Indonesia’s elections point to religious intolerance

By April 22, 2019

Indonesia (MNN) – Last Wednesday Indonesia re-elected President Joko Widodo. But with this most recent election have come concerns for religious freedom in the country.

Indonesia is home to over 17,000 islands scattered across the Pacific’s Ring of Fire. Of those islands, NPR says over 900 are inhabited. This year the Muslim-majority nation was bumped from #38 to #30 on Open Doors USA’s *World Watch List. The move reveals a culture shifting towards a more severe religious intolerance, and the country’s politics reflect this shift.

Indonesia and Blasphemy Laws

Late last week the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom released a statement expressing concerns for how religion became a political tool during the election period. The USCIRF specifically notes the use of Indonesia’s blasphemy law to target political candidates.

(Photo by Fikri Rasyid on Unsplash)

“The blasphemy laws were first established to prevent religious abuse and defamation, and under the law, a number of religions were protected so Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism…Protestantism and Confucianism, these were all protected,” say Floyd Brobbel, Vice President of International Ministry and Operations for Voice of the Martyrs Canada.

The catch—these blasphemy laws indirectly created a religious class system based on an individual’s birth into a specific religion.

“Islam, which is the majority religion in Indonesia became, it became more political, and cases of blasphemy then also increased as the laws were bolstered, resulting in greater discrimination against other religious minority,” Brobbel says.

Religion in Politics

One example of this is the ousted Christian political figure, former-Governor Purnama. Purnama’s opponents used Quran verses to criticize him, making him suspect of blasphemy. This political tactic manipulates the majority religion against the opposition and puts the opposition at risk of blasphemy charges. Put simply, it is an attempt to rally up Indonesian Muslims in order to gain political power.

“This can become very dangerous situation for any religious minority that is seeking to oppose the major majority religion in the country,” Brobbel warns.

But how Christians respond globally to the manipulation of religion matters.

“I’ve seen some reports and their estimates that indicate that at least a quarter of the world’s countries have anti-blasphemy laws, and of course we know those blasphemy laws are specifically geared against freedom of religion,” Brobbel says.

Java Church (Photo courtesy of FMI)

As for the Church in Indonesia, the Christian life has to be lived out with tact. Floyd reiterates how the Church is called to be the salt and light in its communities. This means ministry continues alongside acts of mercy in Indonesia. However, the Christian lifestyle lived out could be perceived as anti-Islamic in extremist views. And if pressure against the Church continues to increase in the country, converts to Christianity could face even more challenges.

“There’s also the threat of the church that accepts people who convert to Christianity. In the case of Islam, they would be considered apostates. The real question remains and what happens to these churches? Would they be, would they be considered guilty of aiding and abetting apostates? And then what? What would the ramifications of that be? We haven’t seen that but we’ve certainly seen backlash against the churches that do accept converts in other countries,” Brobbel explains.

Responding as Christians

For Christians who do enjoy the freedom of religion, Floyd says it is important to be aware of those who do not share that freedom and to act in their interest. How? Through awareness, engagement, and prayer.

Get engaged by supporting people and movements working towards international religious freedom. Then, pray for the leaders of both nations with and without religious freedom. Ask God to guide these leaders’ decisions regarding freedom of religion and even to change their hearts to love and care for their citizens who disagree religiously.

Pray for Christians in Indonesia to remain firm in God’s truth and love while living out their faith with boldness and wisdom. Pray also for freedom of religion in Indonesia and for local governments to protect the rights of all citizens, even minorities.

*Open Doors World Watch List is a ranking of the top 50 nations where it is hardest to live as a Christian.



Header photo courtesy of Mr.TinDC via Flickr.

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