After 15 years of dispute, church in Indonesian city gets new home

Dandy Koswaraputra
Bogor, Indonesia
After 15 years of dispute, church in Indonesian city gets new home The Indonesian Christian Church of Yasmin was inaugurated this month after a 15-year dispute, Bogor, West Java, Indonesia, April 12, 2023.
Eko Siswono Toyudho/BenarNews

Members of a Christian congregation in Indonesia’s Bogor city got their own church this month after a 15-year dispute with local authorities and Muslim residents.

The Indonesian Christian Church of Yasmin, known as GKI Yasmin, inaugurated the new church building in Bogor, a city about 37 miles south of Jakarta, at an event attended by two cabinet ministers on April 9, which was Easter Sunday for Christians.

Church spokesman Arif Zuwana said most of the congregation welcomed the new church, but some declined to attend because the building was moved from its original site under pressure from neighbors and despite a 2010 Supreme Court ruling allowing construction to continue there.

“Most of our members feel that this is a miracle from God to us, although we acknowledge that some congregants still want it to be built on the original land,” Arif told BenarNews.

He said he did not know how many congregation members refused to attend services at the new church.

“We follow the organizational rules and this is a collective decision at the synod level [to support the relocation],” he said.

“But one thing is certain: Many people worship in it.”

The congregation’s long struggle reflects the challenges faced by religious minorities in Indonesia, where intolerance and discrimination have been on the rise in recent years, observers have said.

Although the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, some Christian congregations said they have difficulty building new churches as officials often cite public opposition or zoning regulations.

The Christian minority in Indonesia represents about 11% of the population.

18 ID-church3.jpg
A worker cleans inside the Indonesian Christian Church of Yasmin in Bogor, West Java, Indonesia, April 12, 2023. [Eko Siswono Toyudho/BenarNews]

The GKI Yasmin, a Presbyterian denomination, had obtained a building permit from the Bogor city government in 2006, but soon faced resistance from some locals who claimed the congregation had forged signatures to meet the requirement of having at least 60 neighbors’ approval.

In Indonesia, the construction of houses of worship must meet several requirements including the signatures and identification of at least 90 worshipers, the signed approval of neighbors and a written government recommendation.

Rights activists have said the decree was passed because of some Muslims’ concern about alleged Christian missionary activities and what they perceived as a growing number of churches in Muslim areas.

In response to the forgery allegations against GKI Yasmin, the Bogor city government revoked the construction permit in 2008 and sealed off the half-finished building.

The congregation challenged the revocation in court and won a series of legal victories, including a final ruling from the Supreme Court in 2010 that ordered the city government to issue a new permit and allow the church to operate.

But the city government defied the ruling. For years, the congregation held services on the sidewalk or in front of the presidential palace in Jakarta as a form of protest.

The deadlock was finally broken in 2019, when Bogor’s mayor, Bima Arya Sugiarto, offered to relocate the church to another site, about a mile (1.6 km.) from the original location.

The congregation agreed to the proposal, it said, after consulting with its members and leaders. The city government then granted a 1,668 square meters (about 18,000 square feet) plot of land for the church.

‘Example of the government’s failure’

At the inauguration event, Bima apologized for taking too long to resolve the dispute. He said he hoped that the church would become a symbol of tolerance and brotherhood in Bogor.

“The government is responsible for fulfilling basic rights, including worship, and the public must share this view, so it is impossible for a place of worship to not be allowed,” he said.

Mohammad Mahfud MD, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, who attended the inauguration event along with Home Affairs Minister Tito Karnavian, praised the resolution of the case.

“This is proof that Indonesia is a country that upholds the constitutional rights of its citizens, especially those of the Christian faith,” he said.

But some human rights activists and church members argued that the city government should have complied with the Supreme Court’s decision and allowed construction on the original land and building.

Bonar Tigor Naipospos, an activist with human rights group Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said the city government’s defiance of the court ruling set a bad precedent.

“For Bima Arya this is an opportunity for him to portray himself as a leader who protects minorities, especially since he has received almost all support from the church,” he said.

“Meanwhile, the central government sees this to be a good opportunity to appear committed to maintaining diversity and harmony,” he said.

Bona Sigalingging, a former spokesman for GKI Yasmin, agreed with Bonar’s assessment.

“Everything shown in the inauguration event was an example of the government’s failure in implementing Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution purely and consistently,” he said.

Pancasila is Indonesia’s state ideology that espouses belief in god, humanity, unity, democracy and justice.

The Jakarta-based Setara Institute, which monitors religious tolerance and democracy in Indonesia, said it documented 175 incidents and 333 violations of religious freedom across the nation last year.

The report found the state was the main violator, accounting for 43% of the total acts. State actors included government officials, law enforcement agencies and institutions.

Bima said the relocation was the best option to ensure the congregation’s right to worship.

“If you enter into a legal debate, this is indeed complicated because each has a strong legal argument,” he said.

“I offered GKI to get out of the legal debate. So, let’s get along.”

Another Setara report said Bogor rose to 17th in the institute’s annual tolerant city index in 2022, from 33rd the previous year, partly because of resolution of the GKI Yasmin dispute.

The index measures indicators such as freedom of religion, protection of minority rights, social participation and public services.

Nazarudin Latif in Jakarta contributed to this report.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.