(International Christian Concern) – I watched as the pastor began to cry, tears welling up in his eyes as he described the scene to me. It was May 18th, 2012, and there were hundreds upon hundreds of screaming fanatics hurling rocks, dirt, and even bags filled with urine at his congregation as the police stood by and watched. Signs hanging near his church read “Jesus is a dog” and “Kill the Christians.” The rioters claimed the pastor had never obtained the proper permits to operate his church, and the local government agreed, sealing the building and prohibiting the pastor and his congregation from ever returning.
My interview with Pastor Palti Panjaitan of the GKI Yasmin church was eye opening. For years the world, including the United States, has lauded Indonesia as the prime example of a tolerant, Muslim democracy. The largest Muslim-majority nation in the world, Indonesia embraces a welcoming political philosophy known as “Pancasila,” composed of five “inseparable” principles, including social justice. The vicious attack Pastor Palti described hardly seemed synonymous with Indonesia’s pristine reputation. After further investigation, it proved to merely be the tip of the iceberg.
Across Indonesia in 2012, International Christian Concern (ICC) found that at least 50 churches like Pastor Palti’s were forcibly shut down, almost always under pressure from radical Islamic groups. These groups usually claim the church lacks the proper permits to operate, based on a 2006 zoning law that requires “places of worship” to obtain signatures of approval from surrounding neighbors. The law is well-known to be a charade, as it is almost never applied to anyone except religious minorities. It is also well-known among Indonesia’s church leaders that obtaining a permit can be nearly impossible and usually requires hefty bribery of local officials. In 2012, I was told of one very large church which had to spend more than a million U.S. dollars to obtain a permit that is, officially at least, supposed to be free.