17 September, 2021

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The “Let Us Pray” Culture & Its Inanities

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole

I am not putting down prayer or its effectiveness. I endorse both. What I am writing about here is the use of “Let us pray” to escape responsibility, responsibility to form opinions and responsibility to act. It is an escape route freely exploited by crooked Christians to escape justice – for themselves and their friends – and by good Christians to let off and evade forming opinions against their friends caught in crookedness.

I have seen massive fraud by pastors in a Christian College. It is a time to review this, given the charges of unethical conversions against the church. These charges, I assess, are without basis because the converts I see show a new reformed life. The real problem however, is with some – note some – of the pastors who raise cash abroad for the church and then spend it on themselves. Although donors give money for specific items like Christian Education, the money sometimes – even once is all too often – goes to sustain an extravagant life-style by pastors. The saying in Trinco is that people who went about scouring for kaakaa muttais (crows eggs) to eat, are now “reverends” feasting on biriyani.

That crow-egg to biriyani life-style change needs some pilfering to sustain. When they get caught, most of their followers are reluctant to expose their pastors because it would give a bad name for the church. But when they are asked to give account, in one instance the pastors hired the legal team of N.R. Sivendran and Co. from Colombo for Rs. 925,000 with bills still coming in. These rates, well above those recommended by the Bar Association, show the vast powers these pastors have to draw from institutional  funds flowing from donors,  with no one to question them.

Sumanthiran Meeting Press after Win Today

This is not an accusation against only the new church pastors, because as I have noted elsewhere in these pages, Anglican archdeacons (some with questionable academic credentials and even suspensions as theological students) were assigned Rs. 100 lakhs per archdeacon for their cars under Bishop Dhilo Canagasabey. Just like in the free churches, there was no peep from the managers (Standing Committee) supposedly safeguarding church assets.

Thankfully, the new Bishop Dushyantha Rodrigo has stopped the practice saying in my presence that “priests should not go about like company CEOs.” Bishop Rodrigo himself has asked for a van although those who bought luxury cars earlier want him also to go for a luxury car, seemingly wanting to redeem themselves for what they did.

The firm of auditors, Manievannan & Co., Chartered Accountants, has clearly identified fraud at a particular college – for example a) a large cash cheque for Rs. 501,000 issued with a date preceding the date of invoice and encashed by an employee who took it to the bank; b) Over Rs. 700,000 handled as petty cash and with that in hand getting more petty cash which was spent on another missionary institution with no board authorization and no evidence of the money being returned as claimed; c) Large amounts of income accepted as cash and handled as if it is petty cash without banking it, and then spending it with no receipts to show.

Manivannan & co. say “these [transactions]  amount to cash misappropriation which can be termed as fraud by whoever was responsible. This view is based on standard accounting principles that should be expected to be followed by the Chartered Accountants Institute, and any Accounting principles that blatantly violate these [are] termed fraud.”

Yet, with the exception of college President Dr. Sam Thevabalasingham who as far back as in April 2020 asked the matter to be reported to the police, there was general reluctance. This has now been rectified and has been moved from the Police to FCID because of the size of the fraud, but many are shocked and think it is wrong to report “anointed” crooks to the police. After all, the perpetrators go as Reverends and Brothers. One of them threatened “You do not know what will happen if we pray against you.”

The matter is in court. The accused pastors have hired a legal team paying a fortune. For that money the Senior Counsel could have spent a little more effort in his press statement where he garbles the story by blaming his own client from LEADS. What an Advocate at Rs. 925,000 rupees!

When the story broke, the reaction was typical. Forgive, settle it out of court. Love one another etc. There was no word on repentance or the return of the stolen money given by hardworking Christians for a precious cause. Two donors correctly withdrew saying they wanted to see accounts, but a third simply hid behind love, forgiveness and prayer. Would their own givers want their funds used like this, and stolen funds forgiven without a “Sorry”? And those who stole still left in charge without even a sorry?

We are encouraging and growing a goody-goody Christianity. Recently a clergyman gave me a flier on “What is spiritual maturity?” It claimed that a) Spiritual Maturity is when you stop trying to change others, …instead focus on changing  yourself b) Spiritual Maturity is when you accept people as they are. And c) Spiritual Maturity is when you understand everyone is right in their own perspective. So stealing pastors are right. Murdering Generals and Ministers are right in their own perspective and should be left alone.

That is not Christian theology. Good religion must change people for the better, and good religion will teach us what “better” is. Religion is not being nice to our friends. It demands harsh opinions when necessary.

The Diocese of Colombo of the Church of Ceylon seems to be practicing this “comfortable Christianity.” The Diocese has abandoned its Tamil members with a horrible prayerbook translation that calls God unholy. The Anglican Liturgy has taken off appellations like Almighty in “Almighty God,” etc., etc. It was done under the Chairmanship of Rev. Joshua Ratnam who is popular because he is into music and the church does not want to embarrass a popular priest by correcting the liturgy as resolved by the Diocesan Council. As a good lady tried to explain, it is a printer’s error. What? The consistent deletion of “Almighty” in many places is accidental? It shows how far this goody-goody Christianity will go to overlook every fault. As a result, all Tamils have been abandoned to save Ratnam’s reputation and we Tamils need to continue to call God unholy until Bishop Rodrigo finds the time for the next printing of our prayerbook. 

Ratnam came from Trinity College to my class at St. John’s and was placed in the Division for those who had already sat the OLs once – Special V as I recall. After the OL results came in he vanished with a dramatic exit saying his calling is to do drama. Presumably, he did not qualify for Form VI. In Council he made vain arguments that “God without holiness and destruction” can be read as God is Holy depending on how one reads it. To the Sinhalese in Council, he had explained himself! They bought it. The Bishop tried to make excuses saying the Liturgy is not by Ratnam alone but by a Commission. There again, many on the Commission are Sinhalese knowing no Tamil, and many of the Tamils are not competent to the extent of crafting an authorized liturgy. This is why the church has to stress academic matters, and not keep down priests like Rev. Stephen Jebachelvan with a B.Sc. from Peradeniya because that disqualifies him in the eyes of the Church from everything in the Church lest he prove how much better a national university educated person can be as a priest.

Despite ignoring the spiritual well-being of Tamil Anglicans, Bishop Rodrigo at council has made, and continues to make, good statements on human rights. For example in Dec. 2020 the church said,

We are saddened by the deterioration of democratic norms such as the denial of Islamic burial rights, the massacre at the Mahara Prison, the increasing centralization of power in the Executive and the weakening of Parliament, the large budgetary allocation for defence, questionable appointments to important public positions in Sri Lanka, and the trend towards the undermining of civil administration and increased militarization, where the liberty of citizens and communities and their aspirations are not respected.”

I too voted for it. I felt good about it. However, making us all feel good is all it did. What does it really do? Nothing, I am afraid, because power structures remain, leaving people like Gotabaya Rajapaksa entrenched in power. No one is directly blamed in the goody-goody Church. We only say nice things.

Tuesday 16.03.2021 was the day for our Standing Committee meeting. We were going through the agenda item “Church and Nation.” As inanities that make no difference were discussed, I told the Bishop, “At the UNHRC a resolution is coming up on 22.03.2020. It can make a big difference, taking our killers to justice. May we endorse it and issue a press statement?” There was a long silence.

Then the Bishop hummed and hawed. He said sweet nothings. I specifically asked the Bishop whether he agreed with the UNHCR resolution. Instead of answering he said “People from both sides have died,” and did not want to get involved. However, this resolution is not about people who died. It is about punishing those who killed people extra-judicially on the beaches of Mullivaikal in cold blood. It is about taking to justice our Generals who have killed Tamils and been rewarded with big office. And it is a lot more like reconciliation if one reads it. The Angelus Bell rang, letting the Bishop off the hook. We prayed!

Thereafter, a nationalist, The Rev. Niroshan de Mel, Vicar of St. Michael’s Polwatte, who was the only one besides the Bishop to speak, said the UN is a place where politics is played out, countries have agendas and we should not get involved.  Some truth in that, but it is not an excuse to protect murderers, least by a Church. The caring human rights mask came off the play-safe church. Those who usually propose human rights resolutions had lost their tongue as they played safe not to disagree with the Bishop.

We prayed again as the meeting closed, thereby making the Church lose its chance to be on the right side of history. That Tuesday we needed 24 of the 47 UNHRC votes but were sure only of 20. Today  (19.03.2021) I am told that the votes are there. The Church missed the bus playing safe.

The government it seems is increasingly going mad. There was the COVID burial fiasco. The Burqa ban now is finishing off any hope for the government of more Muslim votes at the UNHCR even as Mahinda Rajapaksa is personally lobbying Bangladesh and the President is telephoning Muslim countries – in vain in my opinion. Today (19.03.2021) in Jaffna a judge threw out the case filed against a Tamil newspaper for displaying V. Prabhakaran’s picture while ignoring Sinhalese newspapers for doing the same. The Police are willing to stooge by filing meaningless cases to be positively noticed by a government that should really pull-up policemen who bring disrepute to our country by filing these mad cases, a prosecute effective prosecutors and lawyers like Hejaaz Hizbullah who helped save the country in 2018 and evidence from children crucial to his vindication is not moving forward because the Supreme Court is taking its own cool time in hearing the children’s case.

A country cannot survive on yes-men and stooges whether in the police or the judiciary, and celebrating murderers in high office. If we will not punish our murderers, unfortunately the UN has to. Let us pray. Let the UN act if we will not.

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    PART SEVEN

    1.4 This concerns election of one member to represent the three Old Boys’ Associations of the “Branch Schools”, namely Kollupitiya, Gurutalawa and Bandarawela.
    .

    “Where the Head of the School is also the President of the Old Boys’ Association, the Senior Vice President will serve on the electoral college in place of the President.”
    .
    So, clearly the Headmasters (ie The Principals in the Sri Lankan context),who are also employees of the Board, and have to carry out Board instructions cannot have any role to play in electing Board members.
    .
    1.5.1 One person elected by the tutorial and administrative Staff of S.Thomas College, Mt.Lavinia.
    .
    1.5.2 One person elected by an electoral college under the Chairmanship of the Hony. Secretary of the Board of Governors consisting of representatives of the Staff made up as follows: the Staffs of the Three Branch Schools are here indicated.
    .
    The Mt Lavinia elections have never been a problem. Elections have always been fair and transparent, sometimes heated. If an election is not like that you’re looking at a Dictatorship. This is the point, Headmasters, Rev. Balraj and Rev. Nesakumar are comparable with the Double-paksas, Prabhakaran, Hitler and Vladimir Putin.

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    PART EIGHT
    .
    1.5.3 The following conditions shall be applicable to the aforesaid elections referred to in 1.5.1 and 1.5.2.
    (a) The election shall be by secret ballot
    (b) The persons nominated for election shall be members of the respective
    Old Boys’ Associations.
    (c) The members of the staffs of the four schools shall not be eligible for
    nomination or election.
    (d) The candidates for election shall be members of the Church of Ceylon
    or a Church in Communion with that Church.
    .
    Please note that the three Board Members who represent the FOUR Old Boys’ Associations can hold any religious views. The “Parent School” being entitled to 2 Members, but the 3 Branch schools having only one member is a rankling anomaly which the Board can (at one of its meetings) decide to change. This is not an issue that has ever been raised by me or anybody else. We’d like to change it someday, after the actual cheating is stopped.
    .
    It is only a Protestant Christian who can represent the staff. Unfair? I think so, but many feel it justified since they fear an attempted take over by “Buddhist-Sinhalayo” of the “Eagle Eye” or “Soma” variety.

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    PART NINE
    .
    Of course, they have to be members of an OBA of a school. We don’t know who “Eagle Eye” is, but “soma” studied at Kollupitiya.
    .
    The issue of religion doesn’t bother me.
    .
    For those who may not be familiar with these Anglican Schools, may I explain that in the case of the (Roman) Catholic Schools, the majority of students are Catholics.
    .
    For Anglican Schools, there aren’t enough Anglican children in the country to fill the schools. The total membership of the Church of Ceylon is fewer than 24,000. Most members range from Middle Class to Uppermost Class. The Church has more property than it can manage, and more than numbers warrant, but not the billions that politicians have, and that critics of the Church claim.
    .
    Although Anglicans are admitted without question if they can pay the fees, most other places are filled with the children of Old Boys, of any religion – except Catholics!
    .
    The Church has a problem of liquidity. When short of cash, it is true that properties are sold, even those that have been bequeathed by childless members. The favoured among the priests, live like Princes.

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    PART TEN
    .
    I have been baptised and confirmed as an Anglican. Professor Jeevan Hoole (honest man!) may not accept me. Nobody else has really questioned my suitability on that score. Bishop Jabez Gnanapragasam examined my “faith” at length in 1991, and passed me!
    .
    BTW, there is also a stipulation in the S. Thomas’ College Ordinance that 80% of the Membership of the Board shall be Anglican:
    .
    https://www.srilankalaw.lk/Volume-VII/st-thomas-college-board-of-governors-ordinance.html
    .
    That is a formidable document, going by the Laws of Sri Lanka. Only Parliament can change that.
    .
    The Rules of the Board of Governors has been made by human beings. The British Royal Family and the like.
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    The Church itself doesn’t reap profits from the schools. The profits are ploughed back to improve the schools. However, I have used the word, cheating – by some individuals in some schools. Scandalous in Jaffna College and Uduvil Girls’ College.

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    Who has prohibited cheating? For me that question comes under the heading of Ethics. Where do we get “Ethics” from? Not from the Market Place, not from the average semi-educated Sri Lankan. Philosophers have discussed it. If there is anything like a God, it surely comes from God.

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