri Lanka failed? In Sri Lanka those who espoused this route were the likes of Bishop Kenneth Fernando who kept trying like wishing Nibbana to deceased Buddhists. However he and his priests into dialog were opposed by those who wondered if they believed in the Christian teaching that we are born but once or in Buddhism’s cycle of births and rebirths. Their theme was all religions are true despite the different religions’ counter claims. But there were Christians in places like Moratuwa who would have none of it. So Bishop Kenneth ad a lively homegrown opposition that kept him in check.
Accordingly, Kenneth Fernando’s successor Bishop Duleep de Chickera once in a marriage homily at a cross religious wedding told the couple they are brave to have married across religions and urged the Buddhist partner not to take baptism as intended then. So the plans for baptism were aborted after the Bishop’s homily, much to the chagrin of the Christian family.
It was a strange world then. Priests with non-traditional beliefs could be elected Bishops because winning elections is more an organizational achievement than an expression of shared faith. Many successful priests were Marxists who found the church providing them with a soap box they lacked.
The difference came in May 2011 when Bishop Dhilo Canagasabey was elected Bishop. He is known as an evangelical who by definition “ takes the Bible seriously and believes in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.” His followers had a lot of faith and trust in him.
Bishop Canagasabey began taking Christ out of the unique position as Lord and Saviour” by tackling the Tamil liturgy. Tamils were not wary of him at all. The Church’s Liturgical Commission had hardly any Tamils and the Sinhalese who could not read the Tamil Liturgy blindly followed Canagasabey’s picked leaders like Rev. Joshua Ratnam who has openly stated that he is neither traditional nor evangelical.
In taking out Jesus from his primacy position in prayers, the Liturgical Commission did three things:
1. In the Nicene Creed which is recited every Sunday is a summary of our faith of long history. The opening lines, “I BELIEVE in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And of all things visible and invisible: And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God …” the words “Almighty” and “one” were taken out. The explanation as given by a priest coming out from the Pilimatalawa Theological College where our priests are trained, is that if our God is almighty, it is a put down on the Buddha, Vishnu, and Siva. et al. So he is simply Father, not Almighty Father. Likewise, he is not one Lord, but simply Lord.
2. The second place is in the prayer known as Gloria in Excelsis, also recited on most Sundays:
GLORY be to God on high, and on earth peace, good will towards men. We praise thee, we bless thee, we worship thee, we glorify thee, we give thanks to thee for thy great glory, … Thou that sittest at the right hand of God the Father, have mercy upon us. For thou only art holy; thou only art the Lord; thou only, O Christ, with the Holy Ghost, art most high in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
The crossed-out words have been removed because they imply that the Buddha, Vishnu, Siva et al. are not Holy, not the Lord and not most high in the Glory of God the Father.
3. There are several such editings. The worst is the prayer 5.2.3, saying “Thou without holiness or destruction, have mercy upon us.” At the Diocesan Council, Rev. Joshua Ratnam explained that “without” applies only to destruction and not to holiness. The majority seemed hoodwinked. He was parallel to me at St. John’s, I in form V and he in Form Special V for repeaters, coming from Trinity. He left St. John’s as soon as his results came. It is surprising that he who did badly in his GCE OLs was put in charge of liturgy and later made Canon. Or should I say not surprising?
Prayers in Sinhalese have been inserted in the Tamil liturgy by a Church that broke off from Rome about the use of Latin saying we must pray in words we understand. It seems that the same logic does not apply to the Sinhalese language.
Tamils have been worshipping with these words without realizing what they are telling God or what the removal of the key words means. It reveals a total intellectual failure of Tamil Anglicans.
Explained a priest his silence: “I have children in Mission Schools. Please understand my position if I am transferred by the Bishop to Mullaitivu!”
These mistakes were pointed out to Bishop Canagasabey in 2011. He promised a revision. Since then, again and again, revisions have been promised without delivering on their promises. For 13 years now we have been fooled. The new Bishop Dushantha Rodrigo also promised revisions soon. The untruthful promises show that the deletions are deliberate. After 13 years Tamils seem to not have noticed or rebelled. Week-in and week-out they nonchalantly insult God. Will the Church now try these experiments with the Sinhalese too? Is Jesus not our only Lord any more? Why have the Tamil priests kept quiet? It seems a dead church when priests do not ask why these changes, and often do not even know that the changes have been made.
The evangelical Canagasabey might claim that these are mistakes and not deliberate to save himself from the wrath of his evangelical base. However, if so, the Tamil language mistakes in Bishop Canagasabey’s Preface and that he himself used these horrible prayers without noticing, suggest something seriously wrong with the quality of our priests who get the call to be priests from the Holy Ghost on failing their exams at school.
There are now signs that LGBQT behaviour is increasingly accepted by the public. This has forced the Church to abandon biblical positions and follow society. As shown in the PEW Research findings on US attitudes in the Graphics nearby, in all churches the public acceptance of LGBTQ behaviour is increasing. The Archbishop of Canterbury under whom the Church of Ceylon operates has agreed to bless homosexual unions. This has split the Anglican Church with the worldwide majority rejecting the leadership of Canterbury. In Sri Lanka, we being under Canterbury, there are now brazen moves to side with the Archbishop and include LGBTQ behaviour as church sanctioned without any church discussion or resolution.
The Anglo-Catholics, the most conservative branch of Anglicanism who hold that the Protestant rebellion nearly 500 years ago threw the baby out with the bathwater, have been somehow bamboozled into sponsoring a talk titled “Affirming Catholicism” pushing LGBTQ positions through a speaker from London who is an active Lesbian. Whereas the Catholic church has refused permision for a homosexual to be even a child’s Godfather, the seminar by the organizers is a dishonest caricature of what Catholicism stands for.
Opening up a second front, Kithsiri Fernando, Rtd. Bishop of Kurunagala, has written a long essay on human sexuality where he says, inter alia, “The same fact that we are a moderate and outward looking Congregation needs to be highlighted in this regard. While we are bound with creeds and the instruments of unity we also recognize that we are all [sic.] belong to diverse affirmations and contexts. While we use the same pillars of tradition, scripture and reason we must also remember that we are an outcome of a revolution but also with a firm resolve of an Anglo-Catholic nature. It emphasizes the fact that we need to be a bridging Church, a Church that needs to tolerate and accept different affirmations. … The Anglican Communion with diversity in geography, culture, languages, contexts, theologies, traditions etc spell [sic.] this to us more clearly and challenges the Communion than any other Church [sic.].”
A sleight of hand by the Bishop is to use differing sexual tendencies in us to argue for giving in to natural tendencies. Many men have a natural attraction to women outside marriage. In Christian life, however, a Christian prays for strength to fight that attraction. We do not say that is how God made me, and go on exercises of unrestrained debauchery. That thinking can justify theft, anger and even murder saying these tendencies come from our creator. Says the Bishop, “We cannot expect or force everyone to belong to one category. It would seem as strange as asking everyone to colour one’s skin one way or the other.”
Bishop Kithsiri Fernando seems to justify and excuse lust, murderous rage etc. as God-given and irresistible – a divine gift!
Pushing an all-inclusive agenda, Bishop Dushantha Rodrigo of Colombo came to Jaffna this last weekend leading and opening up the third front. The Jaffna Christian Union organized a meeting at the Anglican Archdeacon’s Office to discuss “The Relationship between Religions in the North and our Future” on 22 June, 2023. Dignitaries from other religions and leaders of other denominations were invited as the latter too were part of the Jaffna Christian Union. However, only some 22 persons came, 20 Anglican priests who had to come to meet their Bishop, and two lay Christians. It seemed that the other churches and religions were not interested in Dialog. Such Dialog is an Anglican show on its inclusivity.
With no one to discuss religious Dialog with, the Bishop turned the discussion to homosexuality: “How would you react if your child turned out to be a homosexual? Would you not accept homosexual behaviour?” The priests who owe their promotions, transfers and placement of their children in mission schools, failed to ask, “If my son began living with a divorcee outside marriage because of his sexual urges and lack of sexual discipline, is that a reason for condoning his unbiblical behaviour?
The rest of the evening was devoted to discussions on including dogs in the church because a faithful Anglican asked for a Christian burial service for his dog!
Sadly, we do not have a burial service even for humans because our priests are lazy if they are educated enough to write the liturgy. We mongrelize our burial service with pages of the Church of South India Prayer Book and something here and something there. I do not think Sinhalese Anglicans even have such a Prayer Book even as we berate colonialism when we cannot do anything original.
Our Mongrel Tamil liturgy seems tailored for dogs.