The Rev. Gnanasara Thero and his Hindu counterpart Maruwanpulavu Sachithananthan allege unethical conversions by Christians. As a Christian, knowing many converts to Christianity as sincere and genuine, I have always been dismissive of such claims and still am.
Recent events however make me think that there is another dimension of their accusations that we need to give heed to. It is unethical leadership among large and respected Christian Agencies that run the new churches and are a blight on Christianity.
The new Christians are trusting of their leaders who are often good people – but not always. However, many leaders are backed from the West by the generous tithing practices of their members. When those whom they support in Sri Lanka misuse the funds given to them to preach the Gospel, those organizations funding these bad leaders find it awkward to blow the whistle. Diverting money to new sources is not easy for the western donors as they balance the need to maintain their charity status from their government with the need not to be seen as helping with conversions. The issue of misused money makes the donor organizations own individual donors ask if their hard-earned money needs to be diverted to be more useful. And then after the donor agencies advertising their local ministers here and their work as stellar, how do the donor churches in the West tell their individual donors that their previous advertisements were wrong? So they continue to support the bad pastors here despite the fact they are unfit to be pastors. They cover-up.
I have seen many new converts to Christianity becoming Christian leaders and rich overnight. Corruption is difficult to prove. Property acquired overnight is explained away as a donation from a sibling overseas. Then there is the unbeatable excuse: Jesus rewards the faithful. Praise the Lord.” We know there is something amiss. But little can be proved.
My recent experience with Christian Boards of management has shown me how this embezzlement is done. One common way is to give employment to board members even when the local organization’s constitution insists that a Board member must be service oriented and cannot take a salary. Most Board Members are respected leaders who come for meetings, receive an honorarium and agree to these illegal appointments to fellow board members and thereby misuse the authority of their offices outside the organization. I am aware of tsunami funds being used to employ Board Members disallowed from employment. Persons persuaded to give their names to these Boards make an impressive list: Bishops, Accountants, President’s Counsel, Bank Managers, Evangelical Professors et al. Who would dare to cross the Boards on which they serve?
Another devise is to receive funds from abroad to buy property and then to buy the property not for their organization but in the name of their relations. I know one guy who was a butcher as a youth with the reputation of coming home with stolen pieces of meat in his pockets. Today he is a millionaire Christian minister. Another rich fellow with his own church is known for scouring crows’ nests in his boyhood for eggs.
An example involves Pastor Paul Fountain, a Trustee of Providence Trust, U.K. He worked with Care Sri Lanka of Lanka Evangelistic Fellowship of Churches (LEFC) based in the East. Pastor Fountain’s complaint reads:
“I’m a trustee of a UK charity called the Providence Trust. In December 2016 we gave £33,000 to purchase a large field next to the Children’s Home at 6 Mile Post in Trincomalee. I think it is around 1.5 acres. At one end is the Sunshine Day Care Centre and the other end borders a house and home garden on the road connecting the boys and girl’s homes. The land was owned by Habitat. My trust paid towards the purchase of the land. £33,000 was given to LEFC. I have the receipts.
“Over the next 3 years whenever I asked what was happening about the land [I was given] different reasons why it had not been possible to purchase it yet. Recently I realized the field had almost certainly had not been purchased, particularly as the Children’s Home had closed and I’d not been informed.
“I raised these concerns with one of the Care Sri Lanka trustees who is in Sri Lanka looking at the finances. I told him if the money from the Providence Trust had not been used to purchase the land it must be returned to the trust. He agreed with this. However despite a lot of pressure from myself in the last week, he has not responded to my requests to check if LEFC has any ‘land deeds’ or receipts to prove they purchased the land from Habitat.”
I was asked to see if I could get a letter from Habitat with a simple statement saying either they still own the land or they sold it and when and to whom they sold it.
I was refused. It appears that this kind of fraud is common with these Christian organizations and they cover-up for each other in case their own dealings are ever questioned. The trustees of Habitat are real big shots in the Christian world. When they help coverup, it is an impossible wall to breakdown. Being big-shots in the world, I am sure they will give reasons like privacy when the simple letter I requested lets down nobody’s privacy. My expectation is that they should bend over backwards to ensure probity in all Christian organizations. When they refuse, it shows how all these organizations help coverup the crimes of respected Christian crooks. I am aware of many respected persons from these organizations who were caught with their hands in the till and were “let go” without punishment to move on to embezzle at another Christian charity.
An accountant who serves on a Board with me fiddles with accounts to make them look right when fraud comes to light. As our donors insist on the audit for 2019, he and pals have moved all documents and receipts out of the office. There is evidence that approved minutes are being rewritten. The Companies Act specifies a fine of Rs. 1 million for falsification of documents. I believe the Christian organization LEADS is helping him with facilities in their office to carry on this work. LEADS too is a major player in Christian work and till recently had an Anglican Bishop lending his name to the Board.
My own daughter was a high-up at World Vision. An Anglican Bishop was on the Board. When my daughter came across US$ 2million claimed to have gone into putting up a plant and she found nothing there, she told her boss and quietly moved on. Her boss got the relevant company to put up the missing plant without any billing. It is one of the few happy stories although no one was punished.
Some friends say I am playing into Gnanasara Thero’s hands when Buddhists are enriched by the state and engaged in unethical conversions, getting state land and appointments on Commissions, free hostel in universities etc. to encourage their conversion. True, but It is time to investigate poor people who became Christian leaders and got rich overnight. Investigate the management bodies of evangelical Christian organizations. That is the way to build the Kingdome of Jesus Christ, keeping it clean.