Indonesian Protestants reach church compromise

Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church agrees to mosque next to their sealed-off building
Indonesian Protestants reach church compromise

Members of the Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church in Bogor, West Java, hold a Sunday service outside the presidential palace in Jakarta on Feb.5. (Photo by Konradus Epa)

Members of a Protestant church have reached a compromise with local authorities, which they hope will end an almost decade-long dispute that has seen devotees staging weekly services outside the presidential palace in Jakarta.

The Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church has accepted an offer by the mayor of Bogor in West Java to build a mosque inside the grounds of the church.

The church was sealed off nine years ago after local Muslims voiced opposition to its presence.

If the congregation wants to reopen their church, they should share a portion of the land and allow local authorities to build a mosque, next to the church, Bogor mayor, Bima Arya Sugiarto said.

If a mosque and church can stand side by side, there will be no resistance from Muslims, he said.

Church members welcomed the compromise.

"We are glad and support the initiative," a Yasmin congregation spokesman Bona Sigalingging told ucanews.com on Feb. 5.

Mayor Sugiarto's predecessor froze the Yasmin church's permit that allowed members to worship in the building in Feb. 2008 and sealed it off following opposition from Muslims.

Despite winning a legal battle in the Supreme Court, the Christians said the mayor refused to allow the church to reopen because of pressure from hard-line groups.

In protest the congregation began in 2012 organizing Sunday services outside the presidential palace in Jakarta, seeking the president's intervention.

Sugiarto promised he would reopen the church after coming to office in 2014 and presented the congregation with his compromise on Christmas Day last year.

"This is the best solution for us rather than relocation," he said, referring to previous offers to relocate the church.

Negotiations about how much land will be given over for the mosque has still to be settled.

"We support the Bogor mayor's plan so this case should be resolved soon," said Edward, 23, a member of the church, who only gave his first name.

Meanwhile, Reverend Sony Dandel, a local Yasmin clergyman, encouraged the congregation during the last Sunday service on Feb. 5 to continue fighting for their rights as Indonesian citizens.

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"We hope the problem for our church and also of other churches with similar problems will end soon," he said.

Other churches that have not obtained building permits include: St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Bogor and Filadelfia Batak Protestant Church in Bekasi, both in West Java.

Currently, Catholics celebrate masses in tents, while the Filadelfia community is barred from holding service at their church.

According to rights group Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, West Java province has the highest incidents of religious intolerance, with 41 cases last year due to discriminative bylaws and radical groups.

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