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3/9/2011 Indonesia (TheSydneyMorningHerald) – Indonesian Christians are facing a surge in threats and violence from Muslim radicals, writes Jock Cheetham.
LUSPIDA SIMANJUNTAK awakes to face a hell of a day. The pastor plans to lead the service at her church as she does every Sunday. But today the congregation expects some special guests – and they aren’t invited.
Luspida dresses and drives through the narrow streets of Bekasi, a satellite city of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. Outside town she parks and walks up the pot-holed street with her Protestant congregation to land they own next to rice fields.
A wall of Muslim protesters greets the Christians. Loudspeakers blare. Cameras click. The protest leaders tell Luspida that the Christians should not worship here. The day heats up, and so does the atmosphere. Events are about to turn ugly.
Last year the local government closed Luspida’s church in town. The government offered her Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP) church another site, which the church did not accept. The congregation chose to worship on land it owned outside town. The Muslim locals in that village of semi-rural Ciketing were not particularly happy – then radicals got involved.
“It’s very difficult to build a new church,” says Gomar Gultom, an Indonesian Christian leader. “Even the old churches they try to disturb and they ask to close. We can say there’s a new kind of Muslim here in Indonesia, a fanatical and fundamentalistic”
Nearly nine in 10 Indonesians are Muslim, while more than 20 million Christians live in the country of 240 million, the vast majority living peacefully side by side. But the human rights monitor Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace recorded an increase in violations of religious freedom involving Indonesian churches last year – up to 75 – about four times the rate of the previous three years. That number includes 43 incidents such as closures and attacks on churches. The deputy chairman of Setara Institute, Bonar Naipospos, says: “The government didn’t do anything to stop this.” The inaction of the President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is disturbing to those Indonesians who support religious freedom, tolerance and pluralism.
Luspida Simanjuntak, the lady pastor from the HKBP church in Indonesia, leads a service. The congregation was attacked last year by angry and radical Muslims. Photo: Jock Cheetham
Early last month (February 2011), Muslim mobs burnt churches in Java in protest against a prison term imposed on a Christian who had blasphemed against Islam. The crowd wanted him executed. Just days before, hardliners killed three Ahmadis, members of Ahmadiyah, a group condemned by some as deviant from Islam.
In Bekasi, Luspida sits in front of the altar in her closed church. The fans blow hot air around. The pastor, 38, was born in North Sumatra, in a multi-religious community. “I went to Sunday school,” she says in Indonesian. “We sang together, prayed, and went home together. We lived peacefully with Muslims, never in conflict.”
Luspida trained for the ministry and became a pastor in 2001. Two years later she moved to Bekasi, where she lives with her two children. Her husband, a sailor, is often away. “We believe in God, so we are optimistic about everything because we are part of God’s creatures,” she says.
Luspida’s freedom to worship in Indonesia is regulated by law. New houses of worship, including churches and mosques, need the written support of at least 60 local households from other religions. Luspida’s church is not new; they’ve been trying to have their church approved for years. This process ended in the church being closed and the land outside town being used as an alternative site. That’s how the Christians came to be in Ciketing on August 8, 2010.