In the build-up to tomorrow’s presidential elections, scheduled to be held on July 9, attacks on churches have become increasingly concerning. The incumbent leader, President Ydhoyono, has presided over two full terms, the constitutional term limit. Tomorrow residents will choose between two new candidates-Prabowo Subianto and his running mate, Hatta Rajasa, are running against Joko Widod and Jusuf Kalla.
Just over a month before the elections, on May 29, more than a dozen armed people in white robes attacked members of Santo Francis Agung Banteng Church during a prayer gathering in the home of Julius Felicianus. Julius tried talking to the mob, but the men began beating him, severely injuring his head and back. Other church members were also assaulted, including an eight-year-old girl who was given an electric shock. Julius’ neighbor, a reporter from national media Kompas TV, was beaten by the mob as he attempted to film the attack.
In the following days, the police arrested three of the assailants, all with alleged ties to the Islam Defenders Front. Whether the motive was related to the elections or concerns over religious activity remains unclear.
Three days later, a mob in Pangukan village barged through the church doors of the Pentecostal Church in Indonesia GPDI El Shaddai. Police stepped in to quell further violence, and the attackers began to calm down as congregants left the church. However, several hours later the assailants returned in greater number and began hurling stones at the church. Both the church building and the house of Pastor Nico Lomboan were damaged. Thankfully, no one was hurt.
According to Pastor Agus Haryanto, Chairman of the Inter-Church Cooperation of Sleman, the church, GPDI El Shaddai, was established in 1992. In 2011, the church of 100 worshippers wanted to build a new and bigger building. In order to gain a place of worship permit, a church must meet two main requirements-having at least 90 congregation members, and gaining the consent of 60 neighbors of different faiths. While the first requirement was easily met, the congregation’s attempts to obtain the community’s consent failed. Despite the absence of a permit, construction went on until the building was near completion.
The local administration sealed the church building in response to local protests. The congregation was allowed to use a village hall as a temporary worship venue. Twice over the past year, the congregants attempted to move back to their new premises, both times resulting in mass protests.
Tensions escalated in June resulting in local police declaring Pastor Lomboan a suspect for the crime of removing a seal that authorities had affixed to his church. The seal was placed in 2011, closing the church down because they did not have a building permit. Pastor Lomboan is currently facing a possible prison sentence of up to 5 years or a fine of up to US $83,000. According to the church elder, the seal fell off by itself, implying that Pastor Lomboan is not guilty of the charges.
Since Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population, there has been concern over the ramifications of these attacks and Pastor Lomboan’s arrest in the weeks leading up to tomorrow’s elections. Both attacks occurred in Yogyakarta province in the central region of Java, the country’s most populous island.
Both candidates expressed concern over the incident. Jokowi’s running mate visited Julius in the hospital and Prabowo Subianto, despite his considerable support from Islamic political parties, is quoted as promising, “If elected, we will try as hard as possible to enforce the laws and create harmony.”
Father, we pray today for our fellow Christians in Indonesia. We do not know the outcome of the elections and what the results will hold for believers. But we know that You are their anchor of hope regardless of the political powers. We pray for peace, comfort, strength and wisdom to surround Pastor Lomboan as he remains in prison facing trial. We pray for godly justice, and that You will use skilled lawyers to assist him. We pray that officials will process the case with discernment and without bias. And in the absence of their senior pastor, we pray for church members to remain steadfast, upholding their pastor in prayer, and turning to You and to Your Word for their strength. We also pray for Your church in the nation of Indonesia, that a gospel revival will sweep across the islands and draw multitudes to worship You in Spirit and in Truth. In the name of Jesus, our hope and salvation, Amen.