Indonesia (MNN) – A recent forced church closure on the island of Sumatra has people questioning if the island’s guidelines for church gatherings constitute legalized discrimination against Christians.
Often, church closures on the island are sudden and without explanation. FMI’s Executive International Director Bruce Allen says it’s a disturbing trend impacting FMI partners in the area.
“Just a couple weeks ago, late August, I received a very disturbing video in which Indonesian authorities in uniform; so, it looked like police, there could have possibly also been military personnel there at the at the congregation site. But they interrupted the Christian church’s worship service, and forced its closure,” Allen explains.
Congregation members recorded the incident on their cell phones. Allen says in the seven-minute clip he was sent, a woman fell at the feet of the officers, begging them to allow the church service to continue. Based on his research, Allen believes neighbors may have called the authorities demanding the closure of the church.
Reasons for Closures
As it turns out, citizens can indeed demand church closures, especially if it violates one of four regulations. One of the regulations for a church establishment is a membership numbering of at least 90 people. Another regulation requires the church to have the approval of 60 non-Christians in their village.
If these regulations were not restrictive enough, churches must also obtain a permit for the construction of a church as well as the approval from a community forum for religious harmony. Keep in mind, Indonesia is one of the world’s largest Muslim-dominate nations. Per the Joshua Project, only 3.18 percent of Indonesia’s population are Christians.
In an email, Allen comments, “Similar regulations do exist for the construction of mosques, so the radical Muslims claim there is equality. And yet, when 90% of the population is Muslim, it is much easier to reach the minimum quota, and the Christian neighbors, trying to live at peace with all men, give their permission for mosques to be built for the communities. So, the truth is, it is much easier for a mosque to be established than a church.”
Challenges Regulations Pose
In the beginning stages of church planting, churches often meet at a congregation member’s home. However, a house can only hold so many people. At this point, Allen says smaller churches are in danger of closure if they gather outside under a tarp or pursue a structure for meeting without the minimum 90-member regulation.
It is this regulation Allen believes provided the legal avenue for this church’s closure. Allen’s contact on the ground reports this particular church only has about 80-members.
“In all practicality, that’s a very difficult minimum number for a church to reach. Many of the churches that FMI works with, with our indigenous church planting partners, they may number 35 to 50. Sometimes it will be a little bit larger, sometimes it is as high as 100 or 120. But that’s rare,” Allen explains.
Essentially, to build churches, church planters need local support and good relations with the majority-Muslim population in the neighborhoods and villages they work. But in areas where radical Islam is prevalent, doing this is difficult.
Respond with Prayer
Pray for Christians and FMI’s partners in Indonesia as they do ministry and try to build church bodies and buildings. Pray for good relationships, perseverance, and creativity in their work. Also pray for these Christian congregations to reflect Christ in their communities, even when their communities are against them.
Another way to support Christians in Indonesia is by providing financial support for local pastors and church planters. Learn more about how to do this and ways to give here.
“There are people who are willing to be the hands and feet of Christ. There are men who want to be church planters, and yet, they just lack the support that would propel them into these villages,” Allen says.
There are about a dozen FMI church planters lacking support in Indonesia. Will help provide the resources they need to share the Gospel in their country?
Header photo courtesy of FMI.