Church in Indonesia Stands Up to Attempt to Stop Worship

Location of West Java Province, Indonesia. (TUBS, Creative Commons)

Location of West Java Province, Indonesia. (TUBS, Creative Commons)

SURABAYA, Indonesia (Morning Star News) – A church in West Java Province, Indonesia refused to yield to Muslim intruders’ attempts to stop their worship service on Sunday (March 19), the pastor said.

About 60 miles southeast of Jakarta, two Muslims entered the building of the Simalungun Protestant Christian Church (GKPS) in Purwakerta, took photos and video and told the congregation to disperse, but the Rev. Julles Purba said he continued the worship service until the end.

“They told us that from now on, we should not hold worship service here since, they said, we have no permission,” Pastor Julles told Morning Star News.

The church building, a 13-meter by 8-meter traditional roofed structure with no walls that allows passersby to see in, was built two years ago for the now 36-member congregation.

“We never faced any dispute or conflict in the past two years,” Pastor Julles said.

About 60 people were in attendance on Sunday (March 19) including GKPS members from five other towns, he said.

In a March 20 video appearing on social media showing discussion with the intruders after the service, a man identified as the head of the local citizen association (Rukun Wargatells Christians on a road outside the church building, “Don’t hold religious worship here anymore,” to which another church leader asks if he knows the relevant government regulations.

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The citizen association head says he’s not disturbing worship, and later a young man in a grey T-shirt arrives with another man and says the wishes of the local neighbors should be respected.

Addressing the citizen association head instead, the church leader says, “There is a law for those who forbid worship, right? You yourself know it, right?  Who disturbs worship should be punished, right?”

Raising his voice, the church leader points his finger at the association leader and says, “Do you know the rules, sir? Whoever interferes with worship is subject to punishment. Do government officials already know the constitution? You know the law, sir?  You can’t do that, sir – go inside the church, take pictures and then disperse the congregation.”

Bobby Risakotta, who uploaded the video on his Twitter account (@bobby_risakotta), tweeted, “What happens with our worship? It is only once a week, in a closed room, bothers no public order. Does it bother your faith? My house is 50 meters away from the mosque, 5 x listening to the call to prayers a day, not to mention chanting prayers and recitation & we never feel disturbed, guys.”

The conflict comes days ahead of Ramadan, the Muslim month of day-fasting that this year begins on March 23 and concludes with Eid ul Fitr on April 22-23.

The Rev. Henrek Lokra, executive secretary of justice and peace of the Communion of Christian Churches (PGI) unit, asked for prayer in a March 20 video sent to Morning Star News.

“Please help to pray for GKPS Purwakerta that was persecuted yesterday, on Sunday, March 19, 2023,” he said.

Recipe for Conflict

Requirements for obtaining permission to build houses of worship in Indonesia are onerous and hamper the establishment of such buildings for Christians and other faiths, rights advocates say. Indonesia’s Joint Ministerial Decree of 2006 (SKB) makes requirements for obtaining permits nearly impossible for most new churches.

Even when small, new churches are able to meet the requirement of obtaining 90 signatures of approval from congregation members and 60 from area households of different religions, they are often met with delays or lack of response from officials. Well-organized radical Muslims secretly mobilize outside people to intimidate and pressure members of minority faiths.

Indonesian writer Herry Tjahyono noted on his Facebook page that conflicts over houses of worship will continue unless the Joint Ministerial Decree is revoked.

“The potential for horizontal conflict will grow if the government (regardless of who is in control) does not have the guts to revoke the SKB,” he wrote. President Jokowi can only grieve and appeal. But he also does not revoke the SKB. There may be a classic argument; ‘I can’t intervene.’ But this is ministerial-level business. So in my opinion what is needed is will and determination.”

The Rev. Lukas Suntoro of Magelang, Central Java Province, told Morning Star News that Christians need police guards during their worship services because of such conflicts.

“Those who dare to stop worship should face the law,” he said.

Indonesia ranked 33rd on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. Indonesian society has adopted a more conservative Islamic character, and churches involved in evangelistic outreach are at risk of being targeted by Islamic extremist groups, according to Open Doors’ WWL report.

“If a church is seen to be preaching and spreading the gospel, they soon run into opposition from Islamic extremist groups, especially in rural areas,” the report noted. “In some regions of Indonesia, non-traditional churches struggle to get permission for church buildings, with the authorities often ignoring their paperwork.”

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