A Closer Look at the Issue of Erecting Churches in Jakarta

“The problems surrounding the establishment of churches are more closely related to economic issues than ideological ones. Similarly, in the resolution of these issues, this knowledge can be used as a path towards peace” stated Nathanael, one of the members of the research team partnered with CRCS, in Jakarta at the PGI building on Tuesday, April 26th 2011.

Nathanael went on to explain that the research focused closely on the erection of churches, using a sample of thirteen different churches in the Jakarta region. Although reports about this issue have already been produced by organizations like the Wahid Institute, Setara and CRCS as well, they have only provided minimal details about why destructions of churches occur. For the purposes of the analysis, the churches were divided across four categories: churches that haven’t experienced any problems, churches that have experienced problems in the past but have currently resolved those problems, churches that have only recently experienced problems, and churches that have consistently experienced problems.

The results of the research demonstrate that first factor initiating and extending the polemic surrounding the erection of new churches is the issue of “Christianization”. Some still identify the existence of churches with proselytization efforts. In addition, misunderstandings about the difference between Christians and Catholics still persist, as well as confusion about how denominational differences play into the erection of new churches in areas where established congregations already exist. Another factor is the that some groups or individuals feel that they don’t receive any economic benefits from the institution of new churches. In some cases the resistance to the erection of new churches is ideologically based, or involves radical religious groups. Other factors include changes in the relationship between the church and surrounding residents, as well as bureaucratic obstructions, government inconsistency and the ambiguity of the law.

The researchers discovered that each church possessed unique qualities, like the case of the Church of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, whose congregation has never experienced any problems due to their good relationship with local residents in their neighborhood. During Lebaran, Christian residents visit Muslim residents, and this is reciprocated by Muslim residents at Christmastime. On the other hand, in one church that was experiencing problems, it was discovered that internal divisions amongst the building committee effected their relationships with both the developer and other nieghborhood residents. The story of the Church of St. Michael, which overcame initial problems, is different yet. The congregation at St. Michael created a better relationship with the residents around them, encouraging neighborhood representatives to actively protect the relationship between church members and the surrounding community by employing selective lectures at the local mosque.

Jeirry Sumampow from the Association of Indonesian Churches (PGI), Sidney Jones from the International Crisis Group (ICG) and Ahmad Syafii Mufid, the head of the Forum for Religious Harmony (FKUB) DKI Jakarta, were all in attendance as commentators on the proceedings. Sumpampow disputed the book’s title, “The Church Controversy in Jakarta” because according to him, the churches that are experiencing problems are outside of the Jakarta region. In his opinion, churches in Jakarta are not an issue. This refutation was supported by Ahmad Syafii Mufid. Sumampow did confirm the veracity of some of the discoveries made during the field research regarding the erection of new churches, such as the length of the process (on average reaching up to ten years), the minimal role of the government as a factor in the resolution of these problems, and the role of regional heads in complicating the hampering the erection of churches.

Alternatively, Sidney Jones viewed the issue of religious conflicts, and more specifically the issues surrounding the erection of new churches, as the result of weak leadership from the central government. According to him, if the central government was able to be more assertive, then this would trickle down to the lower levels, especially in terms of the police forces who deal directly with the public. In his opinion the police, as well as local neighborhood leaders, are more often partial to those who are attacking the churches than sympathetic to those being attacked. Therefore strong leadership and policies are needed from the central government, which can be translated to the local level.

Syaffi Mufid considered the role of the Forum for Religious Harmony (FKUB) as lacking, especially in mediating the process of obtaining permission to erect new churches. He noted that in many regions outside of Jakarta there is a lack of understanding about substance and function of FKUB. He felt that many religious leaders don’t understand the framework of peace, conflict resolution and similar approaches, and therefore aren’t able to proceed constructively.

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