SURABAYA, Indonesia — Christians broke into joyful celebration when local officials in East Jakarta, Indonesia, removed the seal on their church building on June 26, three months after it was closed.
Citing lack of a permit, the East Jakarta City Planning Office on March 20 had sealed with a banner the building of the Palsigunung congregation’s Indonesia Christian Church (Gereja Kristen Indonesia, or GKI) in East Jakarta. The worship site is located in the Griya Ciracas business center in Kelapa Dua Wetan village, Ciracas Sub-District of the Municipality of East Jakarta.
GKI Palsigunung church leaders have been trying to obtain permits since 2012, but the local neighborhood head (Rukun Tetangga, or RT) and Citizens Association head (Rukun Warga, or RW) had refused to sign area residents’ agreement letter, according to published reports. Otherwise, the church had obtained approval of 80 residents to obtain a permit.
The RT and RW deprived church members of their rights, inter-faith activist Permadi Arya, known as Abu Janda, told Kilat.com.
“Eighty residents have given their approval according to the Joint Ministerial Decree of 2006 requirements, but because it was rejected by the neighborhood and Citizens Association heads, the house of worship was sealed by the city planning office,” said Permadi Arya, who is credited with bringing the church sealing to light and effecting justice.
Although staff members of the East Jakarta City Planning Office accompanied by local high-ranking officials took down the banner seal, the church will not be able to use the site until leaders apply for a change in building use. Leaders said they planned to apply soon.
“Related to this, the management will change the function or something else later,” Muhamad Sodik, East Jakarta City Planning Sub-Department Office Head, told local media. “The document required should be attached and sent to the government. What is clear is that the local government does not prohibit people from worshiping.”
The head of the East Jakarta Inter-religious Communication Forum (Forum Kerja Sama Umat Beragama, or FKUB), Ma’arif Fuadi, said the seal was removed to make it possible for Palsigunung church leaders to do maintenance so that the building would not be abandoned, as it has in the past.
Palsigunung GKI Assembly Chairman Jisman Hutasoit said the church would soon complete all the required documents for licensing. The church had transferred to the site in March when flooding drove them from their usual worship site.
Andreas Yewangoe, former head of the Communion of Christian Churches (Persatuan Gereja Indonesia, or PGI) and now a member of Indonesia’s Pancasila Ideology Development Agency (BPIP), expressed solidarity with Permadi Arya’s efforts.
“What is needed in this country is not just tolerance but equality before the law,” Yewangoe told Morning Star News. “Should the sense of equality be ingrained in the soul of every Indonesian, there will be no bullying and obstacles. No one will be bullied or hindered because of differences in ethnicity, race, and religion.”
From threats to peace
In East Jakarta’s Mangunjaya village, Tambun Sub-District, weeks-long opposition to a church presence that culminated in disruption of worship on June 18 ended with a peaceful agreement on June 21.
The head of the local Citizens Association and other Muslims disrupted the worship service of the Cahaya Fajar Pengharapan House of Worship after threats to ban worship and other intimidation, said Pastor Elyson Lase.
“The banning of my congregation from holding worship service on Sunday, June 18, was just a peak,” Pastor Lase told Morning Star News. “We’ve been exposed to the danger of threats, intimidations and banning since last May, when the RT [neighborhood head] even issued a letter banning us from holding worship service.”
The June 21 agreement allows the church to continue worshiping at the site. Initiated by the commander of the Bekasi Regency Military District, it was signed by the secretary of Mangunjaya village, Tofik Hidayat.
The district military commander represented the Citizens Association head, who happened to be an active member of the Indonesia National Army, as well as other local officials in negotiations with Pastor Lase.
“The worship services will run as usual in the future,” the agreement states, adding that the agreement was reached without any compulsion.
Indonesia ranked 33rd on the Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. Indonesian society has adopted a more conservative Islamic character, and churches involved in evangelistic outreach are at risk of being targeted by Islamic extremist groups, according to Open Doors’ WWL report.
“If a church is seen to be preaching and spreading the Gospel, they soon run into opposition from Islamic extremist groups, especially in rural areas,” the report noted. “In some regions of Indonesia, non-traditional churches struggle to get permission for church buildings, with the authorities often ignoring their paperwork.”
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