Life is becoming difficult and dangerous for Christians in Indonesia because of outside extremists, the head of a grouping of churches in the Muslim-majority nation has warned - writes Maurice Malanes.
"For centuries, Muslims and Christians have been living in harmony and have been co-existing peacefully, but agents [from outside] of extremism and uniformity based on Islamic Shariah law are threatening the peace and harmony of our country," said the Rev Gomar Gultom, General Secretary of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia.
Gultom was interviewed by Ecumenical News International during the recent general assembly of the Christian Conference of Asia held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
He said that since 2008, Christians had experienced the adverse impact of the influence of "outsiders with Arabic roots and orientation" who have "infiltrated national and local political parties of moderate Muslims" in Indonesia.
"Our Indonesian constitution guarantees human rights, freedom of religion and civil liberties, and our government would like to project our nation as neither a religious nor secular state but a nation of pluralism," he said.
However, "these outside agents of extremism are taking advantage of our weak government and the illiteracy of many villagers and have now influenced official policies that impose a single way of life and worship, threatening our country's pluralism goals," stated Gultom.
Islam is Indonesia's majority religion, with Muslims accounting for about 200 million of its 240 million people, making it the country with the world's biggest Muslim population. Protestants account for 5.7 per cent of the people, and Roman Catholics three per cent.
In a paper presented to the CCA assembly, Gultom listed 28 incidents of infringements of human rights and religious freedom experienced by Christian leaders and church members in 2008 and 2009.
These included the halting of services of worship and church construction and the demolishing of existing church buildings, including an Anglican church building in Bandung in West Java.
Gultom said it is now difficult for many church leaders to get licenses to build new chapels or church-based schools.
He cited the case of Dominikus Supriyanto, a member in a district legislature in West Sumatra. In 2008, Supriyanto won an election as a candidate of the Democratic Party of Indonesia, but he faced difficulties because he was a Roman Catholic, said Gultom.
"People smashed Supriyanto's house with stones and he was threatened," said Gultom. Supriyanto was told that if he wanted to remain a member of the legislature he should convert to Islam.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]