Indonesian Christians appeal for unity to fight extremism

Week of Prayer of Christian Unity concludes with rallying cry to put aside interdenominational rivalries
Indonesian Christians appeal for unity to fight extremism

Pastors of various Christian denominations attend an ecumenical service at Christ the King Church in Semarang, Central Java, during the Week of Prayer of Christian Unity. (Photo by Elwin D Djanto)

Catholics and Protestants need to unite if Christians are to resist a rise in intolerance and radicalism in Indonesia, church leaders have said.

Growing incidents of hate speech and opposition to the building of places of worship by Muslim hardliners as well as the blasphemy case against Jakarta's Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama have alarmed minority groups, including Christians.

Many believe the governor, popularly known as Ahok, is being targeted by hardliners because they don't want a Christian running the Muslim majority nation's capital.

To fight intolerance Catholics and Protestants must heal wounds caused by the split in Christianity hundreds of years ago, which is still affecting Christian ties worldwide, including Indonesia, according to Reverend Markus Priyono of the Bethel Tabernacle. 

"Reconciliation is needed to heal these wounds," he told more than 700 Christians at a gathering organized by Semarang Catholic Archdiocese and the Union of Christian Churches to mark the Week of Prayer of Christian Unity, which ended on Jan. 25.

The Protestant pastor encouraged Christians to build mutual trust and respect for each other's uniqueness.

Echoing his views, Father Aloysius Budi Purnomo, head of Semarang Archdiocese's Interfaith Commission, said reconciliation among Christians is necessary before reaching out to people of other religions, as it will make a bigger impact.

"The ultimate goal is to strengthen ties [with Muslims]," he said.

Reverend Sediyoko of the Java Christian Church played down fears of Muslim radicalism.

He said if Christians unite they will be able to see that radicalism is not a threat to Christianity, but is God's instrument to strengthen bonds among Christians.

"Radicalism can be a medium of introspection for Christians," he said which we should counter not with violence but with love.

Christians comprise 6.3 percent or about 23 million of Indonesia's population of 238 million, according to a 2010 census, of which Protestants number 16.5 million and Catholics 6.9 million.

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