Albert Bonasahat Sigalingging recalls the first time he tasted religious intolerance. He was just a child at the time, but says he remembers a relative visiting from Medan who recounted a story about a small Muslim community in the North Sumatra capital.
‘I was still in elementary school back then and I didn’t really understand what my relative was talking about,’ he says. ‘But I remembered my uncle shouting out at one point: “Just burn the mosque!”’
The 34-year-old, who goes by the nickname ‘Bona,’ says that over the years, he found such views weren’t uncommon. But he says that such off-hand bigotry pales in comparison with the kind of discrimination that he and his congregation at the Indonesian Christian Church in Bogor, West Java, are facing today.
Since last April, the 400-member congregation has been forced to hold its weekly Sunday service on a sidewalk outside of the closed construction site of its planned new church. The local government administration sealed off the construction site two years ago, citing complaints from local Muslim residents.
Indonesia may be the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, but it also has other influential minorities, including Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Confucian communities. Despite being an avowedly secular state, the building of houses of worship in Indonesia requires prior permission from the local community. And it’s an open secret here that that religious minorities, particularly Christians, regularly run into roadblocks intheir attempts to build churches in their neighbourhoods.
What’s unusual about the Indonesian Christian Church case is that it had actually obtained permission from its local community in the Taman Yasmin area of Bogor, 70 kilometres south-east of Jakarta, as well as a church building permit from the local administration in 2006. That same administration, however, revoked the building permit on February 14, 2008.
The Church appealed to the Administrative Court in Bandung, the capital of West Java, which ruled in favour of the church; the congregation resumed construction last January. But a month later, the local administration again revoked the building permit for the same reason: complaints from local residents.
It hasn’t just been quiet petitions from locals that the church has had to contend with. It has also received threats from hard-line Islamic groups. When the church turned to local police for protection, they ended up comingunder pressure from local law enforcement to permanently halt construction.