Thursday, January 27, 2005

Indonesian Churches Face Persecution Even After Devastation

Along with the challenges facing Indonesians since the Dec. 26 quake-tsunami devastation,
local Christians continue to face persecution in the predominantly Muslim nation, a persecution watchdog group reported Thursday.

According to the Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), three new churches were threatened with closure when the head of the North Grogol community in West Jakarta accused the churches of disturbing the community and meeting illegally in business buildings. However, the three churches— Abraham Camp Church (GKA), Bellezza Indonesia Bethel Church (GBI) and GKRI Karmel—confirmed that the meeting halls could be used for business or other purposes,including religious gatherings.

Pointing to a legal certificate from the Religion Department authorizing them to meet,the pastor of the GKA church, K.A.M. Jusufroni, said church members would continue to meet.

"Nothing can stop Christians from worshiping God," he stated. According to a report last month by the Associated Press, some Christians in Indonesia have been trading in their traditional churches for more secure, though unorthodox, buildings amidst fears of bombings and shootings by Islamic militants. On any given Sunday, thousands of Christians flock to office buildings, shopping malls, hotels, and even movie theaters to worship, the news agency stated.

Christian leaders say the unorthodox approach is necessary because they cannot get building permits and that ignoring the rules risk having a facility shut down, or worse, destroyed by protesters. In addition,plans to build new churches sometimes draw violent protests from Islamic groups, which view them as an attempt to convert Muslims.

Although the vast majority of Muslims in the world's most populous Muslim nation practice a moderate version of the faith, attacks against Christians—who form just 8 percent of the population—have increased since ex-dictator Suharto's downfall in 1998, and amid a global rise in Islamic radicalism.

Most recently, VOM reported that a priest in Purworejo in Indonesia’s Central Java region was found dead in a church retreat compound on Friday, Jan. 14, with massive head wounds. “Despite the string of attacks against Christians in various areas of Indonesia, the provincial police chief said that the attack was ‘probably’ robbery,” VOM wrote. However, local sources say that police frequently downplay incidents of violence against Christians.

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