'It's Our Right': Christian Congregation In Indonesia Fights To Worship In Its Church : Parallels A Christian congregation outside Jakarta built a new church legally, but Muslims in the area object to it. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled to allow worship at the church, but it remains sealed.
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'It's Our Right': Christian Congregation In Indonesia Fights To Worship In Its Church

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'It's Our Right': Christian Congregation In Indonesia Fights To Worship In Its Church

'It's Our Right': Christian Congregation In Indonesia Fights To Worship In Its Church

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Western leaders often hold up Indonesia as a role model. It's the third-largest democracy in the world, a majority Muslim country where religious coexistence is literally written into the founding documents. Lately human rights activists have raised alarms that religious intolerance is growing in Indonesia. From Jakarta, I recently went to see one example.

Indonesia is not only one of the biggest countries in the world. It's also one of the most diverse countries in the world. And in this train station, you can see a lot of that diversity. Some of the women have their head covered by a scarf. Some of the women are showing their hair, a couple even have a full face covering.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

SHAPIRO: I board a commuter train heading up to the Jakarta suburbs with Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch.

ANDREAS HARSONO: We are now going to Bogor.

SHAPIRO: What's Bogor like?

HARSONO: Bogor is a conservative Muslim area.

SHAPIRO: It's also an area with a strong Christian minority. To open a church, you have to jump through a lot of hoops and get permissions from the majority Muslim authorities.

HARSONO: The church that we are going to see have fulfilled all those very difficult criteria, requirements - legal requirements.

SHAPIRO: The Christian group in Bogor got all the permits to build a church in this conservative Muslim area. And then hardliners said, not in my backyard. They pressured the government to cancel the permits. The government caved. The church group went to court and won. On an appeal, they won again. And finally they went to Indonesia's Supreme Court, where the church group won a third time.

HARSONO: So it was, like, almost 10 years ago.

SHAPIRO: And what's the situation today?

HARSONO: The government just ignore the Supreme Court ruling.

SHAPIRO: Specifically, the Bogor mayor has caved to local pressure from hardliners in the community.

Indonesia has a reputation for being a country that embraces religious diversity. Is the reputation false, or is this just a counter-example?

HARSONO: It is false. This is just a statement coming from people like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, all Western leaders who want to praise Indonesia for - you know, for various purposes, sometimes justified, sometimes just for lip service.

SHAPIRO: Vice President Pence visited the country earlier this year. It's in U.S. interests to praise a large democracy that's in the neighborhood of more autocratic governments, especially when that democracy is a majority Muslim country.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Final destination - Bogor.


SHAPIRO: Hello. My name is Ari.

PAULUS: Ari, I'm Alex. Nice to meet you.

SHAPIRO: Very nice to meet you, Alex.

Alex Paulus is one of the leaders of the local Christian group here. We pile into a small taxi and drive through the town of Bogor past fruit trees and market stalls.

PAULUS: When we start building the church, my kids were very small, still in the elementary school. But now they already finish their universities.

SHAPIRO: When they were small and they would ask, Dad, why isn't the church finished, what would you tell them?

PAULUS: They experience - we have Sunday school on the street just in front of our church because they sealed it. We cannot enter. And they experience the time when we were attacked by the hardliners. And the children were crying and terrified. They yell at us, say kill them; burn them. So it terrified the kids.

SHAPIRO: We're pulling up to the church compound, which is closed off. And it's illegal to go inside of it, but there is a very small door that we're going to try to duck through. There's a metal sheet blocking the entrance. We're just moving it aside. He's telling us we can come in, but we've got to be fast.

OK, we've just stepped inside the church, and it's a bare frame with a roof overhead but no insulation, no walls, just a skeleton of a building. And in the middle of the dirt floor, there is an altar with a gold cross painted on it. Alex, did you ever have services here?

PAULUS: We have. For the first time, it was Christmas in 2010.

SHAPIRO: And did everyone just sneak in even though it was - even though...

PAULUS: Yes. They surround us. They force us to leave this place as soon as possible.

SHAPIRO: I see hanging on the walls there little wreaths with ribbons. Is that left over from a Christmas celebration?

PAULUS: Yes. This is the leftover from the Christmas celebration.

SHAPIRO: You could live somewhere that hardliners wouldn't come and try to burn down your church and say, kill them. Why do you keep fighting to put your church here?

PAULUS: Because it's our right. We have permission - legal.

SHAPIRO: I spoke with Muslims in Bogor to try to understand the opposition to the church. People at the mosque told me the community is divided over it. One man said it's a mistake to build a house of worship without local community support. But no one I met expressed the kind of strong opposition that the Bogor Christian community encountered until I went back to Jakarta.

MOHAMMED ISMAIL YUSANTO: I am Mohammed Ismail Yusanto, the spokesperson of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia.

SHAPIRO: Hizbut Tahrir is an Islamist group that Indonesia's government recently banned for its extremist positions. On social media, the group encouraged the protests against the Bogor church. Spokesman Ismail Yusanto lives in Bogor and works in downtown Jakarta. In front of Hizbut Tahrir's main offices where we met him, the sign board has been covered by a black sheet since the government ban took effect.

Do you think Indonesia is becoming intolerant?

YUSANTO: No, no, no, Indonesia is very, very tolerant - I think too tolerant...

SHAPIRO: Too tolerant.

YUSANTO: ...In some cases.

SHAPIRO: For example, he says, Christians are overrepresented in Indonesia's Parliament as a percentage of the population. Churches in Indonesia are opening faster than mosques, he says.

YUSANTO: There are so many church in the middle of Muslim society, Muslim community.

SHAPIRO: Why is it a problem if there is a church in a Muslim community?

YUSANTO: No, I mean, it indicate that Muslim in Indonesia is very tolerant. If you are intolerant, those church will be destroyed.

SHAPIRO: We visited Bogor...


SHAPIRO: ...Where there is a church.

YUSANTO: Only one case, only one case.

SHAPIRO: The representative for Human Rights Watch, Andreas Harsono, says there have been more than 1,000 churches in the last decade that have been closed down. That's many more than one case.

YUSANTO: Please ask him how many mosque destroyed or close in Indonesia.

SHAPIRO: We did ask him, and Human Rights Watch says thousands of mosques have been shuttered, many from minority sects of Islam, which human rights advocates say is another sign of intolerance. Back in Bogor, Alex Paulus stands among the weeds and mosquitos in the shell that he hopes will someday be his Church. He recites the prayer that the congregation says every Sunday morning when they meet.

PAULUS: (Foreign language spoken).

SHAPIRO: It means, we believe that one day, we will be here serving our God because God hears prayer.


SHAPIRO: Tomorrow, our Indonesia series continues with a doctor who says she learned some of the most important lessons of her life from the transgender women who are her patients.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: It's accepting people as they are. Just embrace your life. You understand that it's all beauty. Everyone feels each other. You know, it seems like God teach me that the world is so colorful, and you just have to accept - you know, don't reject what is there. Just try to understand.


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