SURABAYA, Indonesia (Morning Star News) – Mobs in northern Indonesia this month blocked a church from its Sunday service venue in one town and damaged a worship building under construction in another, sources said.
In Riau Islands Province, about 30 people on Wednesday (Aug. 9) used hammers and clubs to break huge holes in the walls of the church building under construction in Kabil village, Nongsa District, Batam City, at the address of RT 004, RW 21, according to local media. The site belongs to the Pentecostal Mission Church in Indonesia (Gereja Utusan Pantekosta di Indonesia, or GUPdI).
In a video on social media showing the attack, a man from the group stated that the church had no permit to build a worship building, a common tactic by hard-line Muslims in Indonesia where applications for permits are ignored or denied and carry onerous requirements. GUPdI Pastor Sham Jack Sean Napitupulu reportedly said the church had a letter allowing the construction from the Batam Free Zone Authority.
Local police and the chairman of the Batam Interreligious Communication Forum (Forum Kerukunan Umat Beragama, or FKUB), Chabullah Wibisono, denied religious motives for the destruction, saying the conflict was rooted only in the desire of residents to use the site as a public facility, local media reported.
Church leaders filed a complaint about the damages with Riau Islands Police.
The chairman of the Association of Indonesian Evangelical Churches and Institutions (Persatuan Gereja dan Lembaga-Lembaga Injili Indonesia, or PGLII) Riau Islands, Pastor Jimmy Loho, denounced the destruction as anarchistic and unacceptable, according to local media.
A GUPdI administrator on Friday (Aug. 11) met at area police headquarters with Batam City Muslim leaders, Indonesian Ministry of Religion representative Proverbs Yowei, and area residents and reached an agreement stipulating that construction of the church building would be halted until a permit is issued, according to Keprionline.co.id.
The legal case against those who damaged the church building under construction remains in progress.
In nearby North Sumatra Province, Muslim demonstrators in Tanjung Morawa village on Aug. 6 protested against the Mawar Sharon Church (Gereja Mawar Sharon, or GMS) congregation using a warehouse for its Sunday service and told members to drop plans to construct a worship building at a nearby site, according to a video posted by Aktualonline.com.
The video shows the protestors with banners stating, “We, the residents of Sub-village 1, Tanjung Morawa village, refuse non-Muslims’ activities in this village,” and, “The residents of Sub-village 1, Tanjung Morawa Village, sternly refuse worship activities that are in violation of government regulations.”
Some of the demonstrators were local residents, while others came from outside the area, according to Emmy Marlina, secretary to the church’s senior pastor and founder, Philip Muntofa.
A church member who owns a warehouse had made it available for the church to use as a temporary place of worship, but demonstrations kept the church from worshipping there, Marlina told Morning Star News.
“For temporary places of worship, no permit is required,” she noted.
The local division of the Deli Serdang Regency has begun efforts to find a solution to the conflict, Marlina said.
“We consider the government’s attitude to be very accommodative,” she told Morning Star News. “The director general of Christian Community Guidance as well as the Minister of Religion are taking incidents like this seriously. We thank them for their efforts to bring justice to all groups.”
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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