JAKARTA, Indonesia, August 13 (CDN) – Police and local government officials joined forces with a Muslim mob to close a church in North Sumatra Province on July 30, with church leaders forced to promise never to hold services at the site.
The Rev. Leritio Panjaitan of the Binanga HKBP (Huria Kristen Batak Protestant) Church on the Gunung Tua-Sibuhan Highway in Siboris Dolok Village, Sipirok, North Sumatra Province said government officials and mobs threatened to burn the facility if worship continued there.
Pastor Panjaitan said rejection of the church was aided by the presence of a Quranic boarding school, Darul Hasnah Madrassa, which appeared in the vicinity six months ago.
“I have received information that the leader of that madrassa [Islamic school], Dr. Gong Matua Siregar, has incited citizens to reject the presence of the church,” Pastor Panjaitan said.
She said that a local government official admitted to her that the head of the madrassa had pressured him to close the church.
Pastor Panjaitan added that the church had applied for a building and worship permit long ago but that authorities had not acted on it, and that all necessary administrative requirements had been fulfilled.
The head of the Sipirok Majelis Ulama Indonesia (Assembly of Indonesian Muslim a priest or religious leader, can be Christian or Muslim leader More, or MUI), Haji Fahri Harahap, has said it is clear that the residents of the area, long predominantly Muslim, do not want a church there.
The closure means 80 people have lost their worship place.
“At this time, we haven’t decided if we are going to move to another place,” Pastor Panjaitan said. “But temporarily, the congregation will worship by moving from house to house.”
The congregation had first used the building in 2005. After several months, objections began from a Muslim group called the Congregation of the Binanga Sipirok Islamic Forum.
They wrote a letter to church officials requesting that the congregation no longer hold worship services in the area, as the majority in the area were Muslim and there was a fear of “Christianization.”
With no answer from the church, the Islamic group asked the local government to apply pressure, and local government officials wrote to the church requesting that all worship activities cease in order to avoid disturbances with area Muslims. The church leaders and congregation agreed and did not use the building from March 2006 through 2009.
During that time, the congregation worshipped in another building at a distant location, requiring members to incur travel expenses. As the area Christians were largely poor, they asked church leaders to consider using the building again. The elders questioned local residents about the reopening of the church building, and in February the congregation began using it again.
On July 23, however, Regent Basyrah Lubis warned the church to stop worship activities.
Up to that point there had been no problems with the local people, church leaders said, noting that the village leader had no objection to the presence of the church.
With pressure building, however, church leaders met with regional government officials and the MUI, who said many groups opposed the presence of the church and ordered that all Christian activities in the area cease.
Otherwise, the officials and Muslim clerics said, the local government would not be responsible if protestors came and burned the church.
In spite of this brazen threat, church officials decided to continue worship services. Pastor Panjaitan said worship is a human right.
“This is a matter concerning human relations with God, and government should not interfere,” she told Compass.
Noting that their threat was not heeded, government officials again called church leaders to a meeting on July 29. This meeting included the MUI, the district officer, the head of the Department of Religion, and demonstrators who objected to the presence of the church. They forced elder L. Situmorang to sign a letter pledging not to use the building and not to hold worship services on the property, church leaders said.
Initially Situmorang declined, asking for three days to consult with other church leaders, church leaders said, but the next day he was called and forced to sign the letter to stop worship.