A Christian service of worship held beside a busy road in Jakarta is an unusual sight. However, the Gereja Kristen Indonesia (GKI) Taman Yasmin Church was left with no choice.
Photo: Congregation of GKI Taman Yasmin Church held a worship service outside president’s house in Jakarta, High resolution photos available via photos.oikoumene.org
Taman Yasmin congregation, along with other local churches, prayed outside Merdeka Palace, residence of Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
, on 24 June. The congregation prayed under the gaze of police officials, hoping that their appeals for the freedom to worship will be heard.
The Taman Yasmin Church, located in Bogor, West Java
, is a congregation of one of the member churches of the World Council of Churches
(WCC). The half-finished building of Taman Yasmin Church was sealed off by the local administration in 2008, reportedly under pressure from Islamic hardline political groups like the Islamic People’s Forum.
Despite a Supreme Court ruling in favour of the church building in 2011, Taman Yasmin still has not been able to resume its worship services.
The WCC Central Committee’s moderator, Rev. Dr Walter Altmann, visited the church last year, expressing solidarity with the congregation of Taman Yasmin while urging a “peaceful dialogue” to resolve the issue.
People from other local churches joined the Taman Yasmin congregation on Sunday in the heat of the Indonesian summer. While the Jakarta security cordon watched the crowd of worshippers from a distance, the gathering of Christians sang and heard the sermon beside the road.
“Indonesia is a plural society with values of interfaith harmony. Muslims have always accommodated the local traditions, along with diverse faiths in the country,” said Rev. Gomar Gultom, who is general secretary of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia. Gultom was present at the worship service.
He said that Christians in Indonesia make up around five percent of the population, and other religious minorities include Ahmadiya, Buddhist and Baha’i communities.
“Beginning in the last decade, there has been an increase in the influence of radical elements who mistakenly associate Christianity with the west,” explained Gultom. “Several Muslim organizations, including Wahid Institute, our interfaith dialogue partners and civil society have pointed out this trend. They support us in our pursuit for religious freedom in Indonesia,” he added.
The WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit also joined the worship service outside the president’s house in Jakarta. He expressed his support for the churches in Indonesia and their right to practice their faith without intimidation.
Created by God to worship God
“We are here to support all worshippers, whether they are Christians, Muslims or members of any other faith traditions. We are all created by God to worship God. We respect this deep connection, which lies in the heart of every human being. As the WCC, we support you and your right to worship in your churches, mosques or temples,” said the general secretary.
It has been three months that the congregation of Taman Yasmin Church has worshipped outside the president house. They previously held services in the homes of congregation members. The members express how dealing with their sense of displacement has been a challenge. They also face harassment at the hands of fundamentalist groups.
Eva Kusuma Sundari, a Muslim member of parliament, attended the service outside the president’s house. She said that her presence shows support for the churches, as well as for other religious minorities, whose rights need to be protected.
“We want to strengthen connections among communities of all faiths in Indonesia. We have to make sure that the constitution and legislation protect the rights of religious communities. There has to be a dialogue between the communities and the state,” says Sundari. “In the ongoing democratization process in Indonesia, it is important that we continue to approach authorities in our peaceful way to make sure that our human rights are protected,” she added.
Members of the local churches who joined the worship service on Sunday shared that it is not only Taman Yasmin Church which has faced intimidation. There are many other churches that have been harassed and have feared to assert their rights.
Rev. Palti Panjaitan from Huria Kristen Batak Protestan
(HKBP) Filadelfia Church endorsed this view, urging churches to continue to share their concerns with the state. He led the worship along with other local church representatives at the service outside president’s house.
“The Supreme Court decision in favour of the building of the Taman Yasmin Church has not been implemented yet. Therefore we must go on raising this concern to the government, till our voices are heard,” says Panjaitan.
“We not only care about the Christians, but other religious minorities as well, who are faced with similar intimidation, or worse. In this situation, the state must protect our rights and not give in to the hardliners,” added Panjaitan.
It is not clear how long Taman Yasmin Church will continue to hold services outside the president’s house. However, with support from other churches and civil society, they hope that the government will take their demands seriously. It has also been apparent that the issue is not only about Taman Yasmin, but many other churches and religious minorities who are warning against radical influence.
(*) Naveen Qayyum from Pakistan is the WCC staff writer.