The Anglican Bishop of Colombo has called for a Time of Lament, after Sri Lanka’s chief justice was unlawfully removed by the ruling regime.
Others in the country and abroad have protested after she was impeached, in a process ruled illegal by the supreme court.
There is growing concern that the rule of law and democracy are being undermined by President Mahinda Rajapakse and his brothers, who hold key positions, and who have used strong-arm tactics to silence dissent.
After chief justice Shirani Bandaranayake ruled that a bill giving more power to the economic development minister Basil Rajapakse was unconstitutional, she was accused of failure to declare her assets and misuse of power.
A flawed impeachment process followed, critics say, and a government loyalist with a dubious human rights record was appointed as her successor.
In a letter to churches in the Colombo diocese, Bishop Dhiloraj Canagasabey wrote that “in the past few days we have seen the complete collapse of the rule of law in our nation. We no longer appear to be a constitutional democracy.”
He pointed out that “both the Executive and the Legislature” had disregarded “the provisions of the very Constitution which they swore to uphold and defend, giving the appearance of a country ruled on the principle that ‘Might is Right’.”
He continued: "The numerous warnings that the Church, other religious organisations and civil society bodies repeatedly issued have been ignored. There is currently a climate of fear and helplessness, where people remain silent rather than speak out against rampant injustice. intimidation, violence and falsehoods.
"We as a Christian Church cannot remain silent in this situation. Such silence will be dishonouring to our Lord and a betrayal of our identity as His people. I wish to remind you that right from the day of Pentecost, the Church has learnt to say that ‘Jesus is Lord and not Caesar’. Often this has led to suffering and persecution. The Church must always be prepared for this eventuality.
"There are many examples in the Bible and Christian history of persons who have refused to follow orders when they have contradicted God’s moral law. Even in the Old Testament, Kings were expected to rule under a law which they themselves did not make and to which they were accountable (Deuteronomy 18, Psalms 72, etc.)."
Christians should repent of the times they had failed to speak out, the bishop wrote. He urged that Sunday 3 February 2013 “be observed in all parishes within our Diocese as a Day of Lament. All services should have an extended time of silence, prayer and intercessions, to grieve over the state of our country today. Please encourage all parishioners to wear white and to fast wherever possible.”
There would be a service in the cathedral the following day to continue the Time of Lament, and parishes were asked to organise Bible studies, reflections and discussions during Lent “to reflect on what it means to live as a faithful disciple-community of Jesus in the context of our nation today.”
Bishop Dhiloraj Canagasabey urged: “When others may be controlled by fear and helplessness, we must remember that our Lord who was crucified and suffered death was raised to new life offering hope to all.”
(c) Savitri Hensman is an Ekklesia associate.