Mobs in northern Indonesia have recently carried out acts of disruption against churches, heightening concerns about religious tensions in the region.
According to sources, incidents occurred in two different towns, involving the blocking of a church’s Sunday service venue and damage to a worship building under construction.
In the Riau Islands Province, a group of around 30 individuals reportedly used hammers and clubs on August 9 to break down walls of a church building under construction in Kabil village, Nongsa District, Batam City.
The targeted building belonged to the Pentecostal Mission Church in Indonesia (Gereja Utusan Pantekosta di Indonesia, or GUPdI). A video circulating on social media showed a man from the group asserting that the church lacked a construction permit, a tactic often employed by hard-line Muslims in Indonesia to stall or prevent the construction of non-Muslim places of worship. However, GUPdI Pastor Sham Jack Sean Napitupulu refuted this claim, stating that the church had obtained construction authorization from the Batam Free Zone Authority.
Local authorities, including the police and the chairman of the Batam Interreligious Communication Forum (Forum Kerukunan Umat Beragama, or FKUB), Chabullah Wibisono, denied any religious motives behind the destruction. They asserted that the conflict stemmed from the residents’ desire to utilize the site for public purposes.
The church leadership promptly lodged a complaint about the damage with Riau Islands Police. Pastor Jimmy Loho, the head of the Association of Indonesian Evangelical Churches and Institutions (Persatuan Gereja dan Lembaga-Lembaga Injili Indonesia, or PGLII) in Riau Islands, condemned the incident as anarchic and unacceptable.
In a separate incident in North Sumatra Province, Muslim demonstrators in Tanjung Morawa village protested against the use of a warehouse by the Mawar Sharon Church (Gereja Mawar Sharon, or GMS) congregation for their Sunday service. The demonstrators demanded that plans for constructing a worship building nearby be abandoned. Video footage showcased protestors carrying banners expressing their refusal to allow non-Muslim activities and worship that violated government regulations in the village.
The disturbances have raised concerns about religious freedom and tolerance in Indonesia. While authorities and community leaders assert that the conflicts are not motivated by religious factors, these incidents highlight the challenges faced by non-traditional churches in securing permits and maintaining a safe environment for worship.
Indonesia, which ranks 33rd on Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List of countries where religious persecution against Christians is prevalent, has seen a rise in conservative Islamic sentiments that sometimes lead to confrontations between religious communities.
As tensions persist, local authorities in the Deli Serdang Regency have begun efforts to mediate and find a resolution to the conflicts. Church leaders and religious representatives expressed gratitude for the government’s willingness to engage in resolving these issues and ensuring justice for all parties involved.
Indonesia’s shifting religious landscape has led to increased scrutiny of evangelistic activities and non-traditional places of worship. Islamic extremist groups have targeted churches engaged in spreading the gospel, especially in rural regions. The authorities’ handling of paperwork for church construction permits has been inconsistent, leaving non-traditional churches vulnerable to opposition and obstruction from various quarters.
Original News Source: Morning Star News