Equal in writing only: the reality of Christians in Indonesia

By January 30, 2024

Indonesia (MNN) — The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued a report in January 2024 on the the state of religious freedom in Indonesia. USCIRF recommends that Indonesia be placed on the U.S. Department of State’s Special Watch List “for engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom.” 

Local application of laws

Although Indonesia’s constitution protects certain minority religions, including Christianity, Bruce Allen with FMI says, “One of our partners, [a pastor] on the island of Java, says, ‘While the laws are made to protect the equality of all people, including religious equality, the problem is that at the level of implementation it is unequal.’”

Indonesian believers worshipping (Photo courtesy of FMI)

For example, it is relatively simple to gain permission to build a mosque, but it can take years of red tape to be allowed to build a church.

“In June of last year, Catholics in the city of Pinang were finally able to open the doors of their church after a 33-year struggle,” says Allen.

Another example comes from the school system.

“Indonesia’s education system in some districts mandates the wearing of a hijab if you’re a female student, even if you’re not a Muslim. Non-compliance can mean that students can be prevented from attending class.”

The lack of consistency in laws applied is partly due to the fact that Indonesia is a nation with six thousand plus inhabited islands.

“There is so much variety, so [many] different cultures on these different islands that what happens locally is much more important than what the federal government says,” Allen explains. 

So although the Constitution may speak of equality, “locally, it doesn’t always play out that way.”

Federal and political changes ahead

In addition to local governments, which Allen says “are increasingly codifying discrimination against religious minorities,” another concern for religious freedom comes from a law passed in 2022.

At a federal level, Indonesia has a new criminal code scheduled to take effect in 2026. Among other changes, it will further criminalize blasphemy laws, which are already used against Christians. (Read the full outline in the USCIRF report of the concerns that this code raises.)

Indonesia, July 2019 (Photo courtesy of FMI)

There are political pressures facing Indonesian believers today as well.

“What is putting the Christians on edge is that this is an election year. Their presidential elections are coming up February 14. Of the three leading candidates, one is very blatantly wanting to go toward a more radical Islamic bent for the nation. The other two are a little bit more moderate.”

Pray for civility and nonviolence in the upcoming election, and for leaders to be chosen who will protect the rights of all Indonesians. Ask God to enable believers to persevere with confidence in Christ, “as victors, not victims,” says Allen.

“Pray for the Lord’s favor in these issues of getting permission for church site construction. FMI was honored to be able to assist with five such projects last year. There are more in the pipeline.”

Click here to learn more about how FMI partners with local church planters in Indonesia and around the world.



Header photo courtesy of FMI. 

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