Indonesia is home to the largest Muslim population in the world, but Christians and Muslims have been used to living together peacefully as equals. However, since the 1980s, the role of Islam in public life has increased, as has violence against Christians. In 2006, laws regulating places of worship were revised, requiring applicants to obtain supporting signatures from at least 60 local households of other religions, making it extremely difficult for Christian congregations to secure permission for places of worship. Since the amendments were introduced over 1,000 churches have been forcibly closed, while others have been demolished.
The vast geography of Indonesia means that Christians in some areas are at much greater risk of persecution, because of the differing attitudes of provincial authorities. In Aceh province, local authorities have implemented sharia law and last year saw the first cases of Christians being flogged for breaches of sharia. Churches in the province have also been set on fire and demolished by Muslim mobs under the pretext of not having permission to be used as places of worship.
Christians comprise at least 15% of Indonesia’s population, although some regions which have previously been majority Christian are gradually becoming Islamised as large numbers of Muslims are “transmigrated” by the government to those areas. Despite an increasing threat from Islamist extremism, the church in Indonesia continues to grow.
In November 2016, the Christian governor of the capital Jakarta was accused of “blasphemy” rejecting claims that only a Muslim should be allowed to govern non-Muslims. There followed mass protests by Islamists demanding his arrest. Indonesia introduced a statute against religious “defamation” in 1965, which has become a de facto blasphemy law; those found guilty can face up to five years imprisonment. At the time of writing the governor’s trial is pending.
Pray especially for Christians in Aceh, who live under sharia. Ask that they will have peace and boldness to stand strong in the Lord’s power (Ephesians 6:10). Give thanks that Indonesia’s Home Affairs Minister has stated that the government will consider revisions to the 2006 building regulations; pray that new legislation protecting Christians’ right to worship will be enacted speedily, and that forces seeking to Islamise the country and murder Christians will be defeated.