Authorities, actors behind church building problems

Political, religious and security authorities coupled with mass organizations are the parties behind prolonged problems surrounding church building controversies, a research concluded.

A research by Paramadina Foundation and Jogjakarta-based Gadjah Mada University’s Center for Religious and Cross-cultural Studies reported that 12 of 13 churches in Jakarta and its greater area that the centers surveyed at random, faced problems during the construction process when dealing with these parties.

It discovered further that the inconsistency of political and religious authorities, a spiraling bureaucracy and the radicalism movement led to legal uncertainty on the church construction issue.

Nathanael G. Sumaktoyo, a researcher, told a discussion on the controversy of churches in Greater Jakarta on Tuesday that only one surveyed church, the St. Aloysius Gonzaga in East Jakarta, did not have a problem during its establishment, “because of its close relationship with the local residents who are mostly Muslims”.

The Catholic church was built in 1962 on land that is owned by the Army.

Nathanael said it showed that strong relations with local residents and other parties was one factor in solving the problem.

The study, conducted from March 2010 to March 2011, divided the churches into three different categories: Those that once encountered tension, churches that operated peacefully during their first years but later were confronted and those that faced prolonged problems.

“GKP Seroja church in Bekasi, for instance, faced a confrontation in 2006 from residents because it became the source of a traffic problem,” he said, adding that the problem was solved after it was moved to a different location with the support from the Bekasi deputy mayor.

Another church surveyed was the GKJ Nehemia church in Pondok Indah, South Jakarta, which was required to move several times and then had to wait for 13 years before a permit was granted.

The church that continues to encounter challenges is St. Yohanes Maria Vianney in Cilangkap, East Jakarta. Its permit was denied due to bureaucracy challenges in the local administration and was confronted by mass organizations around the church.

In Bogor, the administration revoked GKI Yasmin church’s building permit citing complaints from residents who claimed the church was a hub for proselytizing in Jakarta.

The Supreme Court overturned the administration’s request to shut down the church, but the congregation remains unable to enter its church.

Sidney Jones, senior advisor at the International Crisis Group, said the central government should play a greater role in religious issues.

“Religious issues are the state’s responsibility, so all problems should involve the government,” she said.

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