Being a Christian in Indonesia

Indonesia is Australia’s nearest, largest neighbour. It is also the world’s largest Islamic nation. Amongst the 240 million people, around 85 per cent are Muslim. There is a Christian minority in the country, but its existence is perilous at the best of times. Indeed, a recent article asks why it is that there is so much persecution there, if Islam is really a religion of peace.

Doug Bandow, writing in the American Spectator (September 7, 2006) reports on the constant attacks Christians in Indonesia experience. In his article, “Indonesia’s Religion of Peace,” he examines the regular persecution of believers in the country.

“Violence and persecution are common. Three Christian school girls were beheaded last October in the province of Central Sulawesi. In the same territory, a bomb blast shortly after Christmas killed several Christians. Moreover, three Christians were sentenced to death after being convicted in a case growing out of the province’s communal violence in 2000-2001. The trial was of dubious impartiality and was marred by constant Islamic intimidation; no Muslims were ever charged for initiating the attacks.”

He continues, “The terrorist network Jemaah Islamiya, responsible for bombings in Bali and Jakarta, is under pressure but hardly beaten. Mobs commonly attack and burn down Christian facilities; even in Jakarta churches and a Bible school have been put to the torch. But local officials do nothing. Instead, they often refuse permission for rebuilding. Last fall Christian Freedom International (CFI) reported that the group whose name translates into the Anti-Apostasy Alliance Movement was mounting a campaign to intimidate Java Christians and had succeeded in closing at least 35 churches.”

As always in Islam, Christians are welcome to convert to Islam, but woe to those Christians who seek to win Muslims to Christ: “Three Sunday School teachers were convicted last September for the “Christianization” of Muslim children – who attended with their parents’ permission – in a trial highlighted by mobs demanding the women’s death. Although the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono routinely criticizes violence, it recently implemented a law restricting the creation of new churches, effectively barring small congregations from worshipping in Muslim neighborhoods. ‘It’s very hard to get’ the necessary permissions, one Christian leader told me.”

“Foreign missionaries can run into resistance in winning renewal of their visas. As Gerson (like many Indonesians, he uses only one name), a pastor on the island of Kalimantan, put it with wonderful understatement: being a Christian ‘is difficult’ in Indonesia’s culture.”

Bandow says things could be worse, noting some tentative improvements of late. And because the terrorist bombings there recently have hurt the tourism market, there has been some crackdown of jihadist terrorism. But things still have a long way to go: “Violent, political Islam rules much of Indonesia’s daily life, a sad fact evident every time that I have visited the country over the past several years.”

He discusses his visit to one church there: “The pressure and hardship are ever present. The church meets in a three-story tile building crammed into a small, walled compound. Security is a constant concern. In 2001 a bomb blast near his family’s parked car cost his wife a leg. The couple’s home was burned down the following year. Apparently peace was not on the minds of their attackers, but the two continue to cheerfully greet parishioners and foreign visitors alike.”

The job of evangelisation is quite immense. There are 127 unreached people groups in Indonesia, and persecution by Muslims makes the task very daunting indeed. But believers there are up to the task. He cites one believer who says that it is “hard for Christians in Indonesia. But we believe that with pressure and hardship, there will be a breakthrough.” Would that Australian believers had such dedication and commitment.

Bandow concludes, “the entire debate over whether Islam is a ‘religion of peace’ seems largely irrelevant. Whatever the faith teaches, traditional Islamic doctrine, at least, doesn’t seem to emphasize tolerance, and a sobering number of Muslims choose brutality and violence, while even more choose acquiescence. America is often a target because of its foreign policy, but indigenous Christians usually are victimized because of their faith. In this world, our challenge is figuring out how to promote an engagement of civilizations rather than a war of civilizations.”

[709 words]

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