Christians in Indonesia welcomed the election of President Joko Widodo in July 2014. He has promised equal rights for religious minorities. He has also promised new laws to protect Christians and other religious minorities from attack and discrimination and will make it easier to obtain permits to build places of worship.
While there are some promising signs, including the appointment of a Christian governor for capital city Jakarta, much remains to do to bring real religious freedom to this Sunni-majority country. Police and government officials are often complicit in allowing Islamist abuses of the Christian minority. In Aceh province, Islamists burned three churches to the ground last October before authorities conceded to their demands to tear down churches without the required legal permits (which are very difficult to obtain). The authorities then destroyed a further twelve churches.
Indonesia’s political philosophy, Pancasila, introduced alongside independence in 1949, requires every citizen to follow one of five religions, which include Christianity. For many decades this ideology helped to peace and equality. Christians and Muslims lived together in equality and harmony.
During the 1980s, however, President Suharto increased the role of Islam i public life. After his resignation, Islamists attempted to make Indonesia subject to sharia, and there was a huge increase in targeted violence towards Christians, Indonesia is home to the largest Muslim population in the world, but its immense size and the differing attitudes of the provincial authorities make some Christians more vulnerable to persecution and violence than others. In Aceh province, the authorities implement sharia, greatly disadvantaging Christians Christian children in Papua, Indonesia’s most easterly province, are being trafficked to Islamic boarding schools in Jakarta as part of an Islamisation programme that is changing the character of this formerly Christian-majority region. Other areas which were also previously Christian-majority have been Islamised by relocating Muslims, changing the demography to Muslim-majority. Despite these challenges, the church is growing in Indonesia.
Praise God for the new government’s desire to improve religious freedoms for Christians in Indonesia, Pray that its positive measures will not be hindered, but that attitudes of fairness and integrity will form deep roots in the country’s structures. Pray for protection for Christians in Aceh province, and that poor Christian children in Papua will not be enticed away from their families on false pretences.