by Roger L. Dixon, Ph.D.

I. BACKGROUND - 1945-1966
Beginning with the Situbondo incident in October, 1996, more Christian churches have been damaged, destroyed and burned than at any other time in Indonesian history. In fact, Romo Dr. Frans Magnis Suseno, SJ writes "the Indonesia Republic is the champion of the world in damaging and burning places of worship" (Tahalele, 14). How did this situation come to be in a country which had been exemplary as a pluralistic, tolerant society? The answer lies in the machinations of the Soeharto Regime.

In the early days of the forming of the Republic, all religious groups accepted the theoretical position that the five principles of the Indonesian State (Pancasila) dictated religious tolerance. This implied the right to freedom of thought, religious conscience, the right to change one's religion or belief system, and the right to share that belief with others. Despite the formation of a Ministry of Religious Affairs which existed primarily to promote the Islamic religion, the government allowed a wide range of religious freedom. Even in the chaotic days of the struggle for independence from Holland, notable movements such as Darul Islam in West Java and other provinces were consistently pursued by the government forces until they were eliminated or controlled. Of course, religious tolerance on the local level experienced problems but perfection was lacking on all sides, Christian as well as Islamic. to top


Inter-Religious Consultation - 1967
With the advent of the Soeharto government, certain subtle differences began to emerge. Publicly, the generally accepted understanding of religious tolerance was reiterated but time and again actions were taken that eroded the freedoms of Christians. The first of these was an Inter-Religious Consultation in November, 1967. "There was a strong initiative from the Muslim side, supported by the Department of Religion, to achieve agreement that no missionary activities should be undertaken among those already having a (government recognized) religion..." (Cooley, 1981:216). However, neither the Protestant nor the Roman Catholic representatives would agree to such a restriction.
Mohammad Natsir wrote, "The only way national peace can be achieved is if each religious group, besides guarding their own identity, respects the identity of others" [Perdamaian Nasional hanya bisa dicapai kalau masing-masing golongan agama, di samping memelihara identitas masing-masing juga pandai menghormati identitas golongan lain.] (1980:209). This opinion represented the position of most of the Muslim leaders. By "identity," they were referring to all persons registered as Muslim (every Indonesian citizen must state their religion on their identity card), regardless of whether or not they understood or practiced their faith.

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Reason for the Governmental Change
The reason behind this new agitation to curtail Christian activity was the turning of large numbers of Javanese people to Christianity in the aftermath of the abortive Communist Coup in 1965. Within the short span of a few years, several million Javanese had transferred from Islam to Christianity. Although much of this change was nominal, it was the largest turning of Muslims to Christianity in the history of the faith. At no previous time had so many Muslims decided to leave that faith for another. The Javanese phenomena traumatized Muslim leaders all over the world. Middle Eastern Muslim countries began putting pressure on Soeharto to stop this activity. to top

Djakarta Charter Used to Stir Feelings
In March 1968, the Muslim parties insisted on a return to the Djakarta Charter, which included the stipulation that there was an "obligation of practicing the law of Islam for the adherents of that religion." This would provide a way for Muslim leaders to prevent Christian evangelism to those of the Muslim faith. However, the Djakarta Charter had been rejected under the Soekarno regime as inappropriate to a Pancasila society. The Christians would not agree, as they argued that Article 29 (2) of the 1945 Constitution provides that "the State shall guarantee freedom to every resident to adhere to his respective religion and to perform his religious duties in conformity with that religion and that faith." For Christians and others, freedom meant just that -- the right to make choices in the area of religion. to top

Ministry of Religious Affairs is the Regime's Main Tool
After 1968, the Ministry of Religious Affairs began a continuous program to hamper Christian evangelism and the growth of the Christian Church in every way possible. One of their main tools was withholding permits for all kinds of religious activities. Churches had difficulty both locally and regionally in securing permission to erect new church buildings. Even permits to hold routine church synod meetings and consultations were hard to obtain from the security forces (Cooley, 1981:215). Among the reasons given for this was the active Muslim opposition to anything Christians wanted to do. But this alleged opposition seemed to come only from a small number of religious leaders.

In March, 1968, the Muslim leaders lost their bid to incorporate the Djakarta Charter into a new basic State Policy. This was part of a long-time effort to transform the Republic into a formally Islamic state at some future time (v.d. Kroef, 1971:57). Although the problem was presented as being one of religious differences, in fact it was a deep-seated political issue, for it dealt with political power. Basically, Islam is a socio-political organization, whereas Christianity is not. This difference continues to be a source of misunderstanding between the two religious groups because the natural tolerance of the multitudes does not reflect the goals of the Muslim elite. to top

Regime Permits Islamic Reaction
One of the most difficult areas to assess is how much the Soeharto Regime favored the reaction of Muslim leaders to Christian activity. There is little doubt that the illegal actions of Muslims were rarely punished by law. However, until 1996, their actions were not excessively threatening to the lives of their victims. Relatively few were killed. Some high profile incidents created a lot of attention. One such was the attack on a church in urban Jakarta. "In April, 1969, some 500 Muslim youths attacked and desecrated a recently built Protestant Church in the Slipi section of western Djakarta. Muslims alleged that no permission had been given by the Government for the building of the church (indeed the mayor's office was specifically said to have opposed it), that Muslims outnumber Christians nearly seventy to one in the area, and that there are five churches in Slipi already, and that hence the building of yet an additional church was clearly ‘provocative.'" Within the same time frame, another church was burned down in Djatibarang near Indramayu. The local Christians were terrorized. Van der Kroef goes on to report, "Then, on 23 January 1970, irate Muslims sacked and burned the Roman Catholic Tarakanita Elementary School on the outskirts of Djakarta" (v.d. Kroef, 1971:236-237). A Muslim faction had been incited to draw the line over Christian expansion into what they perceived as their communities. to top

The Soeharto Regime's Struggle with Muslim Political Forces
While the Soeharto government was appeasing Muslim elite by suppressing Christian activity, they were also struggling to counter rising Muslim political power. The regime did not want the leaders of the Muslim political organizations to have influence in decision making. One issue was the revival of the Masjumi party, which had been banned by Soekarno after they contributed to several regional rebellions in the fifties. In 1968, the new (then acting) president Soeharto also opposed Masjumi's reinstatement and a new party was formed to cover Masjumi's people. Partai Muslimin Indonesia (PMI) was the compromise organization resulting from these discussions. This illustrated the reluctance of the Soeharto Regime to put large political opportunity in the hands of Muslim religious leaders. In 1970, R.E. Ward wrote, "The policy of the Soeharto Government towards Masjumi and then the Partai Muslimin has been one of consistent opposition..." (Ward, 1970:57). While this may have been true in the area of political control, it was not true in the religious arena. to top

The Hidden Agenda
With the exception of a few insightful political observers, the government successfully hid their agenda from the populace. Church leaders, in general, were consistently fooled by the government's public opposition to so-called "Muslim" goals. Behind the scenes, the Regime was carrying out plans to choke off Christian growth in order to appease the elite. In 1970, the PMI again unsuccessfully urged the government to curtail the propagation of the Christian faith in the following ways: "(1) prohibit the construction of a Baptist hospital in Bukittinggi, West Sumatra, and declare every Christian missionary in the region persona non grata, (2) regulate construction of houses of worship ‘in proportion to the beliefs professed by the majority of the local population,' and (3) stop the inflow of all foreign Christian missionaries" (v.d. Kroef, 1971:237). While none of these efforts were successful at that time, they would be by the end of the 70's. The plot unfolded slowly.

A joint ministerial decree issued on September 13, 1969, by the Minister of Religious Affairs and the Minister of Home Affairs [Keputusan Bersama Menteri Agama Dan Menteri Dalam Negeri No.01/BER/ Mdn-Mag/1969], stipulated that a house of worship could only be built with the approval of a regional administrator, such as a governor. Religious services at homes were only allowed if the local religious leaders approved. This position was based on the assumption that using a home for a house of worship could incite social disturbances. While Muslims were allowed to hold pengajian (Koranic recitations), people of other faiths were dependent on the good graces of local religious (usually Muslim) leaders. Very little evidence was ever offered to show that the average citizen objected to Christians worshipping in their own homes.

Conversely, this decree guaranteed citizens' freedom to perform religious duties. It said that regional administrators, such as governors, must "guide and supervise so that acts of religious not divide different religious communities." ["Membimbing dan mengawasi agar pelaksanaan penyebaran agama...Tidak menimbulkan perpecahan di antara umat beragama...] According to Prof. Dr. Sahetapy, a professor of law at Airlangga University, this Joint Ministerial Directive was "an example of ‘colonialism.' At the very least, it discriminates against and disestablishes the development of the Church" ["Keputusan Bersama Menteri Dalam Negeri dan Menteri Agama (Keputusan Bersama Nomor 01/BER/mdn-mag/1969) [sic] merupakan suatu bentuk ‘penjajahan', setidak-tidaknya suatu diskriminasi dan stigmatisasi terhadap pertumbuhan Gereja."] (Sahetapy, 1993:4). He goes on to say that it violates Paragraph 29 of the 1945 Constitution, the Temporary Constitution of 1950, and the Constitution of the Republic of the United States of Indonesia, all of which explicitly promulgate human rights. [melanggar UUD 45 , Pasal 29; UUDS 1950, & Konstitusi RIS (Republik Indonesia Serikat) yg merencanakan HAM secara explisit]

As late as 1997, this decree was still in effect and was still being questioned by people of all faiths ("Legislator..." 8 July, 1997). In effect, the decree laid the foundation for absolute control by the government over all religious gatherings and the process of dissemination of all religious propaganda. In the seventies, this decree was strengthened by other similar decrees, which empowered local authorities to override the right of their citizens to be involved in religious dialogue. to top

The Closing Game
There were many moves in the process to erode the ability of the Christian community both to perform the duties of their faith and to share it with others. The door to door tactics of the new Mormon groups created much agitation in some of the urban communities. These actions along with the anti-government stand of Jehovah Witnesses was improperly linked to the Christian Church. By 1974, it became apparent that political pressure was building against the mass tracting being done throughout Java. Although there was no significant response to the gospel by the Sundanese, religious authorities knew that there was great response in Central and East Java. The West Java military commander (Panglima Jawa Barat) invited church leaders to discuss the interreligious tension that had been reported to him. According to him, there were plans by some groups to kill evangelists and destroy churches even though every village in West Java (like all of Indonesia) was tightly controlled by the military. The military commander "suggested" that the tracting stop even though there were no laws forbidding it and the general public seemed unconcerned about it. For awhile the evangelicals slowed the pace of their work. to top

A favorite tactic of the Ministry of Religious Affairs was to let local authorities harass the Christians in remote places. Opposition took the form of personal attacks on believers in the villages. Every village group was subjected to various forms of coercion to force them to withdraw from the Christian fellowship. Frequently, congregational leaders were harassed by the local police and military as well as by community officials. They were often called in for interrogation in which they were forced to wait all through the day at the whim of a government official. Even though it may not have been the overt plan of the government to persecute the Christians, in fact, the Soeharto Regime covertly initiated, supported, and carried out a program of continual and constant persecution of villagers in Muslim areas who made a confession of faith in Jesus Christ. to top

Impact of Petro Dollars
The oil crisis of 1973 appears to be the event which most enabled the Soeharto Regime to carry out their anti-Christian program. It caused the price of oil to rocket upward and all of the OPEC countries accumulated enormous financial reserves. This, of course, included many Muslim countries. They began pouring money into internal and external religious propaganda all over the world. All Islamic countries were targeted for projects which would raise the profile of Islam. Huge amounts of this foreign money began to flow into Indonesia which had the largest Islamic population of any country in the world. Mosques and prayer houses (mushollah) were built, sound systems and other electronic equipment was donated for use in these religious establishments, and myriad training programs were initiated to produce a more capable religious leadership. The Indonesian government's attitude toward an evenhanded application of freedom of religion under the Pancasila experienced a drastic change. The petro dollars gave the Islamic clique the leverage they needed to enact directives that would close down open propagation of the Christian religion. to top

Soeharto Regime Mounts Intense Public Campaign
In the early months of 1975, it became apparent that the groundwork laid by the Regime was beginning to stymie the ministry. Following the arrest in February of a Chinese man who was passing out tracts in Ciwedej, West Java, an anonymous letter was circulated which stated that Christians controlled enough government positions to cause serious damage to Islam's agenda in Indonesia. Although the accusation was bizarre in its political naiveté, reaction was immense and frightening. Most evangelism stopped in West Java. Fear swept through the churches with almost every leader calling for wisdom (kebijaksaan) in responding to the situation. By using the word "wisdom", they meant for the evangelists and others to stop all forms of evangelism. Although evangelism continued, storm clouds were gathering that would break on their heads. to top

Political Attacks Accelerate
Probably the Christian organization most central to the public distribution of tracts was Every Home Crusade (EHC). In August, 1976, one of their evangelists was arrested in Majalaya, West Java, while passing out tracts in front of a mosque. While all agreed that this was a foolish move on his part, there was no violation of any law. The police kept him 4 days at the jail in Cibabat (Cimindi) on the west side of Bandung. Their reason was to protect him from harm (diamankan) but it seemed obvious that they simply wanted to teach the Christians a lesson. The government used this to inflame the situation even further.

Different from the forms of tract distribution used by others, EHC had a program of house to house canvassing similar to the unpopular model used by Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons. In the early days, EHC canvassers even put tracts in mailboxes. This style of tracting not only created reaction from the communities but it also aroused considerable opposition from some of the churches. During the final four months of 1976, EHC distributed 35,000 tracts to 17,000 homes in West Java. In November, the pastor of the Western Indonesia Protestant Church (GPIB) in Cimahi reported EHC to the Department of Religion. This provided special ammunition to those opposing overt Christian activity in West Java.

Even with no legal base, the head of the Protestant division of the West Java Department of Religious Affairs [Kepala Bagian Kristen, Kanwil Agama] issued a letter against tract distribution and told foreigners not to go to villages. For the first time, fear affected the ranks of the Sundanese evangelists. Rumors were circulated that evangelists would be killed. Most of them kept a very low profile and the village congregations were left to fend for themselves without support from their patrons in the cities.

On top of this, political action on the national scene took a new turn. Also, in December, 1976, the Attorney General of Indonesia banned Jehovah's Witnesses from operating throughout the country (see: Jaksa Agung). Since the Christian Church was not too happy about the activities of Jehovah's Witnesses, no one was concerned about their rights under the Pancasila to free exercise of religion. Many leaders forgot that the government had effectively linked the Jehovah's Witnesses to the Christian Church so that action against them was construed by the people as restrictions on the Christians. The message to the public was negative about the Christians. to top


Soeharto Regime Prepares the Coup de Grace
The continual response of the Javanese Muslims to Christ threatened the monolithic religious system in Java. Muslim leaders pressured the government to take action against religious groups disseminating propaganda to people of other religions. In addition, miscellaneous anonymous letters and pamphlets were circulated in an attempt to intimidate the Christians. All of this activity was fueled by the Islamic fundamentalist revival originating from the Middle East. The Christian evangelists, who had experienced so much freedom under the Soekarno Regime were baffled by what was happening in the larger arena. Government leaders kept saying they desired tolerance while promoting animosity between the religious groups. to top

Picking the Hatchet Man
With the installation of the Third Development Cabinet (Kabinet Pembangunan III) in 1978, Soeharto began more emphatic moves to gain Muslim support by curbing Christian freedom in publicly sharing their faith. His first step was to elect a former army general to be the new Minister of Religious Affairs. He was Haji Alamsyah Ratuprawiranegara and he did the most serious damage to the Church in Indonesia of anyone before him or since. In a moment of unguarded reminiscence in 1987, Alamsyah revealed the true purpose of his appointment as the Minister of Religious Affairs in 1978. Soeharto told him, "I am choosing you to convince the Islamic community to accept the concept of Pancasila." [Saya angkat kamu untuk meyakinkan ummat Islam, agar mau menerima Pancasila...]

Alamsyah related that he was very surprised at the appointment but he understood what Soeharto wanted. "‘What is your concept?' asked the President. ‘First of all, Islamic missionary work is the responsibility of the Islamic community. So don't forbid it or try to censor their communications,' explained Alamsyah while outlining steps he would take as the Minister of Religious Affairs. ‘With that they will stop being mad,' he added."
["Apa dan bagaimana konsep kamu', sambung Presiden. ‘Pertama pak, dakwah adalah kewajiban umat Islam, karena itu jangan dilarang atau setiap naskahnya harus diperiksa dulu,' jelas Alamsyah menerangkan langkah-langkah yang akan diambilnya selaku Menteri Agama. ‘Maka dengan demikian, mereka akan berhenti marah,' sambungnya] (Presiden Jelaskan..., 1987).
In other words, to win the complete support of the Muslim elite to the Soeharto Regime, the freedom of speech of the non-Muslims would be sacrificed; particularly the freedom of speech of Christians. to top

The Infamous Directives
The key to the strategy to forcefully close down Christian evangelism throughout Indonesia was the issuance of two directives. In August, 1978, the Minister of Religion issued them. The first was Decision No. 70 [Keputusan Menteri Agama No. 70 Tahun 1978 Tentang Pedoman Penyiaran Agama] which concerned "Guidelines for the Propagation of Religion" The second was Decision No. 77 [Keputusan Menteri Agama No.77 Tahun 1978 Tentang Bantuan Luar Negeri Kepada Lembaga Keagamaan Di Indonesia] which dealt with "Overseas Aid to Religious Institutions in Indonesia." They were commonly referred to as SK 70 & SK 77. to top

SK 70 - Virtually Eliminated Public Evangelism
The first directive, SK 70, said that harmony among religious groups was a high priority and the government was restricting religious propaganda. Specifically, religious propaganda could not be aimed at a person of another religion, especially through social services, literature distribution, or personal visitation. Violators of these guidelines were threatened with unspecified punishment. (It was unspecified because these directives were not laws and had no basis in law by which punishment could be attached. Never-the-less, practically everyone was traumatized by them and was afraid to violate them because they knew action would be taken outside of law as is common in Indonesia.) to top

SK 77 - Attacked the Financial Basis of Para-Church Groups
SK 77 concerned the relationships between religious groups and their connection to the government in respect to foreign money and personnel being used in religious activity. It specified that religious aid of any kind originating outside Indonesia must be channeled through the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Theoretically this applied to Islamic, Buddhist, and Hindu religions as well but due to other special harassment of Christian missionaries, this was felt by Christians to be particularly aimed at them. In fact, these kinds of directives were almost never enforced in relation to Islam. In addition, foreign religious personnel (Christian missionaries) would be restricted. Programs using foreign workers had to be structured to phase out foreigners within two years. Unspecified punishment was indicated for violations (again unspecified because this directive also had no basis in law). Walter Bonar Sidjabat, a Christian leader, describes these directives as an act which "tarnished some noble principles that were put forward by the founding fathers of the Republic of Indonesia in the Pancasila" (1982:9). [For more on this in English see: Cooley, 1981:217-220] to top

Christian Missionary Visas Restricted
Although the issue of foreign funds was never resolved, the government took the initiative in arbitrarily restricting missionary visas. At first, the government counted on normal attrition. But when the rate of missionary loss was unacceptable, they began to accelerate the attrition rate artificially. By August, 1979, over 100 missionaries had received 6 month visa extensions (instead of the usual 1 year) with the threat of no further renewal. New missionary visas were curtailed sharply. This tightening of restrictions on missionaries has continued in a consistent though varied style until today. In this way, the Indonesian Church was treated with contempt by the Indonesian government. They were denied the right to invite the guests with whom they wanted to work and were given no recourse to any appeal whereas Islamic groups were allowed their constitutional rights. to top

True Purpose of the Strategy
Within six months of issuing the directives, Alamsyah had moved against the Christian's freedom to disseminate their religion. But nothing was done to restrict the Muslims. This clearly indicates that the two directives (SK 70 & 77) were never intended for the Muslim groups but only for the non-Muslims. On October 21, 1978, The Indonesian Council of Churches [Dewan Gereja Gereja di Indonesia] and the Indonesia Council of Bishops [Majelis Agung Waligereja Indonesia] [sometimes translated as General Council of the Roman Catholic Church in Indonesia] issued a joint letter strongly opposing these directives and claiming that they violated the basic constitution, the spirit of the Pancasila (5 principles of the Indonesian State), and that there were no bases in law to enforce them. However, Soeharto was publicly pushing the implementation of these two directives (Lanjutkan Pelaksanaan..., 11 October, 1978) and, over time, all of the church protests were ignored by the government because it had already established a precedent of violating the constitution where the Christian Church was concerned.
Consequences of Directives
Also in October, evangelism activity resulted in a number of situations which angered Muslim leaders. There was a complaint about the packets of Christian material being sent by the Living Word Publishing House [Kantor Kalam Hidup] in Bandung. In August, they sent at least 60 packets containing New Testaments, tracts and other Christian material through the mail to Muslim leaders in Majalaya and other places near Bandung.
The Chairman of the Majalaya Ward, Bandung, Council of Muslim Ulamas [Ketua Majelis Ulama Kecamatan Majalaya Bandung] sent a protest to the headquarters of the Operation for Keeping Order [Opstib] in Jakarta, to the West Java Provincial Government, and to the local military post [Opstib Pusat di Jakarta, Pemda Jabar, & Koramil]. A member of parliament said that the government was going to have to make the Directives 70 & 77 into law so that religious dissemination could be controlled better (Pemuka-Pemuka Agama..., 1978).

Another issue was the advertising campaign in Jakarta by a group called "I've Found It" ("Telah Kutemukan") which gained momentum in October, 1978. Flyers and posters were distributed publicly announcing only: "I've Found It." But the Directives 70 & 77 had sensitized Muslim leaders to complain about anything public that was Christian. Alamsyah, the minister of Religious Affairs, announced that there was not anything in the campaign that violated the two Directives but he was going to ask the Jakarta Special District Officer [Laksusda Jaya (Pelaksana Khusus Daerah)] to check it out (Memang Kegiatan..., 1978). Unconstitutional actions such as these were commonly used to inflame the populace against Christians who were, in fact, doing nothing wrong. to top


The Soeharto Regime Redefines the Church
In the early 80's, the government developed another diversion by which it could gain greater power over all community activity throughout Indonesia. It was the transformation of the state ideology, Pancasila, into a vehicle of national control. This strategy was able not only to distract the Church from its duties and activities but also to redefine its nature. A small incident at a Jakarta election rally in 1982 provided the opportunity. This was called the "Banteng Field Incident" ("Peristiwa Lapangan Banteng").

Five months later in a state of the union address [Pidato Kenegaraan 16 Agustus, 1982], Soeharto said that political parties still using a philosophical base other than the state ideology (Pancasila) needed to make a change in order to insure domestic tranquillity and nation building. Some leaders such as Deliar Noer thought this was a ruse to reduce politics to a single party system (Sairin, 1994:58). But the speed with which the concept changed to include all social organizations indicates that the purpose was larger.

Weinata Sairin quotes Abdul Gafur (Sairin, 1994:55) as reporting that within two weeks of that August speech, Soeharto told him that Pancasila must be accepted as the underlying principle of all organizations. At a meeting of the Inter-religious Council [Pertemuan Lengkap Wadah Musyawarah/Antar Umat Beragama] on 17 September, 1982, the Minister of Religious Affairs was already propagandizing the religious leaders to consider whether their basic religious tenets were in accord with the Pancasila. By the time the new Parliament was considering the Guidelines of State Policy [Garis-Garis Besar Haluan Negara- 1983], it was clear that the nation's religious groups were to be included as social organizations. to top

Capability of Soeharto Regime to Rapidly Change Indonesian State Philosophy
By December, 1983, the regime's strategy was in full swing with Soeharto's address on Muhammad's birthday [Maulid Nabi Muhammad SAW]. He stated that there was "absolutely no reason for anyone among us to think that Pancasila was a threat to religion"
[...sungguh sangat tidak beralasan apabila masih ada di antara kita yang menganggap Pancasila sebagai ancaman terhadap agama] (Pancasila Ancam..., 18 Dec. 1983, p.1).
Four days later, the National Congress of the Nahdatul Ulama [Munas Alim Ulama NU se Indonesia] at Situbondo laid the groundwork for a future acceptance (in 1984) of the Pancasila as the one and only basis of the organization. When the Full Working Committee of the Indonesian Council of Churches [Dewan Gereja-Gereja Indonesia] met in August, 1984, they made two statements which were contradictory. First, they gave their agreement that every social organization must accept Pancasila as their sole principle in the Indonesian society. At the same time, they said that 1 Corinthians 3:11 proclaimed that Jesus Christ was the sole foundation of the Church. The Council of Churches was on the horns of a dilemma which consumed their energies for most of the next five years.

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Most of the Church in Indonesia Capitulates
The Indonesian Council of Churches began the capitulation by changing their name to the Fellowship of Indonesian Churches [Persekutuan Gereja-Gereja di Indonesia] which somehow in their thinking allowed them to be both a social organization as well as a church body. Thus, they were able to say both what the regime wanted to hear as well as what the Church believed as her historic creed. The Council of Bishops for the Roman Catholic Church [Majelis Agung Wali Gereja Indonesia (MAWI)] appealed to the government to not include churches and certain religious groups as social organizations "but as internal Church concerns" (Lembaga Agama..., 3 Sept.1984). They went on to point out that if the Church was considered a social organization, it could be dissolved or frozen.
["Maka organisasi keagamaan bisa dibubarkan atau dibekukan", Ibid]

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The Social Organization Law
In 1985, the government passed the bill requiring all social organizations to adhere to Pancasila as their sole principle (Undang-Undang No. 8 Tahun 1985 Tentang Organisasi Kemasyarakatan). In their final formula decreed in 1987, the Fellowship of Indonesian Churches cited Jesus as the foundation [dasar] and Pancasila as the sole principle [asas] of the Church. In fact, the words "foundation" [dasar] and "principle" [asas] are synonyms. But, for the purpose of enhancing the Pancasila philosophy, the Church pretended they were different. The Council of Pentecostal Churches [Dewan Pantekosta Indonesia] and Indonesian Fellowship of Evangelicals [Persekutuan Injili Indonesia] also acceded to this confession. But even more damaging to the theology of the Church, these associations of churches influenced more than 230 church denominations to also accept this formulation as the basis of their existence in Indonesia.

As Prof. Dr. J.E. Sahetapy later wrote, "There was no reason whatever to shame and degrade the Church through the Social Organization Law by making it a social organization similar to Muhammadyah or Nahdatul Ulama. By doing so, the authorities have trampled on Human Rights and have violated and ignored the first article of the Constitution of 1945"
["...tidak ada alasan apapun juga untuk mempermalukan Gereja dan mendegradasikan Gereja melalui Undang-Undang Keormasan (Undang-Undang Nomor 8 Tahun 1985) menjadi suatu organisasi sosial seperti Muhamadyah atau Nahdatul Ulama. Penguasa dengan demikian telah menginjak-injak HAM dan tidak menghormati serta melaksanakan alinea pertama dari Pembukaan Undang-Undang Dasar 1945." ] (5 Oct., 1993:3). to top

End of a Long Process
In his dissertation on religious tolerance in Indonesia, Bonar Sidjabat explains the underlying reason which Sahetapy failed to note. He describes the debate on the meaning of Pancasila between 1945 and 1959 when the Constituent Assembly voted to return to the Constitution of 1945. "This decree also marked a temporary break in philosophical and theological activities among the Indonesians ever since the "Pancasila" was promulgated. But at the same time, this seems to prove that the basic issue in the country without minimizing the political, cultural, and economic problems, has been the religious one" (Sidjabat, 1982:88-89). In 1985, the Soeharto Regime arbitrarily forced their interpretation of Pancasila on the Church to accept its will outside of constitutional channels. At the same time, it created a condition by which any organization could be disenfranchised if it was found to be doing anything considered opposed to the government's definition of Pancasila; such as criticism. This way Soeharto de facto took control of the Church in Indonesia.

This reminds one of 1939 when the churches in Japan received a command that they must attend the Shinto ceremony which represented the State Philosophy. Those who did not were punished severely with some being executed. In 1943, "all participants in Indonesian Church worship were forced to face Tokyo and bow to the emperor before their services in which the Japanese flag was displayed in the church sanctuary"
[...sebelum permulaan kebaktian semua hadirin menghadap ke Tokyo (tempat kediaman sang kaisar) dan membungkuk ke arah itu, di depan bendera Jepang yang harus digantung di dalam gedung gereja] (van den End, 1993:328). to top

Pancasila Becomes Meaningless
The first principle (sila) of Divine Omnipotence had been reinterpreted to make Pancasila a political tool which was perceived as part and parcel of the "Divine Omnipotence." The government had further tightened their control of the Indonesian Churches. In 1993, the Minister of Religion, H.Tarmizi Taher, smugly wrote that
"the relationship between religion and the Pancasila was clear. All social organizations not accepting religious faiths had to hold the Pancasila as their sole principle. Belief and theology was based on the religion, that is, their holy books"
[Kedudukan agama dan Pancasila telah jelas. Organisasi kemasyarakatan, tak terkecuali lembaga keagamaan satu-satunya asasnya adalah Pancasila. Sedangkan akidah dan teologi umatnya bersumber pada agama, yaitu kitab suci masing-masing.] (Sairin, 1994:115). to top

Fear Becomes the Norm of Social Life
During the latter part of the 1980's the character of Indonesian social, religious, and political life underwent enormous changes during which the evangelistic life of the Church was effectively stifled. Following the government's lead in sowing suspicion of Christians, Muslim propaganda promoted fear among its followers towards those of other religions. This, in turn, resulted in driving the religious faiths apart and created fear in all religious groups concerning Muslim intentions towards them.

This public propaganda was promulgated through a proliferation of mosques, mushollahs, and koranic recitation classes. Mosque loudspeakers increased in number and volume until no one was out of hearing of 2 or 3 mosques whereas other religious groups were seldom allowed to have outdoor public meetings or distribute literature or get permits to open radio stations or have more than an half hour a week on national television. to top

Christian Activity Continually Strangled
By 1985, the Christian missionaries were required to have work permits. This was a departure from a long history of exemption for religious workers in Indonesia. The government also followed the example of the Islamic state of Malaysia in restricting Christian missionaries to only 10 years in the country. When applied, this restriction turned out to be less than 10 years. By March 1986, the government said it would no longer process Christian missionary visas. Never the less, some visas continued to be granted. to top

Final Consequence
The results of the Soeharto Regime's campaign against the Christian community has been seen more clearly in recent years. The increasing attacks on churches is the outcome of years of spreading distrust and hatred between the Muslim and Christian communities. It is sad that the common people have also been affected by this so that in 1999 many ordinary Muslims no longer have the close personal contact with their Christian friends that they once had. On the contrary, they are injuring and even killing each other in many places in Indonesia. This is the legacy of the Soeharto/Habibi era. to top
© Roger Linward Dixon


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