Indonesian Church Closures Mount Under Islamic Pressure

Samuel Rionaldo | Compass Direct News | Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Indonesian Church Closures Mount Under Islamic Pressure

March 12, 2008

Muslim groups demand halts to worship on Sumatra, Java islands; others remain closed.

JAKARTA – Islamic protestors have halted worship at a church on Sumatra island and at another church on Java island, even as several other churches remain closed after suffering attacks last year. 

The congregation of Love Evangelical Bethel Church (Gereja Bethel Injil Kasih Karunia) near Pekanbaru, Riau province on Sumatra island ceased Sunday services after about 60 demonstrators from four local mosques on February 15 demanded its closure.

The demonstrators, led by Harry Cahyono and Victor Ramaddan, protested that the church in Tangkerang Labuai village, Bukit Raya district, did not have a permit for expansion. They wrote, “Do not build without permit” in red paint on the church wall.  

The Love Evangelical Bethel congregation is the only church in the village of 14 mosques, none of which have permits, according to the Rev. Alex Ritonga, its pastor. His church is registered with local Religious Affairs authorities, but he said it has no expansion permit as area people had told him they had no objections to any add-ons. 

Rev. Ritonga, 62, said the 100-member church was established in 1980 and registered with the area Religion Department Office in Pekanbaru in 1984.

“We will be going to court if this case cannot be discussed between the church assembly and demonstrators,” Rev. Ritonga said.

There are about 15,000 Christians in the province.

Protestors also had staged a demonstration against the church in July 2007.

Ministry Stopped

In Banten province on Java island, a mob of Islamic youths on February 8 marched on a Christian social services house that also served as the place of worship for the Indonesia Pentecostal Church Kalibaru in Melayu village, Teluk Naga district, Tangerang.

Led by two mosque leaders identified only as Boa and Dedi, the mob demanded that the church be closed and disrupted the ministry of the Harvest Community Development, part of the Harvest Ministry Foundation, serving the community’s poor.

“For five years they have provided programs for the local community, such as free medical treatment, scholarships and so on,” said the Rev. Paulus Minangapangpang, pastor of Indonesia Pentecostal Church Kalibaru, which has 30 members.

The pastor’s wife and children were at home when the mob arrived and demanded they leave the premises before they sealed the property shut.

“Referring to a new decree in 2006, they demanded that the church must close,” Rev. Minangapangpang said. “They wanted that there be no church services taking place there.”

The Joint Ministerial Decree issued in 1969 and revised in 2006 requires an official permit for any place of worship, but any group applying must have 90 adult members with identification cards, thus excluding small churches such as the of Indonesia Pentecostal Church Kalibaru.

In addition, under the decree at least 60 neighbors must give their written consent before an application is made.

Amos Bunga Ridho, Pasar Kemis district leader of the Peace and Prosperity Party (Damai Sejahtera Party, or PDS),  said the attacking Muslim youths were part of the Islamic Defenders’ Front (Front Pembela Islam, or FPI), one Indonesia’s most active Muslim extremist groups.

“They collected signatures from local members to close down the church,” said Ridho. He added that the village head, who goes by the single name of Rahmat, supported their efforts.

Sealed Up

In Central Java, a church in Keji village, near Ungaran, remains sealed up after 150 Muslim extremists and local villagers forced it to close on November 24, 2007.

After showing the pastor a petition opposing Immanuel Pentecostal Church signed by dozens of villagers – though many of the signatures were forged by village head Achmad Syakir, according to the former leader of the hamlet – the mob entered the church and smashed equipment. They blocked the door with logs and leaves, painting red letters on the wall that read “Sealed by the Community.”

“Whoever opens this church again will die,” one of the perpetrators said, according to the pastor, identified only as Harsinah.

Syakir, who became village head a year ago, had accused the church of not having a worship-building permit. Since being established in 1979, the church had obtained written consent from local officials to function as a worship center and conduct weekly services.

Djawadin Saragih, a lawyer for the church, said the written consent carried legal force and could not be revoked. He said the Joint Ministerial Decree that was revised in 2006 did not take effect until years after the church had been established.

“The law is only relevant for worship centers that are about to build new premises,” he said.

Pastor Harsinah said the church had no option but to take legal action, as he had signed an agreement with opponents of the church before they broke in, vandalized and sealed it shut.

“We signed an agreement that stated two points,” he said. “First, that there should be no acts of violence while the case was processed. Secondly, that we would halt the church and children’s programs until the case was resolved.”

House Church Halted

Also on Java island’s Banten province, Jakarta Christian Baptist Church is still closed following an attack by the FPI on November 21 of last year.

The Muslim extremists of the FPI kicked out the doors and windows of the Tangerang home of the Rev. Bedali Hulu, where the church met, and threw out his belongings. Local officials subsequently asked him to leave the area until tensions cooled, and activities at the church came to halt even though it originally had a permit and was registered with Religious Affairs authorities.

Church activities began in June 2005, but objections didn’t arise until January 4, 2007, when some area residents asked that the church shut down because it was meeting in a home. The congregation had its permit from Religious Affairs authorities in Banten province but not one to worship in the house.

“Right now, we cannot do worship activity,” Rev. Hulu said. Moreover, Rev. Hulu does not have permission to return to his home, as police have failed to provide security.

Members of the congregation willing and able must travel to a church site 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the house in order to continue worshiping.

Rev. Hulu said he saw no solution to the church closure. Hanie Lawrence, chairman of the PDS of Banten territory, said talks with FPI leaders have been fruitless.

“It was the same as talking with a wall,” Lawrence said.

Still Afraid

In Central Java, many church members of Java Christian Church Dlagu in Sukoharjo are still too fearful to worship after an attack last August by the Surakarta Muslim Warrior Members (Laskar Umat Islam Surakarta), even though four leaders of the extremist group are facing criminal charges.

Church members defending their worship building filed the charges after they were wounded from stones the Muslim extremists threw during the attack.

Copyright 2008 Compass Direct News