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Intolerant Groups Protest against Santa Clara Church Construction in Indonesia

Posted on | March 31, 2017 | No Comments

03/30/2017 Indonesia (International Christian Concern) – On Friday, March 25, 2017, several hundred protesters from a group called the Forum for Bekasi Muslim Friendship demonstrated in front of the Santa Clara Church in Kaliabang, Bekasi after Friday prayers. They were protesting against the construction of Santa Clara Church in Bekasi, West Java. According to the protesters, the church manipulated the construction license application process in order to build their church.

One of the protesters told International Christian Concern (ICC), “Bekasi is known as a santri city[1]. If we allow this church to be built here it will change the identity of the city.”

The demonstrators called on the mayor of Bekasi, Rahmat Effendi, to revoke the church building permits and stop the construction work that is still ongoing. The mayor responded to this demand, “I will not revoke the permits of St Clara church even if I am shot!”

The protest turned violent when the protesters began to throw rocks and bottles at the police who were guarding the church. The police responded by firing tear gas to disperse the angry crowd. As the situation became more dangerous, a Catholic priest was asked to leave the location for his safety.

Unfortunately, not all run-ins with radical groups end with government protection. Not far from Bekasi in a town called Bogor, the government banned three churches from meeting under the pretense that they could not guarantee their safety. These churches, like many, struggled to get their licenses and eventually gave up. An elder of one of these churches told ICC, “It’s not that we do not want to get the license, but getting [a] license is really difficult and we felt there is discrimination making this process almost impossible.”

This is not the first time their church has been shut down. Their church was closed in 2005, so they bought a rice field outside of town and built another. This one was closed as well. They began bouncing from house to house, holding services in living rooms. “We called ourselves the door-to-door church,” the elder recalled. However, in January of this year the church received a notice that they were not allowed to meet in living rooms either. They were told that if they kept meeting, local leaders would board up the house.

Constructing religious institutions is a complicated process in Indonesia. Many institutions have recognition at the national level, but the process is much more complicated at the local level. Applicants are sometimes required to get more than 100 signatures from people of other faiths in order to get construction permits. The process is so cumbersome and prohibitive that many, if not most, do not get the proper permits for their institutions, including mosques. For Christians, a religious minority, this means that they are less likely to get permission to build and even more likely to have their church demolished using this as the justification.

Even though Indonesia recognizes six religions: Islam, Christianity, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism, there has been growing intolerance among Muslims toward religious minorities, especially Christians.

The impending elections for Jakarta’s governor have only worsened the situation. For the first time, a Chinese Christian candidate has a chance at winning the election, and hardline Muslims are doing everything in their power to stop him. They have brought charges of blasphemy against him in an attempt to put him in prison. They have organized protests, attended by hundreds of thousands, in an attempt to force the hand of the government. They have not only instructed Muslims that they cannot vote for a non-Muslim, they have even taken to denying funeral rights for families that intend to vote for the Christian candidate. As hate speech and tension increase, the risk increases for Christians in some communities. The closure of these churches by the government is another step away from religious freedom for Indonesia.

Indonesia stands at a crossroads, both politically and religiously. Many Christians are living in fear. Intolerance is growing. If the government does not act to stop the growth of radical Islam, Indonesia’s image as a country where many religions can coexist will be more than tarnished, and the real victims will be religious minorities, including Christians.


[1] Santri is a student at traditional Muslim school; or a strict adherent to Islam.


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