The ‘man of the moment’ last week was no politician but a preacher, Pastor Jerome Fernando. Fernando states in a sermon of his that the Buddha was ‘looking for Jesus’ because the Buddha sought enlightenment and Jesus had described himself as ‘the Light’.

A video of this sermon went viral on social media. What happened next was entirely predictable: the ‘usual suspects’ who don their patriotic robes appeared overnight, condemning Fernando to damnation.

Trust our politicians to join the bandwagon. Almost on cue, President Ranil Wickremesinghe orders an investigation and it is announced that Fernando is to be detained. In what is an indication of the state of our intelligence services, he has already left the country, even though he has a travel ban imposed on him!

Other politicians are caught in a dilemma. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa issues a statement after a photograph of him with Fernando and the latter’s ‘partner’, Zimbabwean preacher Uebert Angel, is publicised. Rajapaksa’s statement says he only interacted Fernando in an official capacity but the photo that is publicised depicts many members of Rajapaksa’s family.

The issue in dispute here is not really what Fernando said in his sermon. At worst, Fernando was trying to prove that his religion was ‘superior’ to Buddhism. At best, he is ignorant of what he is saying, or, as Jesus himself said, ‘forgive them for they know not what he is doing’.

If one viewed the entirety of Fernando’s sermon, his comparisons were not directed only to Buddhists; they were equally dismissive of the Hindu and Islamic religious faiths as well. This being Sri Lanka however, it was the saffron-robed ‘voice cut’ gang that was quick to shoot from the lip and call for Fernando’s head.


There are more relevant issues here that merit further reflection than the supposed insults hurled by Fernando. Firstly, Fernando is not affiliated with the official Catholic Church in Sri Lanka. A spokesman for the Catholic Church was quick to dissociate that institution from Fernando and disown him. How is it then that he goes about preaching what he does, claiming to be a prophet and not only preying on gullible followers but also accepting financial contributions from them that are not audited or taxed?

Fernando’s associate, Uebert Angel is being accused of money laundering and dabbling in the gold trade. Fernando himself is known to enjoy a lavish lifestyle. Should he not be investigated as to how he came upon these riches? Is he paying his taxes or evading that too under the guise of being a religious organisation? This is what should be really investigated, not the few words that were uttered by Fernando as an ‘insult’ to the Buddha. After all, did not the Buddha say that when he is insulted and that insult is not accepted by him, it stays with the person who levelled the insult?

Sri Lankans are, of course, a gullible lot. Their Buddhist voters believed that a ‘king of snakes’ emerged from the Kelani river and was collected in a plastic bottle to herald the advent of a new King just prior to the 2019 presidential election. Now, their Christian brethren believe the tall tales spun by Jerome Fernando.

The other aspect that needs careful evaluation is the hysterical reaction from these so-called ‘saviours of Buddhism’ to Fernando’s remarks. Was that a spontaneous outpouring of anger or is there more to it than meets the eye?


Political battles in this country are often fought on ethnic and religious lines. We saw that most recently in 2019. Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced his candidacy for the Presidency five days after the Easter terror attacks. What followed was a systematic of vilification of the Islamic community with a highly organised campaign of disinformation, where Sinhalese were urged no to patronise Muslim business establishments and wild accusations were made that Muslim doctors were engaged in a campaign to forcefully sterilise Sinhalese mothers. Needless to say, gullible Sri Lankans fell for this, hook, line and sinker.

Whatever his other faults, it must be said that President Wickremesinghe has, until now, not played the communal card to win elections unlike his erstwhile rival, Mahinda Rajapaksa. We cannot, of course be certain that he won’t do so at the next election but we hope he will not deviate from his usual style of being a secular leader.

On the other hand, the same cannot be said about the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) or the ‘pohottuwa’ as they are known. They are down in the dumps in the popularity stakes, the Rajapaksas are anathema to the people and they need a cause for which they can fight for and regain the confidence of the masses. As always, patriotism, with a generous dose of Buddhist supremacy thrown in, will be the perfect formula to achieve this. And in this hour of the ‘pohottuwa’s greatest need, there arrives, like a Godsend (no pun intended), Pastor Jerome Fernando!   


In the weeks that come, are we likely to see more calls for Fernando to be dealt with as severely as possible, so that there is a surge of Buddhist fervour which will then be followed by one political party (or indeed, several) calling for pro-Sinhala Buddhist policies which they can then take to the next election? In short, is this a ploy to hoodwink the masses yet again, as they once did in 2019?


The ‘aragalaya’ at Galle Face may not have achieved its desired end goals but it did add a flavour ethnic and religious tolerance to the average citizen. That will be one of its lasting achievements. That is probably why, when the Jerome Fernando story broke and the saffron robed brigade was on the rampage, the response from the public was lukewarm and appropriately sanguine. Instead of going with the flow, they questioned the motives of the anti-Jerome campaign and wondered what ulterior motives lie behind that.

Jerome Fernando is to Christians what Pitiduwe Siridhamma is to Buddhism. Both are entrepreneurs and demagogues. They are businessmen in religious garb. That is their talent. They should be probed about how they manage their finances.  However, we shouldn’t confuse them with Christianity or Buddhism. If we do, that is our fault.