The Closing of GPDI Kampung Bangun Sari – Tanjung Pinang, Indonesia
Living amongst 200 million Muslims, Christians in Indonesia have long been used to being the minority. But in the last year, the country has seen a growing list of churches forcibly shut down by the government after protests from Muslims in the community. Many of these churches existed for years without a problem, but it appears that radical Islamic groups have gained significant ground in a focused campaign to protest the very existence of Christian places of worship wherever possible. Behind each church closure is a unique story, and for the last several months a local ICC representative has been visiting those churches, collecting what would otherwise be the untold stories of Indonesia’s closing churches. Below is the second in a small series of these stories, shedding light on the plight of Christian’s in Indonesia that most in the English speaking world have never heard of.
The Kampung Bangun Sari Pentecostal Church in Indonesia (GPDI is its Indonesian acronym) was founded by Pastor Faragi Harita, and had been a vital part of the village since 1992. For more than a decade, the church lived harmoniously within the Muslim-majority community. Over the years, the congregation grew to nearly 300 members comprised of adults, youth and children who would meet regularly in their permanent church building, which they built in 1995.
Ten years later in 2005, a staunch and radical Muslim man moved into the area and started to build an Islamic boarding school and mosque right in front of GPDI church. Later on, this man became one of the leaders of a fast growing radical organization that has been responsible for the closing and burning of church buildings, and even the killing of many Christians. This organization is called Front Pembela Islam or the Islamic Defenders front, known by its acronym, FPI.
Using the influence as the leader of one of the most daring Islamic organizations, he began to stir and sow seeds of hatred toward the church and its members, while at the same time pushing the Islamic community and its leaders to reject the presence of the Christian church in their area. Sixteen years after the hard work of Pastor Faragi Harita had been planted, the church doors were sealed by the local government, thanks to pressure from the Islamic Defenders Front and local Muslim community.
Knowing that what they had done was not ethical, the local government has been facilitating the congregation by letting them use a room in a nearby hotel. The government has tried to move the church to a different area, with the hopes that they could resume their worship in peace, but the existing community there also rejected the presence of the Christian church. Hence the church members are still not sure when this situation will come to an end.
In spite of this situation, the pastor told ICC that church members are still faithful and are praying that one day they will be able to go back to their church building and worship there or possibly even build a new building in a new place. In order to this, the church will have to obtain proper licensing from the government and somehow get permission from the local community where they wish to build.
– ICC note: This process can be almost impossible in some parts of Indonesia, forcing churches to either meet in homes or operate illegally. Please keep the GPDI church and Pastor Faragi Harita in your prayers today.
The Closing of HKBP Kaliabang Perwire – Bekasi
By Ryan Morgan
Living amongst 200 million Muslims, Christians in Indonesia have long been used to being the minority. But in the last year, the country has seen a growing list of churches forcibly shut down by the government after protests from Muslims in the community. Many of these churches existed for years without a problem, but it appears that radical Islamic groups have gained significant ground in a focused campaign to protest the very existence of Christian places of worship wherever possible. Behind each church closure is a unique story, and for the last month a local ICC representative has been visiting those churches, collecting what would otherwise be the untold stories of Indonesia’s closing churches. Below is the second in a small series of these stories, shedding light on the plight of Christian’s in Indonesia that most in the English speaking world have never heard of.
Not far from the GKRI church that has been closed by the local government of Bekasi, another church, HKBP Kaliabang Perwira Church was also sealed due to the resentment of the community around the church. The HKBP Kaliabang Perwira church is now pastored by a young Rev. Hotman Sitorus.
As we sit down and talked together, Rev. Hotman told me that the congregation has not been able to worship in the church. Hence they hold their Sunday services within the church compound. He remembered how the congregation was even excited as they held the Holy Communion service in the church compound that Sunday. The congregation said, “Wow, we feel like having a party!”
Every Sunday, some policemen will guard the church service.
Rev. Hotman recalled how one time he was faced with a very difficult situation just before they had their services on Sunday. While the service was about to start, the about 1,500 Muslim people gathered armed and ready to attack the church. He had to act swiftly otherwise there could be chaos. Finally, the rev. told the congregation to go home peacefully and not to be provoked by their Muslim neighbors.
Even today, the pastor and the congregation still believe that one day God will open the door for them to be able to hold their service and ministry in the church again.
Indonesia, the country with the largest Islamic population in the world, has long been considered a model of religious tolerance. However, since 1998, this view has been challenged by a disturbing trend of religious intolerance and persecution.
The trend coincides with Muslim clerics and other hard-line Muslim groups forming new alliances with fundamentalist groups closely linked to international terrorist cells and calling for violence against Christians in Indonesia. Sources have reported that there appears to be a merging of extremist Muslim agendas against the “Christianization” of Indonesia.
Throughout 2010, many of the attacks perpetrated by Muslim extremist groups have showed an escalation in the intensity of violence being used against Christians in Indonesia. In January, a group of fanatic Muslims burnt down the Batak Protestant Church and the church pastor’s home in the North Sumatera Province after Friday prayers at a nearby mosque.
In April, the educational center of the Christian Education Body in the West Java Province was also burnt down by radical Muslims along with two cars and seven houses owned by the center’s Christian employees.
In August, a mob suspected of being led by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a hard-line Muslim group known for its extreme fundamentalist message, attacked Christians while they worshiped in Bekasi, a city located in the West Java Province. Less than a month later, Murhali Barda, the leader of the FPI, incited a mob of Muslims to stab and beat Christians in Bekasi.
Government Not Protecting Religious Minorities
What makes these trends most disturbing for Indonesia is that most of the perpetrators of abuse against religious minorities have not been brought to justice or have only received light token judgments. On February 25th, a court in the West Java Province handed down a sentence of five to seven months incarceration for the beatings and stabbings perpetrated by members of the Islamic Defenders Front in Bekasi last September.
Although the Constitution of Indonesia accords “all persons the right to worship according to their own religion and belief,” the government has not used its constitutional authority to overturn or even review local laws that restrict religious freedom or enforce Shari’a law on all religions.
Local Laws Restricting Religious Freedom
One law that restricts religious freedom is the Joint Ministerial Decree on Houses of Worship No. 8 and No. 9 passed in 2006. This law restricts the ability of Indonesians to build new places of worship and requires congregations to obtain a permit from local authorities before beginning construction. According to the law, in order to build a new house of worship, there must be written support of at least 60 local households, a congregation of at least 90 members, and a clear and present need for the new house of worship. As a result, hard-line Muslim groups, including the Islamic Defenders Front, have used this law to not only block the building of new churches in Indonesia, but to also protest and close other churches that do not meet these requirements.
Just recently, the Yasmin Church in Bogor, a city in the West Java Province, was closed by the Bogor authorities following the protests of 150 Muslims. Bogor officials revoked the building permit it issued, alleging that the signatures by local residents were “false,” even though the Supreme Court of Indonesia upheld the church’s legality. Human rights groups have pointed out that this case is only one in a series of violations of religious freedom against Christians in Indonesia and a sign of the government’s weakness or inability to deal with extremist Muslim pressures.
This is a blatant case of injustice—local authorities ignoring a Supreme Court ruling and getting away with it. With rule of law a critical measurement in gauging the future of Indonesia, it can only be assessed that the outlook is grim.
Anti-Christian extremism in Indonesia is rising. The Setara Institute, a human rights think tank based in Jakarta, recorded 17 anti-Christian incidents in 2008. In 2009, the number was 18. In 2010, the number jumped to 75. It is important to recognize that the vast majority of attacks and incidents are not reflected in these numbers. They are only an indicator of a very disturbing trend.
In 2010, there were some very disturbing incidents that set the context for this increase in extremism.
- In Bekasi, a gathering of Islamic Organizations at the Bekasi Islamic Conference led to the creation of a group called the Bekasi Islamic Presidium. This group was tasked with preparing local mosques for a religious war through the training of paramilitary units.
- Churches were burned and shut down, and the construction of new Church buildings was stopped. Sadly this was not exceptional, but widespread. Areas of Indonesia which had previously been peaceful saw an outbreak of religiously motivated violence.
- Perhaps most alarming is the stance of local authorities who have both failed to restrain extremist groups and overtly stopped Christians from meeting. In 2010, the police were responsible for or condoned 56 violations of religious freedom.
Sadly, in 2011, there has been a continuation of this pattern.
The Indonesian constitution provides for freedom of religion and accords “all persons the right to worship according to their own religion and belief.” Despite the legal protections, provincial and local laws have been used to restrict religious freedom.
One example of this is when a local law requires Christians to obtain a certain amount of signatures from the community to build a church. In one case, the church obtained the necessary signatures to build. Later, Islamic hardliners intimidated people into withdrawing their signatures, and police blocked construction. The right to worship freely must include a place to worship freely.
Indonesia has been known for its diversity and openness. But with rising extremist groups, there has been a corresponding rise in religious-related incidents. The Indonesian government needs to realize that its non-confrontational approach towards extremists is only disrupting the peace instead of establishing it.
The question is still unanswered, “Which Indonesia will emerge?” A modern, democratic defender of human rights, or an intolerant, quasi-Islamic state that uses mob rule and terror?