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30 May 2012

The Battle Over Bekasi's HKBP Filadelfia Church

20120519174535491.jpg“Why would they build a church here when most of the residents are Muslim?” Taupik says. “What reason could they have unless it was to convert us all?”

Now in his 50s, Taupik has lived in Jejalen Raya village in Bekasi all his life. For him and many of his neighbors in North Tambun subdistrict, the first mention of the planned HKBP Filadelfia church to be built in their midst seemed like a sinister plot — the start of a wider Christian conspiracy to undermine the local Muslim community.

“What I’m worried about is my grandchildren’s future. I don’t want them to be influenced by infidel activities because there’s a church here,” he says.

The deeply ingrained mistrust toward the church can be traced back to 2005, when plans for the building were first released. At the time, a prominent local cleric, Naimun, wrote an open letter to all residents urging them to reject the church.

The letter, addressed enough to “All those people in the village whose thinking isn’t backward,” claimed that the church was meant to lead local Muslims astray.

“Our peace has been disturbed because in front of our eyes is being built a gateway to apostasy that beckons to our children and grandchildren,” the cleric wrote. “This door to perversion is none other than the construction of the HKBP Filadelfia church.”

He added that he hoped the letter, and an attached petition from some 300 residents, would persuade the village chief to reject the congregation’s request to build the church.

Though it kicked off the now-widespread animosity felt by residents toward the church, the letter failed to sway local authorities from continuing to process the request for the building permit. But the church’s progress on this front, Taupik claims, was achieved through trickery and lies.

He said that toward the end of 2007, he attended a meeting that the subdistrict head called with several local clerics and community leaders. They were shown a letter from the Jejalen Raya village head recommending the congregation for a building permit.

Under the terms of a 2006 joint ministerial decree, congregations of all faiths seeking to build a house of worship must get the signed support of local residents before a building permit can be issued.

“But they manipulated the petition from our residents,” Taupik claims. “We set up a team to check it and we went door to door, asking people in the area if they’d approved of a church being built there.”

He insists that the team found that most of the residents “had been cheated” into signing blank forms that they knew nothing about.

“Some were told they’d get Rp 200,000 [$22] for signing, others that they would get access to loans and others that they would get free goods,” he says. He also claimed that many of the 259 people who signed the approval were unfit to do so, “being either insane or dead.”

With opposition mounting, the Bekasi administration withheld the permit, despite the congregation meeting all the requirements. At the end of 2009, the district head went a step further and banned the members of the congregation from worshipping on the land, forcing the 560 worshipers to hold services by the side of the road fronting the property.

Church leaders challenged the ban at the Bandung State Administrative Court (PTUN), which ruled in September 2010 that the decision to ban services on the church’s property was unconstitutional.

Subsequent appeals to the Jakarta PTUN in March 2011 and the Supreme Court three months later led to the earlier ruing being upheld.

The nation’s highest court ruled that barring the congregation from worshiping on church property was illegal.

But these decisions have done nothing to sway the administration or the residents. “If from the very beginning there have been irregularities, why would we now agree to having the church?” Taupik says.

“It’s definitely twisted.”

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