Indonesia: Village official threatens Christians at Sunday service, demands they stop worshiping
SURABAYA, Indonesia — A local village official in Indonesia stopped a church service on Sunday in what became a mob intrusion, sources said.
On western Indonesia’s Sumatra Island, the head of the Rukun Tetangga area of Rajabasa Jaya village, Wawan Kurniawan, leaped over a meter-high fence to intrude into the worship service of the Tabernacle of David Christian Church (Gereja Kristen Kemah Daud, or GKKD), sources said. The village is in the southeast corner of the island in Bandar Lampung Regency, Lampung Province.
A video of the incident shows Wawan pushing away a pastor who tries to speak with him as the leader and a congregation member tell him they are in “a house of God” and are only praying.
Ignoring the objections of church members and leaders, Wawan takes the pulpit and motions with his hand that the service is over. Some Christian women are later seen telling him, “Be patient, be patient, sir,” and Wawan appears to call someone “stupid.”
A member of the congregation, Lina Sinambela, told Suara.com that Wawan threatened to bring in more people if the worship did not stop.
“He threatened with harsh words, asking the congregation who were worshiping to dissolve,” Lina Sinambela said. “[He said] if it doesn’t, more people would be brought in, and then he threatened to weld [shut] the church gate.”
More area residents did arrive, she said.
“It happened suddenly,” she reportedly said. “A group of approximately 10 residents came to the church location and jumped off the fence asking for the service to be dissolved.”
Parlin Sihombing, chairman of the GKKD Church Construction Committee, told Suara.com that someone from the mob choked the pastor’s throat and told the congregation to leave.
“A resident came straight into the church and climbed onto the pulpit and choked the pastor,” Parlin Sihombing reportedly said. “The pastor suffered from a slight scar on his hand because he was trying to defend himself. The atmosphere was tense, and finally the congregation dispersed, and today we reported it to the authorities.”
Wawan later told local media outlet IDNTimes.com that he only meant to ask the congregation to refrain from worshiping there until they obtain a permit for their building.
“This is not a new problem,” he told the outlet, saying the village head supports his actions. “They have been carrying out worship activities there since 2014 even though there was no permit.”
Wawan said church Pastor Naek Siregar on Dec. 10, 2016, signed a statement pledging not to use the building until the church had a permit, according to IDNTimes.com.
The outlet said the church has not met requirements to obtain a permit, but Parlin Sihombing told IDNTimes.com the congregation met requirements in their application. The church, whose building was constructed in 2009, applied for a permit for a place of worship in 2014, but officials have not responded, he said.
He said the 2014 application included the approval of 75 area residents; 60 are required under Indonesia’s Joint Ministerial Decree of 2006. Parlin Sihombing said the number of congregation members has reached 100, also exceeding the required 90 members under the 2006 decree.
He said the church was emboldened to continue worshiping after hearing President Joko Widodo’s speech in January on the rights of every citizen to worship.
Appeal for help
The Communion of Indonesian Churches (Persatuan Gereja Indonesia, or PGI), appealed for the state to intervene in the conflict.
“PGI asks the government and security forces not to allow cases like this to continue without firm and transparent legal action,” PGI General Secretary Jacklevyn F. Manuputty said in press statement on Monday. “The state’s inaction will result in the loss of state authority, the development of distrust, and the accumulation of friction at the grassroots level which can be ignited at any time by irresponsible people into open conflict.”
Manuputty said the state’s authority would fade if it allowed such incidents to continue, and that public trust would also decrease.
“PGI understands that there are rules that must be met in order to build a house of worship,” Manuputty said. “Even so, incomplete permits should not be an excuse for forcibly stopping an ongoing worship service, let alone since the dissolution was carried out in a very undignified way and caused terror and fear.”
Purna Irawan, head of the Bandar Lampung chapter of the Interreligious Communication Forum (Forum Kerukunan Umat Beragama), a government body, asserted that the incident was the result of a misunderstanding and had been resolved.
“It was just a miscommunication between the church and the local neighborhood, and it has been resolved amicably,” Purna told Kompas.com, saying the conflict was rooted in a residential home being used for worship.
Indonesia is ranked No. 33 on 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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