On August 29th, a disturbing incident unfolded in West Sumatra Province, Indonesia, as a machete-wielding Muslim individual threatened the lives of members of a house church during their worship service, according to sources.
The congregation, known as Sola Gratia and affiliated with the Bethel Indonesia Church (Gereja Bethel Indonesia, or GBI), had gathered in a rented house located on Jalan Banuaran, Banuaran Nan XX village, Lubuk Begalung Sub-District, in Padang. Their evening worship service was disrupted when a Muslim woman began smashing the house’s windows with stones, vehemently instructing those inside to halt their worship activities. This woman, who claimed to be the owner of the house, initiated the attack at approximately 8:35 p.m.
Things escalated further when the woman’s husband arrived at the scene, brandishing a menacing machete, accompanied by another man armed with a wooden club. The machete-wielding man threatened the congregation, shouting that he intended to harm them and demanded that they cease their worship. Despite these alarming threats, the congregation courageously continued to pray.
According to Pastor Hiatani Ziduhu Hia, who leads the church, the assailants showed no interest in listening to the congregation’s explanations. They persisted in their aggressive demands, asserting that the church had no right to worship in “their home.” However, the pastor clarified that the real house owner was not the woman but someone else to whom they regularly paid rent. Furthermore, the local neighborhood authorities were aware of the church’s activities.
The incident was captured on video and shared on social media, where the attackers claimed entitlement to the house and justified their intrusion by asserting their right to be informed about the tenants’ activities.
Following the incident, the congregation promptly reported the attack to the Padang Police. However, the response from the authorities left much to be desired. Juni Anton Zai, the tenant of the house, and his attorney, Yutiasa Fakho, head of the Community Legal Defence Team, accused the assailants of multiple criminal offenses, including threats with sharp weapons, vandalism, and human rights violations. Unfortunately, the police dismissed these serious charges, labeling the incident as a mere “misunderstanding” related to “neighborhood ethics.” They sent the machete-wielding husband home, attributing his actions to “mental disorders.”
This response has sparked outrage among human rights advocates and organizations. Halili Hasan, the executive director of the Setara Institute, condemned the authorities’ failure to uphold justice, asserting that the Christians’ right to freedom of worship had been violated. He warned that without proper law enforcement, such incidents could reoccur, perpetuating a climate of neglect.
The West Sumatra Inter-Religious Harmony Forum (Forum Komunikasi Umat Beragama, or FKUB) aligned with the police’s stance, proposing a resolution “with local wisdom.” In stark contrast, the Communion of Christian Churches (Persatuan Gereja Indonesia, or PGI) vehemently denounced the attack. Pastor Henrek Lekra, executive secretary of PGI’s Justice and Peace unit, condemned the assailants’ actions and called upon the police to take swift and firm action against the perpetrator who had threatened violence during the worship service. The PGI also advocated for dialogue and prosecution of criminal acts, emphasizing that mediation should be conducted by security forces without undue pressure on the victims.
The incident highlights ongoing concerns regarding religious intolerance in Indonesia. President Joko Widodo acknowledged the persistence of such issues, despite the nation’s commitment to promoting harmony in diversity. During the opening ceremony of the 2023 International Sufi Congress in Pekalongan, Central Java, President Widodo stressed the importance of addressing intolerance to maintain peace in Indonesia and the world.
Indonesia, while known for its diversity, is grappling with religious tensions. It ranked 33rd on the 2023 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, according to the Christian support organization Open Doors.
The country has witnessed a shift towards a more conservative Islamic character, putting churches involved in evangelistic outreach at risk of being targeted by extremist groups. Additionally, non-traditional churches often face challenges in obtaining permission for their buildings, with bureaucratic hurdles hindering their religious activities.
Original News Source: Morning Star News