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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2680

In defence of the Church of Ceylon, aka the Anglican Church

By Sesha Samarajiwa

The prestigious Asian Tribune Forum Member SRH Hoole takes issue with my article, Sri Lanka's Anglican Church adopts Liberation Theology, Bishop shows symbolic solidarity with Kilinocchi, which warrants a few comments from me.

I won't trace the history and politics of the British Isles which led to the formation of the Church of the Anglos – the Anglican Church – except to say that it was essentially a political statement by the then English royals. It was undeniably a response to power struggles with the Vatican, other groups on the islands such as the Welsh, the Scots and the Irish, as well as players on the Continent.

My description of the Anglican Church hierarchy is from its own manifesto. This church has a distinct identity affiliated with the Anglo-Saxon English, as opposed to, say, the Presbyterian Church, which is the church of the Celtic Scots, the Dutch Protestant Church, the church of the Dutch, and so on.

Like the other imperialists before them, the English brought their church, planted it in Ceylon, and anointed it with colonial power and prestige. Despite the quaint euphemism, the 'Church of Ceylon' is, for all intents and purposes, a direct derivation of the Church of the Anglos (Anglican). The key rituals of the 'Church of Ceylon' are identical to the rituals of the Church of England. Naturally, as they converted more natives, it took on a slightly different hue, some local color you might say.

Mr Hoole informs us that “the Anglican Communion is a loose confederation of national Churches with a supposedly common faith.” Be that as it may, there is no denying the hierarchy of this church. And loose or tight, a federation is a federation. It is also a useful network of international power and influence which can be deployed for any purpose by any member of the far-flung federation when they deem it necessary, say, to gain international support for a particular local agenda.

Mr Hoole also acknowledges that “the Archbishop of Canterbury is the Head of the Communion.” Of course! Like all the other English churches planted in all former British colonies, the spiritual head of the Church of Ceylon is the Archbishop of Canterbury. What's more, in theory, if not in practice, the English Queen is the temporal head of this federation, just as she is the head of the British Commonwealth.

Mr Hoole is also adamant that “The Church of Ceylon takes no orders from the Church of England.” That's good. In fact my comments in this regard were satirical. But despite protests to the contrary, there's no getting away from the fact that the Queen of England still holds sway over some natives and their institutions.

Although not referring directly to my article, Mr Hoole finds objectionable HLD Mahindapala's comments (in his article on the subject) about the name of the Church, the 'Church of Ceylon'. I might be excused for making a comment on that, as Mr Hoole made a combined protest as feedback to my essay.

He is astounded by the claim that the name “betrays a colonial mindset” and justifies it on the grounds that Ceylon Tea is sold and that there is a Ceylon Electricity Board. I don't know whether Mr Hoole sees the Anglican Church the equivalent of a tea bag or a utility company.

He has the naivety to ask: “Why are Christians singled out for using the old name Ceylon? When the Church of Ceylon was formed we were Ceylon. Hence the name. The Church cannot go through name changes as every new constitution seems to give a new name to the country.”

As far as I know, post-independence the country went through a name change just the once, in 1972, when she reclaimed her ancient name – Sri Lanka.

Seems to me the Anglican congregation is pining for the glory days when the Church of the English reigned supreme. They are welcome to wallow in colonial nostalgia, but the rest of us have moved on. We are moving on with a bit of dignity. Sorry if we are not inclined to sing hosannas to a colonial church, the church of our former Anglo masters, especially when its head priest makes moves which may be construed to be subversive.

Message to Christians in Sri Lanka: By all means practice your religion, but please desist from destabilizing the country or from bringing Buddhism and Sinhala Buddhists into unfair disrepute by word or deed, and from conspiring to erase Buddhism from this island.

- Asian Tribune -

Also Read:

Sri Lanka’s Anglican Church adopts Liberation Theology; Bishop shows symbolic solidarity with Kilinocchi

Bishop de Chickera goes off God’s rails

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