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What do Christians in Indonesia have in common with the faithful of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, whose lovely church building was obliterated by the falling World Trade Center Tower Two? Quite a bit, it would seem.
Like the Greek Orthodox parishioners, Indonesian Christians of the Filadelfia Batak Christian Protestant Church in the Jakarta suburb of Bekasi lost their church to an Islamic attack. Also like the New York churchgoers, they have not received permission to rebuild. And their plight, like that of the Christians in Manhattan, is disregarded by Christian leaders focused on the building of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s Ground Zero Mosque/Cordoba House Islamic Center.
In spite of the commonalities, Christians in Islamist-dominated Indonesia have a far more difficult road than the Christians of St. Nicholas, the little church that stood on Liberty Street, across from the World Trade Center South Tower. But Christians in Indonesia, and throughout the Islamic world, should serve as a warning of what may happen if tolerance and accommodation unreasonably are extended to those who are intolerant and unaccommodating.
Although Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population, some 200 million, there is a strong Christian presence. The Filadelfia Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP Filadelfia) is a member of the Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP) denomination founded in 1917 in the highlands of North Sumatra by Dutch and German missionaries to the Batak people. Part of the Lutheran World Federation, it is the largest Protestant church in Indonesia, with over 4 million members. This does not sit well with Indonesian Islamists.
In 1998, Indonesian Christians purchased land to build the HKBP Filadelfia Church. According to Compass Direct New Service, they jumped through all the hoops required to ensure that they did not “offend” Muslims. They had to secure the signatures of at least 60 Muslim residents and officials giving consent to the building of a Christian church and they received consent from two hundred.
But as church construction took place, the Indonesia’s religious tolerance deteriorated. Although most Indonesian Muslims were good neighbors to Christians, Islamic extremists targeted Christians. In Ambon, Maluku Island, thousands of Christians were slaughtered by the terrorist Laskar Jihad, who announced a “snuff out all the candles” campaign late in 2000. Although violence was not as prevalent in Jakarta, extremists burned down the almost-completed HKBP Filadelfia Church that November.
Church members then bought a house to use as a temporary worship space while applying for a permit to rebuild. But Islamists mobs protested the use of the house for church activities, too. And when mobs disrupted services and threatened the church goers, Christians were accused of disturbing the peace. Compass Direct New Service reported that authorities forbade the use of the house for worship by the church and sealed it up. At the same time they ignored the church’s request for a permit to build a church building on its own property. After this, church members were forced to meet for worship outside in an open field on the property they own.
On June 27, 2010, following an Islamic Congress in Bekasi, Islamists announced their plans to combat the “Christianization” of the Jakarata suburb. They urged local mosques to set up militia forces. They announced plans to establish an Islamic Center and to train a Laskar Permuda (youth army) to push for Shariah implementation in the region. “If the Muslims in the city can unite, there will be no more story about us being openly insulted by other religions,” Ahmad Salimin Dani, head of the Bekasi Islamic Missionary Council, announced at the gathering. “The center will ensure that Christians do not act out of order.”
But nobody ensures that the Islamists don’t act out of order. An August 16, 2010 Washington Post article reported, “For months, Christians in the industrial city of Bekasi have been warned against worshipping on a field that houses their shuttered church. They’ve arrived to find human feces dumped on the land and sermons have been interrupted by demonstrators chanting ‘Infidels!’ and ‘Leave now!’” In the latest of five such confrontations, a small group of worshippers were attacked violently by a mob of over 300, although the Bekasi administration had approved the church’s decision to meet in the field months before, and that they were promised police protection.
The head of the extremist Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), alleged to be an Al Qaeda affiliate, Murhali Barda, said that the church’s “insistence on worshipping at the site was a provocation.” At the scene, Barda yelled (in a not-at-all provocative manner), “The Batak Christians deserve to be stabbed to death!” He then punched a few Christian women for good measure, thus demonstrating the manliness and courage of Islamists. According to the Jakarta Post, one young woman, “Berliana Sinaga, 22, suffered bruising after several men hit her in the head and face.” Pastor Palti Panjaitan demanded to know what more the demonstrators wanted from them, “We have been forced to worship under the sky, on newspapers, in front of our sealed church, and they still demonstrate against us,” Panjaitan declared.
One recent encouraging moment, relayed by Compass Direct News Service, was on August 17, 2010, the 65th anniversary of Indonesia independence. Moderate Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus supported the Christians in protesting the national government’s lack of response to Islamic radicalism. The group, gathering at the National Monument Square in Jakarta, warned that government inaction was fostering the growth of extremism in the country. Dr. Musda Mulia, a Muslim research professor at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, told Compass Direct News Service that all Indonesians have the right to freedom of religion. “It seems the government doesn’t want to deal with the radicals,” she said. “Persecution of Christians and other minorities has been my concern for many years, but the government is very weak.”
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