Church congregation continues amid protest

Tifa Asrianti ,  The Jakarta Post ,  Bekasi   |  Mon, 03/10/2008 1:20 AM  |  Headlines

 source: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2008/03/09/church-congregation-continues-amid-protest.html

Five churches in North Bekasi held Sunday services from Permata Jijau Permai housing estate despite a rumor members of the Cooperating Bureau of Mosques and Praying Rooms (Musholla) would stage large protests against their efforts.

Police officers were seen patrolling the housing estate, where the protesters were expected, but no such gathering occurred.

The five churches included the Indonesian Bethel Church of Shalom, the Indonesian Bethel Church of Maranatha, the Indonesian Christian Protestant Church, the Indonesian Pentecostal Church and the Javanese Christian Church.

Various obstacles put up by protesters have seen church organizations in the area unable to build permanent buildings and so they operate out of makeshift shophouses.

Edward Butar-butar from the Bekasi Christian Family Forum said there were nine other churches in the Permata Hijau Permai real estate but threats seemed to be focused on five churches at the shophouses block.

The cooperating bureau organizing the protests made complaints to local authorities about the churches and their operations last year.

Tensions escalated after Dec. 16, 2007, when hundreds of people entered a church during Mass and forced the congregation to stop the service.

Following the December protests, the Javanese Christian Church moved to Taman Kebalen estate.

Four churches stayed despite further protests.

Elizabeth Suria, church secretary at the Shalom church, said her congregation had been faced with a number of incidents including garbage being dumped at their church entrance and protesters blocking congregation members from entering their building.

“So far, there has been no physical abuse, but we couldn’t perform mass,” she said.

One protester interviewed said “his people” did not want to interrupt religious activity, but wanted “legal certainty about the building’s usage”.

“They are using shophouses as houses of worship,” Yos said.

“I think it is against the regulation.”

In response to the opposition, Elizabeth said the shophouses they used as churches belonged to them, and they had a legal right to use them for whatever purpose.

Edward Butar-butar said the Christian congregations had to use shophouses for services because it was difficult to build churches there.

He said the Indonesian Christian Protestant Church and St. Clara church, a Catholic church in a neighboring real estate, had experienced problems with their land, construction funds and construction permits.

“Some people objected to the construction plan and as a result the church has never been built,” Edward told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

Bekasi municipality council member and member of the Peace and Welfare Party (PDS) Jonni S. Batubara said construction of a Batak church in Tanggul, North Bekasi, was stopped last year after people protested against it.

Another council member and faction head of the Justice Welfare Party (PKS), Wahyu Prihantono said the problem was related to miss-communication between churchgoers and the people.

“Performing a religious activity is a human right,” Wahyu said.

“To prevent the opposition, we should strengthen the role of FKUB (Bekasi’s Interfaith Communication Forum).”

In 2006, the government issued a two-minister regulation stipulating a church permit should include at least 90 churchgoers, have support from 60 local residents, be legalized by the local authorities, and receive a recommendation from the head of the municipality’s religious office and one from the FKUB.

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