We need your voice to stop the madness

Since the ISIS-led Easter Sunday bombings of churches and hotels in Sri Lanka that claimed more than 250 innocent persons, things have only gotten worse. The Sri Lankan President has pardoned a violent Buddhist monk. Another prominent Buddhist leader has called for the stoning of Muslims.

OMNIA has written an open letter to the Leaders of Religious and Spiritual Traditions in Sri Lanka as they work together to seek a peaceful and rational solution. We are asking you to review the letter below and add your signature to stand in support of a peaceful and faithful solution to this crisis.

To: All the leaders of all religious and spiritual traditions of Sri Lanka

Cc: The President, Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers of the government of Sri Lanka, civic and community leaders, media organizations.

Honorable and esteemed colleagues,

Greetings of peace!

We, leaders of the global religious community and people of faith, write seeking ways to stand in solidarity with you in the context of the current interreligious tensions in Sri Lanka.

We appreciate the launching of the “Diyawanna Declaration on Religious and Communal Harmony” in Sri Lanka, on 26 April, 2019, which recommends “Inter-faith dialogue with relevant spcialists to be regularly carried out at the urban and rural grassroots levels to voluntarily resolve differences.” While  recognizing that interfaith organizations are already engaged in this work of building teams of interfaith peacemakers, we encourage the government and non-governmental agencies to commit significant resources towards this critical work.

We are also pleased that the Sri Lankan Constitution guarantees religious freedom to all its citizens, enabling them to pray, worship in community, and to practice their religion according to their conscience.  We recognize that this sacred right is foundational to all human freedoms and needs to be defended for the well-being of the nation.

Although you experienced it most closely, we too were shaken by the devastating attacks on Easter Sunday. We are concerned that the terrorist organization, Daesh (ISIS) managed to get a foothold in Sri Lanka and that despite warnings from the Muslim community and intelligence sources, measures were not taken to prevent the attacks.

Our hearts go out to each person and family affected by the bombings of churches and hotels, to the specific churches that were bombed, and to the entire Christian community in Sri Lanka. We pray that the freedom to worship without fear or constraint is restored.

We are deeply troubled by the escalation of mob violence against Muslim communities across the island, the attacks on Muslim persons, the boycotting of Muslim businesses and the spreading of rumors that lead to further violence.

We are most concerned for the noble tradition of Theravada Buddhism. We wish to declare that in the dhamma that the Lord Buddha taught, there is no place for hate, hate-speech and violence. In fact, the opening chapter of the Dhammapada states: “Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.” We are at a loss to understand how some Buddhist leaders could incite mobs, which could lead to incidents of violence, without betraying this peaceful and non-violent religion.

We are also concerned that the government has thus far not been able to prosecute or hold to account those who incite violence, despite laws that prohibit hate speech, and that even in the midst of violent incidents, it is reported that the police have often been inactive observers without intervening to prevent escalation of the conflict.   

Therefore, as global religious leaders we pledge to do the following:

·       Teach our constituencies, and disseminate information about the noble Buddhist traditions that have given leadership to peace, harmony and cooperation between communities throughout history

·       Demand that the government take steps to protect all vulnerable communities; that all hate speech, incitement, and hateful actions immediately cease; and that swift, meaningful legal action be brought against all those who engage in hate speech and violence.

·       Encourage urban and rural grassroots level interreligious dialogue and peacemaking, with open and honest conversations of the issues that cause conflicts and to address them together.

·       Bring a representative group of religious leaders to Sri Lanka to listen to, learn from and to stand in deep solidarity with you, leaders of the religious and spiritual traditions of Sri Lanka at this difficult time.

With our very best wishes for peace!

Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana
President, OMNIA Institute for Contextual Leadership

Other signatories include:

1.      Rev. Dr. Larry Greenfield, Executive Director Emeritus, Parliament of the World’s Religions (Chicago, Illinois, USA)

2.     Imam Malik Mujahid, Executive Director, Sound Vision (Chicago, Illinois, USA)

3.     Jim Winkler, General Secretary and President, National Council of Churches of Christ (Washington, DC, USA)

4.     Dr. Mohamad Elsanousi, Executive Director, Network of Religious and Traditional Peacemakers (Washington DC, USA)

5.     Dr. Wesley Ariarajah, Professor Emeritus, Drew University (Geneva, Switzerland).

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Latest Signatures & remarks:

Lamarr Scruggs, Pastor
”I stand with you!”

Rev. Philip Roth, Reformed Church of Basel, Switzerland

Soraya Deen, Interfaith Solidarity Network
”A necessary initiative. Leaders who care about peace and interfaith solidarity must rally around in support by signing this letter. Thank you.”

Rev. Dr. Eardley Mendis, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
”As protectors of a peaceful and compassionate religion, we request Buddhist clergy to come together with all religious leaders to work for peace so that all living beings may be happy and free from suffering.”

Merwyn De Mello, Mennonite Central Committee
”I stand in solidarity with you.”

Dhilanthi Fernando, Music Director, First Presbyterian Church of Chicago

Moses Jones, Dusable Alumni Coalition for Action

Dr. Marilyn Krogh, Associate Professor, Loyola University of Chicago

Jay Mulberry

Olivia Chase, Restorative Justice Practitioner & Trainer

Beth Williams, President, Edgewater Consulting, Ltd.

Rev. Anna York, President, Rising Up! Inc.
“I stand in solidarity with all Sri Lankans, praying for peace and wisdom to prevail. I know the power of the Interfaith Peacemaker Teams and encourage the government to support their work throughout Sri Lanka.”

Rev. Dr. Kenneth Bedell, CEO, CivilRightsDream.net

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