Church Closures on the Rise in Indonesia
Indonesia is the most populated Muslim country in the world with approximately 240 million citizens; 86 percent which are Muslims. This island nation comprises of over than 17,000 islands, spreading over 5,000 kilometers. In size and scope, the nation’s diversity has created challenges in terms of infrastructure and development. In addition, there are over 360 different ethnicities and more than 700 dialects to add to an already complex situation.
To bring the nation together after gaining independence in 1945, the founding father of the country, President Sukarno, proclaimed an all-encompassing and binding state ideology named ‘Pancasila’. Its five principles are belief in the one and only God, a just and civilized humanity, the unity of the country, democracy guided by inner wisdom and social justice. In the following years, Indonesia became known as model for democracy in a Muslim country, and was frequently highlighted as model of tolerance in an ethnically and religious diverse country.
But today, those harmonious principles are under attack. Despite the fact that Muslim extremist parties regularly get comparatively low votes, the influence of Muslim extremist organizations is high. Neither federal nor local governments dare to ignore their demands, fearing public unrest. Frequently targeted are religious minorities, such as Ahmadis, a Muslim minority, and Christians.
There are a significant number of radical Islam organizations operating in this country, such as Hizbut-Tahrir Indonesia, the Islamic Defender Front (FPI) and the Islamic Front (FUI). These organizations have used strict and exclusive religious interpretations to justify the implementation of Sharia law and the infringement of the rights of religious minorities. One province, Aceh, at the Western tip of Sumatra, is governed by Sharia law. Several other provinces throughout Indonesia have also introduced Sharia by-laws. Overall, the situation for Christians is diverse. In some areas, Muslim extremist groups are given free-reign placing Christians under enormous pressure, while in other areas Christians can practice their religion relatively undisturbed.
In regards to the rise in church closures, it is mostly the local or regional government giving in to pressure, rather than the national government. The apathy that the government displays on the increasing rights violations of religious minorities has led to anger and frustration among the nations marginalized. The closure of GKI Yasmin Church in Bogor is one example of local governments taking religious matters into their own hands. Despite a Supreme Court ruling, neither the mayor nor the national government was able or willing to enforce the believers’ right to worship.
In the wake of the upcoming July 2014 national elections, Christians in the region have asked for our prayers. With the nation voting for a new president as well as other prominent leaders, they are praying for peace leading up to the elections, and for godly people to be appointed into office.
Father, we are saddened to hear of the closures of churches in Indonesia, and ask that You fill the pastors and congregations with peace at this time. Father, fill them with a spirit of forgiveness towards those who have orchestrated this injustice. We ask today that Your hand is in the process of reopening these churches. And Father, as Indonesians prepare for the upcoming elections, we join in prayer with our brothers and sisters asking for godly leaders to be the front leaders during this pivotal time. May Your will reign in all these matters. In the name of Jesus, our only sure hope. Amen.