Indonesia Jakarta

Username: Password: Help Type:
Help Remember Me:

Stories: Politics and Proselytizing

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1 -- Add Story

Politics and Proselytizing 10 May 2005
What follows are excerpts from a draft of an article/book chapter I have been working on entitled: “Politics and Proselytizing: The Spread of Christianity in Indonesia.” I have deleted the sections on the Portuguese and Dutch eras. The section on the Indonesian era gives good background for understanding the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Indonesia. It also includes some information on Mormon missionaries in Indonesia. This information is posted on the Indonesia Jakarta web page to help orient newly called missionaries and to encourage returned missionaries to submit stories for my History of the Church in Indonesia project. If you are interested in the full text or a complete bibliography, please e-mail me at “Politics and Proselytizing: The Spread of Christianity in Indonesia.” Chad F. Emmett, PhD Department of Geography Brigham Young University Provo, Utah Introduction When the devastating December 26th 2004 earthquake and tsunami hit the province of Aceh in Northern Sumatra, relief agencies of all sorts quickly sprang into action. Soon local airports were unable to accommodate all of the flights bringing in medicine, food and clothing. Many of the relief agencies were Christian based. As aid poured in, there began to arise accusations from India to Indonesia that the aid was being delivered with ulterior motives of Christianizing the survivors. One Christian group announced plans to relocate 300 orphans from Aceh to a Christian run orphanage in Jakarta with the hope that their newfound “faith in Christ could become a foothold to reach the Aceh people” (Cooperman 2005a). This plan was soon dropped after an outcry from Muslims around the world and a prohibition of the project by the Indonesian government (Cooperman 2005b). The web site for another Christian group announced that tsunami donations would be used to send “food and medical supplies along with the dissemination of thousands of Gospel tracts in the language of the people” (Badawy 2005). Attempts like these to use aid to spread Christianity in the tsunami hit regions of Asia resulted in cries of outrage from Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims. For the Muslims of Indonesia, the concern over conversion has deep roots in the colonial past when expanding worlds of Islam and Christianity collided throughout the vast archipelago. The strategic location and economic draw of the islands has long attracted merchants, missionaries and colonists. These entrepreneurs brought Hinduism and Buddhism and then later Islam and Christianity. The initial spread of most of these religions was peacefully facilitated through trade, but eventually politics came to play a significant role--particularly in the way Christianity was spread. Since Islam predates the arrival of Christianity and since Christianity spread under foreign colonial rule, there is a natural distrust of foreign involvement in the famed spice islands. The profound influence of political motives and governmental policies on the spread of Christianity is what moves many Muslims to be suspicious of activities like Christian sponsored tsunami aid. The current distribution (see Figure 1) of Christians in Indonesia reflects how over time various motives and policies have helped facilitate the spread of Christianity. During the era of Portuguese influence, Christian missionaries were part of a colonial strategy aimed at spreading and maintaining political power--primarily in the spice islands of the east. For the schizophrenic Dutch administration, colonial policy purposefully prohibited proselytizing among the Muslims of Java for fear that it would create Muslim insurrection on a very profitable island while on more peripheral, non-Muslim and less economically important islands Christian missionaries were allowed to work in hopes that Christianity would promote a greater sense of belonging and loyalty towards the Dutch. Both the Dutch and Indonesian regimes viewed the Christian minorities as “population ‘buffers’ between Muslim groups, preventing and justifying restraints on Islamic influence over national policies” (Aragon 2000, 275). Since independence, Indonesia has struggled with how Islamic the state should be and as such, how tolerant and permissive the government can be towards a growing interest in Christianity. Some Indonesian Muslims (particularly in the separatist province of Aceh) want to see the imposition of shariah (Islamic law) while others want to maintain the founding principals of pancasila which call for religious freedom as long as people profess a belief in a supreme being. This on-going battle has meant that foreign Christian missionaries are sometimes permitted to spread their faith and sometimes not. In many instances, political motives have been almost indistinguishable from economic motives. When Christianity arrived in Indonesia in the 15th century, it arrived in an area already rich in the religious traditions of Animism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. Hinduism and Buddhism most likely began to influence religious life in the Indies as early as the fifth century AD as merchants and monks jointly spread these South Asian religions. Some of the first areas of penetration were the coastal areas of east Kalimantan, Bali and west Java (Proudfoot 1998, 42). Trade routes also brought Islam with the earliest establishment of Islamic communities in the region of Aceh by the late 12th century. Over the next few centuries, Islam gradually diffused via trade routes and ports along the coasts of Sumatra, Java, Lombok and Sumbawa and then on to Maluku, Sulawesi and Borneo. Muslims from many parts of the Islamic world, including influential Sufis, helped to spread their faith. Within Indonesia conversion came about through marriage, through the migration and trading patterns of local Muslims and in some regions through conquest of adjacent regions by Islamic based states (Ricklefs 1998). According to Steenbrink (2003, 5) there were motives other than just religious for converting to Islam. He writes: “Conversion to Islam provided the new believers with a prominent position in a network of traders and had also to do with power. The threads within the triad of trade, political power, and religion cannot always be disentangled.” The Indonesian Period Political influences continued to impact the spread of Christianity once Indonesia gained its independence. Like the Dutch period, there were ups and downs, starts and stops, and government support and prohibition. In anticipation of independence, Muslim nationalists, with significant input from leaders of Muhammadiyah, issued the Jakarta Charter in the summer of 1945 which stated in its preamble: “The state is to be founded on belief in God.” This declaration was followed by seven highly contentious words stating that the new republic would be established “with the obligation for adherents of Islam to practice the shariah (Islamic law).” These seven Indonesian words were opposed by Indonesia’s Christians who feared having to live in a state where Islamic law prevailed. Leaders from the Christian regions of Eastern Indonesia even threatened to form their own country if the seven words were not removed from the preamble (Shihab 1955). Not all Muslims, including many of the leaders of the nationalist movement, liked the idea of becoming an Islamic based state. Like the Christians, they thought Indonesia should be established as a secular state. A compromise was eventually forged in which Indonesia would be founded on the belief in “one God” rather than in “one religion.” This call for a belief in God was part of the Pancasila or the five founding principles. Its five principles include: the Belief in One God, Nationalism, Humanism, Democracy and Social Justice. In the first principle, God is referred to as Tuhan yang Maha Esa (the one/only Lord). Rather than using the more Islamic term of Allah (God), the writers of the constitution chose the more neutral Tuhan which is most often translated as “Lord” but can also mean God (Kipp 1993, 16). The failure of the Jakarta Charter to gain approval and to then be incorporated into the founding documents of the state meant that there was a guarantee for freedom of religion which then opened the door for church growth in Indonesia. Had the Muslim sponsored charter been approved then missionary work would have only been allowed among Indonesia’s Christian population and missionaries would not have been able to teach Muslims which is the case in most countries of the Islamic world (Willis 1977, 101-102). Those Muslim nationalists who called for the formation of an Islamic state lost influence and power during the later years of Sukarno’s rule. The main cause of their decline was the growth of the Indonesian Communist Party. The rivalry between communists and Muslim nationalists resulted in the Muslims aligning themselves with the military in the aftermath of the failed communist coup. The Muslims had hoped that their support of the military would perhaps revive the Jakarta Charter, but President Suharto and his military supporters were against any such concession. Throughout his long tenure as president, Suharto remained a “staunch supporter of a conservative interpretation” of the Pancasila which rejected the idea of Islam being a state religion (Hefner 2001, 350). Independence also resulted in rapid growth for Christianity on Java. From 1945-53 the growth rate among the Javanese Christian churches was 47.7 percent. Influences on conversions come from the political instability of the time, a failed communist coup in 1948, and nationalist fervor (in which Javanese were attracted to Javanese led churches). From 1953-1960 the growth rate was only 10.2 percent. This was a time of political calm and consolidation within the churches. From 1960-1964 the growth rate was 7.7 percent per year or 30.8 percent. During this period Indonesia was in confrontation with Malaysia over northern Borneo and so Indonesian Muslims were cut off from influential Muslim leaders in Malaysia and were therefore afraid to oppose Christianity. In addition, the communist party was on the rise with increasing pressure on people to join. This prompted some to seek answers in Christianity (Willis 1977, 75-76). In 1965 a communist led coup against the military and the resulting retaliation against communists had a profound impact on religiosity in Indonesia. In the midst of political chaos and doubt, many people turned toward religion. One missionary in the East Java town of Madiun reported that in the year following the coup the Catholic Church increased by 5,000 members and that once deserted mosques were now full to capacity and in need of additional space (Crawford 1972, 38). The most striking result was the exponential growth of Christianity on Java where it is estimated that between 1965-1971 more than two million Javanese were baptized (Willis xv). When asked what factors influenced their conversion spiritual factors accounted for 52.6 percent (promise of eternal life followed by peace were the top two reasons), political factors 25.2 percent and social factors 23.2 percent (Willis 8). Post-coup political factors included the policy of President Suharto’s New Order which further refined the concept of Pancasila by requiring that all citizens believe in God and adhere to one of the five recognized religions—Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, and Buddhism (Willis 1977, 103). Following the decree many Indonesians had to declare a religion. In Central Java, thousands of animists became Hindus when they were told that their animist beliefs were in reality Hindu beliefs. One village posted a sign saying “this is a Christian village.” When asked by a government official when they had become Christian the villagers replied that they had decided to become Christian, but they were waiting for some one to come and teach them (Willis 103). The Central Java village of Cuntel had long been a strong hold of the Communists and its leaders had initially prevented any moves towards Christianity. Then after the government degree requiring religious profession, village leaders asked a Christian nurse working in the village what religion they should follow. He of course replied Christianity. Village leaders contacted the North Central Java Christian Church and within two years the village head and 240 other persons—which was a majority of the village population—had become Christian (Willis 113). In a survey of 500 converts, 20 percent indicated that the new stance of the government was the most important reason for their conversion. Another 17 percent said that they converted in hopes of protection from attacks against communists. Thus 37 percent listed a political reason as the first motivation for conversion while 82.4 percent indicated that the political situation after the coup had some influence on their becoming a Christian (Willis 1977, 63-64). “Tensions created by the instability of the government probably had more effect on Indonesians’ becoming Christian than the decree that everyone must profess a religion (Willis 89). Events that influenced so many Javanese to become Christian include: “ the fall of Sukarno; dissolution of the Communist Party; the death of friends and family; worsening economic conditions; conflicts among the army, the Moslems, and the communists; and the uncertainty of the future political system.” People also turned to religion in general due to disappointment with Communism (Willis 1977, 90) and to Christianity because of disillusionment toward Islam because of Muslim participation in the slaughter of suspected communists (Crawford 1972, 38). Following the coup, the ministries of Religion and Home Affairs worked together in the implementation of a program that sought to reform communists by exposing them to Christian teachings. Christian missionaries were sent to villages that had been identified at communist strong holds and even to prison camps where communists were interred (Hefner 1997, 87). Like the Dutch, the Indonesian government recognized the important influence missionaries could have in service to the state. Suharto’s regime saw the missionaries as invaluable agents of national integration who could help in the implementation of “national development programs among outer-island minorities.” These missionaries furthered the aims of the government by “creating nuclear family households, defining individual economic responsibilities, increasing ties to the national and global economies, introducing biomedicine, and expanding school attendance.” The missionaries also encouraged loyalty to government programs and policies. In addition to helping mold model citizens, the missionaries also helped the government by building airfields, roads, medical clinics, hospitals, and schools (Aragon 2000, 24). In summing up the rapid growth of Christianity between 1960 and 1971, Christian missionary Avery Willis who served in Java during that time offers the following conclusions: Religious freedom granted under Sukarno’s Pancasila and reaffirmed under the New Order of Suharto provided Christianity with legitimacy and the opportunity for growth. The government decree that all Indonesians must profess a religion was the most significant political factor associated with church growth. The massacres which followed the coup prompted people to find spiritual and physical protection. The government prevented Muslim attempts to limit Christian missionary work. Christian support for both the nationalist movement and the government promoted a positive image and gave them influence in the government. Churches grew the most during times of political instability (1945-1953 and 1965-1969). Christianity and the Christian West were viewed as supportive of development and modernization and were therefore allies of the government’s on-going efforts for increased economic development (Willis 1977, 114-115). In 1975, there were 827 foreign church workers serving in Indonesia. They represented 53 Protestant mission agencies. Those agencies with the most missionaries were: Christian and Missionary Alliance (144), Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board (136), Mission Aviation Fellowship (69), Regions Beyond Missionary Union (51), Evangelical Alliance Mission (43), New Tribes Mission (42), and Assemblies of God (41). Many of these larger groups operated primarily in the non-Islamic interiors of West Papua (Irian Jaya) and Kalimantan (Cooley 1981, 62). Tolerance in the Suharto regime for such missionary activity prompted strong feelings among many Muslims. An example of these feelings can be found in an interesting article published in the International Review of Missions. Author Muhammad Rasjidi, professor of Islamics at the University of Indonesia and a leading figure in Muhammadiyah, offered examples of how Christian missionaries exploited the economic and political situation in Indonesia. He accused Christians of building larger than necessary churches on strategic locations, of distributing rice, clothes and money to the poor as a proselytizing tool, of enticing former communists with rice and cash to sign papers saying they had converted to Christianity, of using Christian “foster parents” in foreign countries to help students with school fees and books and with special letters on Christian holidays, of “Christian girls try[ing] to convert Muslim youth by resorting to unbecoming means,” of Christian youth inviting Muslims youth to movies and other places of recreation, giving them sweets and presents, and then inviting them to attend church, of obliging Muslim students in Christian schools to go to church, of targeting transmigration areas for missionary work, of practicing “covert Christianization” in the undeveloped parts of the country by providing gifts and certain facilities to isolated tribes, and of building roads, water projects and irrigation systems in the name of modernization and development, but really as a step towards Christianization (Rasjidi 1976, 429-432). Other attacks by Muhammdiyah included a 1964 pamphlet that accused Christian missionaries of trying to “Christianize the Indonesian peoples” (Shihab 1995, 309). A later pamphlet accused Roman Catholics and Protestants of convening a conference in which missionary tactics were formulated. Tactics were identified as included such things as building churches in Muslim areas, promising promotions to Muslims who would “comply with requests from Christians,” establishing schools, translating the Bible into Arabic, etc. From a Muslim perspective, “Christian missionary activities” such as these “were obvious violations of the Pancasila” (Kim 1998, 364). Such feelings have long influenced government policies towards Christian missionaries. In the year prior to the communist coup, missionaries, particularly those from the US, experienced opposition from governmental leaders. In West Papau an American missionary was accused of aiding rebels because he owned a shortwave radio like the Dutch used and because he knew some of the rebels, and in East Java a Baptist missionary was told to leave the country because he would not allow a communist labor union sign to be placed on the Baptist hospital (Willis 1977, 83). A possibly more wide reaching attack on proselytizing came in July 1967 when a bill was introduced that would have restricted foreign funds or personnel from entering Indonesia to help the churches. Even though the bill did not pass, the Department of Religious affairs in each province tried to establish peace and tolerance by encouraging Christians and Muslims to agree not to proselyte. At an inter-religious conference President Suharto proposed that “the government should be cautious of religious activities aimed merely at increasing the numbers of followers, especially when it seemed to one religion that these efforts were merely aimed at attracting its own followers.” Christians rejected these attempts to reign in missionary activity among Muslims for one of the main tenets of Christianity was to spread the gospel. Christians explained that to prevent any missionary activity would in essence establish what was hoped for in the Jakarta Charter--an Islamic state in which Muslims were off limits to Christian missionary efforts. Suharto was against the formation of even a de facto Islamic state and so he sided with the Christians in not completely restricting their missionary efforts. Muslims also tried to use the government policy that all must profess a religion to then require those people to practice that religion. This effort increased mosque attendance in the short term but in the long term many nominal Muslims or those who were Muslims in name only sought out other religions (Willis 104-105). Undaunted by their failure to limit missionary activity in 1967, Indonesian Muslims continued to pressure the government into implementing laws and policies that would curtail Christian growth. In the early 1970s, missionaries were prohibited from door-to-door proselytizing and obtaining visas became increasingly difficult. In 1976, Jehovah Witnesses were banned from practicing their faith in Indonesia (U.S. Department of State 2000). These difficulties were exacerbated by more formalized restrictions in the late 1970s. On August 1, 1978 the Minister of Religion issued decree number 70 (which codified the 1967 proposal). It states: “In order to guarantee the national stability and to foster harmony between the religious communities, the propagation and spread of religion have to be executed in a spirit of mutual understanding and respect for the feelings of the other party. Religious communities have to recognize and honor each other in accordance with the spirit of the Pancasila. The propagation of religion is not allowed: a) when it is directed towards persons who already adhere to another religion; b) when it is executed through gifts, money, clothes, food and drinks, drugs and similar means, which are used in order that a person feels attracted to embrace a religion; c) when it happens through the distribution of pamphlets, bulletins, books etc. in regions or houses of adherents of other religions; d) when it happens, under any motivation, through house to house visits, addressing people who already adhere to another religion (Steenbrink 1998, 330). A second decree, number 77, was also issued in 1978 (August 15). It severely curtailed foreign assistance to religions by requiring prior approval from and the channeling of funds through the Muslim dominated Department of Religion. The decree also restricted “the use of foreign personnel for developing and spreading religion” (Kim 1998, 367). Islamic groups welcomed the new decrees because they specifically targeted Christian missionary activities and because, for some, it meant that Indonesia was moving closer to becoming an Islamic state. Christian groups however, felt as if the decrees were unfair because is weakened the founding concept of freedom of religion. Christians also emphasized that many of the Javanese “Muslim” converts to Christianity were Muslims in name only and that Christianity was therefore not a threat to true followers of Islam (Hefner 1997, 87). In October of 1978 the Indonesia Council of Churches issued a message stating that religious freedom is not something that emanates from the state but rather is a God given right. The council called for a return to true religious freedom by acknowledging the universalizing nature of religions and the requirement therewith to engage in missionary activities (von Denffer 1979). The implementation of the decrees was not instantaneous, in part because of the vocal Christian opposition which lead to the suspension of the decrees in January 1979 (von Denffer 1979). Even with a temporary suspension in place, the government was still gradually able to cut back on foreign missionary influence by not issuing new visas or visa extensions. It was not a systematic process and so while some missionaries were leaving Indonesia due to the government denying them visa extensions, other missionaries were entering the country on new short term visas. For example, 44 Mormon missionaries began their two year missionary service in Indonesia during 1979 while during that same year 32 Mormon missionaries serving in Indonesia had to leave the country early due to the fact that their visas were not renewed—many of these missionaries were reassigned to the Philippines. The final foreign Mormon missionaries left Indonesia in August 1981 (see Figure 2). For other denominations the drop in foreign missionaries was not so immediate, due in part to their missionary policies of serving in more remote areas or of serving for more long term missionary service spanning decades if not lifetimes. For example, one missionary couple from the United States served in West Papua for The Evangelical Missionary Alliance (TEAM) from 1961 to 1978 without having any visa problems. When they applied for another visa to return to West Papua in 1982 (after the 1978 decree) it was granted. Illness required that they leave in 1983. Then in 1990 an attempt to obtain government approval for a third missionary tour of duty to Indonesia was never granted. In that same year, another TEAM missionary couple had to leave Indonesia because the government would not renew their visas (Lagerborg 1992). Most of the missionaries who were allowed to remain in Indonesia beyond the decree were assigned to remote areas where “state building” help was still needed. Even these missionaries ended up working themselves out of a job. “Once converts [were] considered suitable for national integration, as evidenced by permanent villages, intensive agriculture, mission schools, and mission clinics, the missionaries themselves often [were] requested to return home.” By the 1990s, most of the foreign missionaries serving in Central Sulawesi returned home or transferred to other mission fields due to the fact that the Indonesian government no longer needed their service and was thus no longer willing to renew their one-time easily obtained visas (Aragon 2000, 280). Limiting foreign missionaries and influence is the result of more than just Muslim intolerance or paranoia. It is also the result of strong nationalist feelings where Indonesians have long endeavored to nationalize all aspects of society including the limiting of foreign investments and ownership in businesses. Thus the 1978 decrees did not limit Christianization, it just limited foreign involvement in Christianization. For example, from 1981 to 2001 Mormon missionaries from Indonesia continued to teach and baptize in the same way foreign Mormon missionaries had done from 1970-1981. Among the missionaries of the Unevangelized Fields Mission that began work in 1956 (when West Papua was still under Dutch control) among the Dani peoples in the Baliem Valley of West Papua, there existed a continual sense of urgency to “get in, get it done, and get out” due in part to “the constant pressure from the Indonesian government to nationalize all institutions and to force the early withdrawal of expatriate personnel” (Hayward 1997, 13). Government attitudes towards foreign missionaries have somewhat ameliorated in the past few years. This softening of restrictions began during the administration of President Abdurrahman Wahid (aka Gus Dur) who served as Indonesia’s fourth president from October 1999 to July 2001. President Wahid was “deeply ecumenical” and tolerant of all religions while at the same time he was “passionate about Islam,” evidenced in part by his long time service as the leader of Nahdlatul Ulama—Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization (Barton 2002, 31). His egalitarian views meant that he was supportive of a non-sectarian state as espoused by the Pancasila, while his devotion to Islam led him to support a non-secular state where the dominant religion was an important element of society (Barton 2002, 138). Wahid’s openness to all religions is evidenced by his January 2000 lifting of the 1967 ban on the practice of Confucianism and the government’s June 2001 lifting of its 25 year old ban on Jehovah Witnesses (U.S. Department of State 2001). Wahid also gave his approval for a limited amount (18 total with the requirement that they work directly with Indonesian companions) of foreign Mormon missionaries to once again serve in Indonesia. This change in policy was precipitated in part by Wahid’s meeting with Gordon B. Hinckley, the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, during two trips to Salt Lake City in 1999 for eye operations. During these meetings Wahid invited President Hinckley to visit Indonesia, which he did in January of 2000. Foreign Mormon missionaries began serving in Indonesia in April 2001—only to be pulled out by the church for security reasons in October 2001 following the September 11th tragedy and the subsequent US invasion of Afghanistan. The missionaries returned to Indonesia in May of 2002. Indonesia’s continued but limited openness to foreign missionary activity is illustrated by recent reports from the Department of Religion. A 2002 listing from the Catholic Section of the Department of Religion indicates that at that time, there were 216 foreign Catholic missionaries serving in Indonesia. Of the 139 foreign pastors included in the group, 57 were serving in the heavily Catholic province of Nusa Tenggara Timur which includes the islands of Flores, Sumba and West Timor, 23 were serving in West Papua, and 17 were serving in Jakarta. The work of these missionaries, as well as the many Catholic run schools, continue to spread Catholicism. A report from Catholic officials estimates that in recent years about 10,000 Muslims annually convert to the Catholic faith. Some convert in order to marry a Christian, while others do so in response to evangelization, or humanitarian and social programs (U.S. Department of State 2003). A January 2005 listing from the Protestant (Kristen) Section of the Department of Religion indicates that there are currently 348 foreign missionaries (only 42 percent of the 1975 amount) representing 53 Protestant faiths and organizations serving in Indonesia. Included in that group are: Baptist (37), Assemblies of God (18), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (17), The Christian and Missionary Alliance (13), Jehovah Witness (13), Methodist (4), Salvation Army (4), etc. Three organizations with a total of 25 missionaries are identified as specifically targeting missionary work in West Papua while a fourth organization (Yayasain Misi Masyarakat di Pendalaman) has 48 missionaries (the largest missionary force of the 53 entities) assigned to “peoples of the interior.” The abundance of missionaries assigned specifically to the more isolated regions of the country suggests that foreign missionaries are still used by the government to help with national integration. Conclusion The interface of religion and politics in Indonesia is complicated and ever evolving. Christianization was politically promoted at various times and in various ways in order to facilitate better trade, to foster loyal subjects, to educate and civilize and thus stabilize, and to slow the spread of Islam—particularly in times when Islam was seen as a threatening nationalistic force. Christianization was also discouraged and at times even forbidden in heavily Islamic areas so as to not disrupt economic endeavors or antagonize Dutch subjects or Indonesian citizens. Political processes also inadvertently helped to spread Christianity: without the British interlude (facilitated by rivalries on the European continent), Baptist missionaries and a Bible translation may have been much later in coming; without political reforms in the Netherlands, the Dutch may never have shifted policies to better favor Christian activities; without the involvement of Christians and moderate Muslims in the independence movement, Indonesia may have emerged as an Islamic state; without the communist coup, Javanese Muslims may have never converted at such a rapid rate; and without the election of a tolerant President Wahid, there may not have been an easing up on certain restrictions for Christians. The centuries-long mixing of politics and religion has resulted in strained relations between Islam and Christianity throughout Indonesia. Alwi Shihab who is an influential religious and political leader in Indonesia (he is the government minister tasked with overseeing tsunami relief and rebuilding) explains the negative influence of colonialism on inter-religion relations. He writes: “Had it not been for the close Dutch association with the Christian missions, relations between Muslims and Christians in Indonesia would have been far less distorted. Indeed, Christianity would have had a brighter history on Indonesian soil had it not been tarred by the same brush as the colonialists” (Shihab 1995, 340). In spite of the tarred relationship, Shihab is not without hope. At the beginning of a new century he calls for a return to the teachings of the Prophet Mohammad who “invariably urged his followers to promote religious pluralism in which diverse religious communities would live side by side in mutual and creative acceptance that would transcend mere tolerance.” For pluralism (as found in Indonesia) to survive, Shihab notes that it is the “moral responsibility of religious leaders to prevent religion from being misused and appropriated to serve a narrow political interest.” In addition, he calls on both Muslims and Christians, both of whom are commanded to spread the faith, to establish “a set of ethical principles or a commonly agreed code of conduct regulating mission and da’wa [the Islamic terms for mission] practitioners” so that they can go about their missionary endeavors “in ways that are appropriate and respect human dignity (Shihab 2004, 72-73). Hopefully political leaders in Indonesia will heed the call of Shihab and help to establish a political environment where relations between Christians and Muslim will be ever improving and always amicable.
Chad Emmett Send Email

Part of the LDS Mission Networksm · The mission home of the World Wide
Copyright © 2010 The LDS Mission Networksm · / All rights reserved.
"Site-in-a-Box" (SIB) is a service mark of the LDS Mission Network. Version 2.1