Indonesia (MNN) — What emotions rise to the surface when a new president takes office in your country? Perhaps hope and optimism shine brightly, or maybe the public’s reaction is more like a mix of frustration and anger.
In Muslim-dominate Indonesia, many evangelical Christian communities are reacting positively to their new President, Joko Widodo.
“Every Christian that I know in Indonesia is feeling relief and delight that this man becomes their new leader,” shares Bruce Allen of Forgotten Missionaries International (FMI).
Joko Widodo: a brief summary
Nicknamed “Jokowi”, 53-year-old Joko Widodo made history a week ago as he was sworn into office as Indonesia’s first president not to have a background in politics or military service. He grew up in the slums of Java and rose quickly from the position of mayor to president.
On Sunday, Joko Widodo made history again by choosing the country’s first female Foreign Minister.
Widodo is not only charting new territory in the realm of politics, he’s setting a new standard in the realm of religion, too. During his first speech to Parliament last week, Joko Widodo acknowledged the Christians who were present.
“All the previous presidents, in that opening address to Parliament, have given the traditional Muslim greeting,” Allen explains. “Joko Widodo said that traditional Muslim greeting, but then he also said, ‘I want to greet my Christian countrymen, and so I also say ‘God bless you’ and ‘greetings in peace’ to the Christians.”
National Gospel workers helped by FMI hope to see more efforts like these to extend kindness and inclusion to Indonesian Christians.
Allen says, “[Widodo is] making very serious overtures to say, ‘I’m a Muslim, but I am a leader of all the people.'”
Religious freedom in Indonesia
Christians are one of the six religions protected by Indonesian law. However, Allen says, those legally-protected freedoms are often infringed upon in the world’s largest Muslim-dominate nation.
“Many things tilt in favor of the Muslims,” says Allen. “If there is opposition to Christian outreach locally, or if someone is attacking a church or a pastor, the local police department–probably led by a Muslim–[says], ‘We’ll get to that in a few hours.’
“There are still abuses toward Christians, even though they are legally protected.”
Indonesian believers hope Joko Widodo’s tolerance and acceptance of religious minorities will change this persistent reality.
“They’re looking for fewer restrictions; they’re looking for many changes that will show that Indonesia is much more open,” states Allen.
In light of the growing ISIS caliphate, pray that other Islamic nations will follow Indonesia’s example, as set forth by its new president.
“Right now, our news is being dominated by so much bad news about the Muslim world, especially with ISIS running rampant,” Allen says.
“Here is the world’s largest, Muslim-dominate country turning its back on ISIS, so to speak, and saying, ‘We welcome the contribution that Christians are having in this country.'”