Wednesday, May 12, 2010

055. Indonesia: govt. ignores aggressive church closure.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 055 | Wed 12 May 2010


According to Indonesia's 2000 census, 10 percent of Indonesians are Christian. However, Indonesian Christian leaders say that figure is too small. Operation World (2000) puts the figure at 16 percent. According to a recent TIME magazine article entitled: 'Christianity's Surge in Indonesia' (26 April 2010), Indonesia is experiencing a 'religious revolution'. There are more Islamic headscarves (signifying growth in fundamentalist political Islam) and there are more churches. Furthermore, as TIME notes, the growth in Christianity is coming from conversions as distinct from births, with nominal Muslims, disillusioned by violent terrorism and the spread of repressive Sharia Law, questioning and rejecting Islam.

In Jakarta in late July 2005, Muslim clerics at the 7th Congress of the Majlis Ulama Indonesia (MUI) complained that Christianity was making 'worrying inroads' and that Christian preachers were converting Muslims at 'an alarming rate', while the 'phenomenon' of church construction was 'most disturbing'. The clerics issued an 11-point fatwa (religious edict) denouncing 'religious teachings influenced by pluralism, liberalism and secularism' as being 'against Islam'. Hostility against churches escalated as militant groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front and the Anti-Apostasy Alliance rose up to 'defend Islam' against Christian expansion.

In 2006 the government revised Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB) No 1, 1969, requiring churches to have a minimum of 90 members and signatures signifying approval from at least 60 local residents before authorities could grant a permit for a place of worship. To prevent fraud, photocopies of identity cards must accompany signatures. Subsequently, Islamic fundamentalists began inciting whole communities against Christians and intimidating Muslims so they would be too afraid to give their signatures. The Wahid Institute reported 93 instances of community intolerance against churches in 2009. In the absence of any government action to counter the abuses, destruction and mob violence, the 'phenomenon' of church closures continues to this day.

The 600-member Indonesian Christian Church (GKI) in Bogor municipality, West Java, having collected the required signatures, obtained its permit for a place of worship in July 2006. In 2008, with the church half-built, the municipality revoked the permit citing complaints from 'locals'. The congregation filed a lawsuit against the mayor's decision to the Bandung Administrative Court and won. The municipality then submitted an appeal to the Supreme Court, which they lost as the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the church. Islamic fundamentalists, organised under the banner 'Indonesian Muslims Communication Forum' (Forkami), then accused the church of submitting forged signatures in its application. On 10 April 2010, the Bogor Public Order Agency appeased the Islamists and in defiance of the Supreme Court closed the church and sealed off its entrance. Now, despite vulnerability and risk, the congregation meets on the street in front of the church.

This process has become common in Indonesia, especially in the predominantly Muslim, fundamentalist stronghold of West Java. To counter accusations of religious discrimination or persecution, officials frequently claim that religion is not the issue and that permits for Christian churches are being rejected for reasons of noise, traffic or safety. Even though the 500-member Filadelfia Huria Kristen Batak Protestan Church (HKBP) in Jejalan village, Bekasi, West Java (on the eastern outskirts of Jakarta), has obtained the required signatures, authorities are not issuing a permit due to Islamist pressure. After the authorities sealed the church shut on 12 January 2010, the members started holding worship services on the roadside. Even though the church property adjoins vacant fields on a quiet, largely unused road, on 12 April Bekasi officials ordered the church halt all worship activities, citing interference with 'community activities'.


* confound all his enemies by continuing to build his Church in Indonesia.

* bless all Christian testimony in the courts, in the media and on the streets, using it to enlighten many to gospel truths and Christian graces.

* use Islamic fundamentalist repression and persecution of Christians to enlighten many Muslims to the intolerant, repressive and imperialistic nature of fundamentalist Islam.

* protect those believers who are worshipping the Lord in the open air, blessing their courageous witness so that repressive action might produce the exact opposite of what was intended.

'And there arose a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria . . . .' (from Acts 8:1 ESV.)
'So it was not you who sent me here, but God.' (Joseph to his brothers, Genesis 45:8a ESV.)



In July 2005 Indonesia's conservative Islamic clerics decried the 'inroads' of Christianity at the expense of Islam. Attacks against churches then escalated. In 2006 the government changed the ministerial decree regulating permits for places of worship so that now churches must have at least 90 members, as well as signatures signifying approval from at least 60 local residents. Not only does this decree seriously impact small fellowships in predominately Muslim areas (most notably in West Java), it gives Islamic fundamentalists and militants a reason to incite fear and hatred as they strive to stop churches being established. Despite incitement, mob violence and legal violations, the government has stayed inert, refusing to uphold laws, rulings and rights in the face of fundamentalist aggression. Please pray: 'Thy will be done!'