The process of establishing and leading a church in Indonesia can be onerous, particularly in areas controlled by militant Islamic groups or where there are few Christians.
In an attempt to establish ‘religious harmony’, legislation was passed in 2006 requiring all places of worship to obtain a government permit. To receive authorisation, approval must be granted by at least 60 non-Christian residents in the area, and churches have to consist of a minimum of 90 members.
While technically required for all religions, permits are practically only enforced for non-Muslim groups. Because the approval process is quite difficult and applications may potentially be rejected, many Christians gather together without the mandated permit.
For the Simalungun Christian Protestant Church in Cigelam, opposition has led to the forcible closure of their church building. On both 19 and 26 March, the congregation’s worship services were interrupted by local Muslims demanding an end to all church activities. When the church did not comply with the demands, local officials were notified. On 1 April, the Purwakarta regent, Anne Ratna Mustika, along with members of the police and military, sealed the church building. Regent Mustika suggested that the congregation use a different building. However, the suggested location is too far away and therefore difficult for congregants to access using transportation.
The church leaders acknowledge that their congregation consists of only 60 members, which is less than the required 90. However, they also state that the closure should be done through a court decision and not the actions of local leadership. “The government should tell us what requirements we should fulfil; we are of course willing to deal with the locals around our church,” said Krisdian Saragih, who serves as the leader of the Purwakarta GKPS Elders Council. “We want to be part of the local community. We really want to know what they expect from us.”