Morning Star News reports that in the village of Cilebut Barat, about 39 miles south of Jakarta, a group of Muslims lined up outside a home where Batak Christian Church’s Christmas Day worship was planned and kept worshippers from entering the home.
In a video appearing on social media, a woman can be heard pleading with the group to leave them alone. According to Morning Star News, the English translation of her words is:
“Come on, many of you insult us, are tyrannizing us. Please, the worship service is only a few minutes, so it’s up to you to talk about [relenting]. Please, come on.”
After a passerby apparently urges the Muslims to give no response, the woman repeatedly asks what loss would they incur from the service that would cause them to forbid worship on Christmas. She is repeatedly told only that the home is not a church building.
Onlookers, police officers and soldiers present make no response to the Christian woman in the video.
In North Sulawesi Province on the island of Sulawesi, nearly 20 Muslims in Buyat Selatan village, Kotabunan District stopped members of Rototok Advent Church from holding Christmas Day worship at a home, also saying a house is not a church building, according to online news outlet detik.com.
The Rev. Henrek Lokra, executive secretary of justice and peace of the Communion of Christian Churches (PGI), said the ban on home worship in Cilebut Barat arose from misunderstanding among local residents.
“Residents’ rejection of the Christmas service is an expression of misunderstanding of Christian worship and Christmas celebration,” Lokra said. “Christian worship is a fellowship of people who worship God. So as long as the requirements for building a house of worship have not [yet] been met, worship which is an existence of Christians or members of any religion may not be prohibited or inhibited.”
Local residents, religious leaders and government officials alike lack understanding of Christian fellowship, and also contributing to conflict is “the weakness of religious leaders and local government officials in educating and mediating the community regarding prerequisites for establishing a house of worship,” Lokra said.
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 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.
Conflicts over religious minorities’ houses of worship have increased since the reformation era that followed the end of President Suharto’s regime in 1998. Between 2007 and 2018, there were 398 incidents of religious conflict targeting houses of worship, of which 199 involved Christian churches, according to the Setara Institute. The type of disruption experienced by the churches included sealing, demolition, blocking of access, revocation of permits, forced efforts, terror, and omission by the state.
Indonesia is ranked 28th in Open Doors 2022 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
Despite those obstructions to Christmas worship, 2022 was memorable for many Christians in Indonesia as their president, popularly known as Jokowi, visited two major churches on Christmas, a first in the country’s 77-year history.
Jokowi, a Muslim who has said politics and religion should be separate, visited and greeted Christians at Zebaoth Indonesian Protestant Church and at the Catholic Cathedral, seat of the Bogor Diocese Bishop in West Java. At Zebaoth Christian Church, according to local media, Jokowi said he expected all Christians to be able to celebrate Christmas peacefully and happily.
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