Church Forced to Close in Indonesia

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

by Joseph DeCaro, Worthy News International Correspondent

JAKARTA, Indonesia (Worthy News)-- Police and local officials backed by a Muslim mob closed down a church in North Sumatra Province July 30.

The Rev. Leritio Panjaitan of the Binanga Huria Kristen Batak Protestant Church said government officials and the mob threatened to burn their facility if worship continued there, according to Compass News.

"At this time, we haven’t decided if we are going to move to another place," Panjaitan said. "But temporarily, the congregation will worship by moving from house to house."

Panjaitan said the church had already applied for a building and worship permit, but local authorities had not acted on it.

The congregation originally used the building in 2005, but months later, objections came from the Congregation of the Binanga Sipirok Islamic Forum.

The BSIF wrote church officials requesting the congregation stop their worship services as local Muslims feared "Christianization." But when the church didn’t respond, local government officials wrote to the church requesting that all worship activities cease in order to avoid conflict with area Muslims. The church agreed and didn’t use the building from 2006 through 2009.

During that time, the congregation worshiped in another building at a distant location requiring poor worshipers to incur travel expenses, so they reopened the church building to the congregation in February. But five months later, Regent Basyrah Lubis warned the church to stop their services; local government officials said they would not be held responsible if protestors burned the church down.

In spite of this threat, church officials decided to continue worship services.

"This is a matter concerning human relations with God, and government should not interfere," Panjaitan told Compass News.

Government officials once again called upon church leaders and they eventually forced elder L. Situmorang to sign a document pledging not to use the building, or hold worship services on the property.