Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby flanked by Bishop of Colombo Rt. Rev. Dhiloraj Canagasabey (left) and Archbishop of the local Catholic Church His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith are seen mourning for the Easter Sunday suicide attack victims at St. Sebastian’s Church, Katuwapitya, Negombo
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby visited Sri Lanka last week of August. He is head of the Anglican Communion whose membership is over 50 million worldwide, He calls to offer strength and solidarity to Christians in Sri Lanka, as also to all its People, - after the horrific and senseless Easter Sunday bombings which left over 300 – mostly Christians, and Foreign tourists and others dead, and many more injured. An Islamic extremist group had been identified and arrests made. A resurgence of ‘Religious Nationalism’ too is becoming increasingly evident – fuelled by extremists – both political and religious.
This goodwill visit by Archbishop Welby - bringing a sincere message of Peace and Reconciliation, is timely and welcome.
In this scenario, it is opportune to study the contents of the recent ‘Deo Gloria Trust Lecture’ delivered by Archbishop Welby at the Lambeth Palace, in the UK, in March, earlier this year. The title of the lecture was “Is Evangelism really good news for every one –and specially for those of other faiths”?
The Archbishop explained that the starting point of any form of evangelism must be based on two fundamental principles; i e. “…the centrality of the person and work of Jesus Christ and the universal offer of salvation through Christ.”
He stated “I speak as someone who made a very personal decision to respond to God’s free gift of salvation. I may [now] be Archbishop of Canterbury, - but not always in the Christian faith. On October 12, 1975, just before midnight I said a prayer that changed my whole life. I said to God “I don’t know much… about you, but please come into my life ….”
After that ‘short tentative prayer’, and following witness and late night discussions, at University, he had arrived at a clear decision in 1975.Archbishop Welby testifies, that through all the ups and downs of life it was the best decision he ever made.Following Jesus Christ would be the ‘business of public truth’. He observed the unsavoury practices which can happen under the label ‘evangelism’, which was translated from Greek means ‘good news’.
The Archbishop goes on to identify five challenges we need to think about in witness and evangelism in the current context of religious diversity – [briefly described below].
First Challenge: Ethical evangelism - needs to be governed by the “Golden rule’ –Mathew 7.12. – wherein Jesus exhorts his followers “in everything do to others as you would have them do to you, - for this is the law and the prophets.” He cites the example of Sadhu Sunder Singh an Indian mystic, remembered in the Anglican church calendar.
Writer’s note. Sundar Singh, a Sikh, accepted Jesus into his life, also after midnight, - after seeing a clear vision of Jesus calling him to discipleship. He became a devoted itinerant missionary for Christ, and has visited Sri Lanka. Several biographies are available – [well worth a read].
Second Challenge: Truly listening to others - Evangelism needs to be a dialogue – never a monologue. We need to w itness to our hope in Christ Jesus, and the gift of salvation, but be willing to listen to others – [even if that is about colonialism and its ills].
- Evangelism needs to be a dialogue – never a monologue
- In our world today, people are crying out for unconditional love
- Evangelism is a humble journey of giving and receiving
Third Challenge: Being conscious of history - The speaker highlighted the connection between Empire and the spread of Christianity [Anglicanism]. And the memory of unsavoury incidents and even massacres that took place. He cites the example of the horrific ‘JallianwallaMassacre’ in India, by the British army. He bemoans that such took place in name of “Christian Society”. “It is not good news. Its not of God…..” He states .. “this atrocity and so many others was perpetrated by Christians and done in the name of Christian society. Its not good news It’s not Christ-like. …..”
Fourth Challenge: Being prepared to learn from someone else of another faith - “We may find our understanding challenged and enriched.” He cited the story of the Good Samaritan …..”a person outside the fold of faith who reveals something of the love of God. ……Evangelism in this spirit ……….can be a humble journey of giving and receiving”.
Fifth [and final] Challenge: Building relationships not power - “In our world today, people are crying out for unconditional love –to be accepted …….”He states “Witnessing to the claims of Christ, sharing what we know of the salvation story, comes in the midst of everyday stuff, where we are called to speak andwhere our deeds are meant to back up our words”.
The Archbishop refers to work and ministry amidst refugee communities,- in Britain. He states “it has been faithful, quiet,unassuming, …”. He reminds us of the ethical challenge of not offering inducements with evangelism. It is …….. about confident yet humble witnessing to good news to all; Jesus Christ is good news.
Some concluding insights
In the “Lions Handbook of World’s religions” a comprehensive essay titled “the claim to be unique”, the author Chritopher Lamb,[BCMS/CMS-other faiths theological project, Birmingham], begins by stating - “The Christian claim is that Christ is unique: Christianity is not.”.
Some may argue that “…equality of all cultures means the equality of all religions,” ….-“Often one senses an underlying guilt about the imperialist exploitation of the past, and the devaluation of Asian cultures which went with it. A new tolerance of faiths is often reckoned to be part of the reparation due to the East from the West. “He cites examples – in the Middle East and also in Sri Lanka- who do not share these attitudes.
Bishop Wickremesinghe: Sri Lanka -1979
He states “A Bishop in Sri Lanka, noted in 1979 that British Christians were unwilling to ‘to make critical evaluation of the experience and truth claims’ - of other …“Bishop Wickremasinghe went on to describe how people of different faiths - Buddhist, Hindu Muslim and Christian – lived and worked together in the same national culture of Sri Lanka, trying to establish justice, peace and prosperity, - yet never losing sight of the fact that their respective understandings of truth were in the end irreconcilable.”
“He talked of what will surely be the experience of many Western nations in the future - how other religions ‘are always present before us as alternative explanations of the mysteries of life and death, and especially about suffering. In our region comparative religion is not confined to university faculties, or small groups…..It is a facet of our normal experience”.
The author is referring to the late Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe – A godly man, and a good friend.. His words in retrospect seem prophetic, -[and has relevance to what was stated above by the Archbishop ]
As one born during the colonial period in 1940, and who had his University Education, in the UK in the 1960s, Ihave watched developments in our country, as also within the Church, with concern.
It is 70 long years since our independence. It is time [both the colonizer and colonised], as also both Christian and non-Christian, lose their preoccupation talking of the colonial past –and move forward with mutual respect for our respective histories and cultures, while safeguarding our values. Britain is only now really coming to grips with ‘multi-culturalism’, - what the late Bishop Wickremesinghe observed in 1979. Both sides within the church and outside however need to look at the many ‘positives’, left behind by what is perceived to be a ‘Christian empire’ We need to have a sense of balance.
In particular, I would cite the Anglican, Roman Catholic and other Christian schools, - as truly multicultural educational institutions, - making a major contribution to fostering national harmony and reconciliation in our land. This is part of our National Heritage. We need to recognize this and be proud – in a spirit of humility.
We recall with a sense of gratitude the British educationalists –men like Rev. W. S. Senior, teacher at Trinity College Kandy, who had an undying love for Ceylon. He wrote the much loved meaningful “Hymn for Ceylon” – sung at all national events in Anglican churches. Rev. Senior and other members of his family are buried in the graveyard of a lovely small Anglican church in Haputalle. The second verse of Senior’s hymn is quoted below
“Then bless her mighty father, with blessings needed most
In every verdant village. By every palmy coast
In loyal lowly service, Let each form other learn
The guardian and the guarded, Till Christ Himself returns.”
This writer remains confident, that we as a nation can build a truly tolerant, value-driven society, - guided by the true teachings of our great religions, and based on a common ‘Sri Lankan’ identity,–which can be an example in our troubled post-modern World. That is my humble and prayer. Let us learn to live and let live.
The visit by the Archbishop of Canterbury is most timely and welcome – to help promote true peace and reconciliation, in our much blessed land. May God continue to Bless and guide us all.
[The Author is an Anglican Layman, and a Civil Engineer]