Indonesia: A Nation Out of Control?

Indonesia's Christian minority faces beatings, burnings, and death.

Ten weeks ago, Christmas Day passed peacefully across Indonesia. The holiday respite was welcome relief for the Christian minority populace in this Southeast Asian country of 200 million.

In Surabaya, the country's second-largest city and site of a fiery anti-Christian riot last June, Maranatha Church, a multiethnic congregation, celebrated a low-key but entirely public Christmas service.

The congregation sang "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing," "O Come, All Ye Faithful," "Joy to the World," and "Go, Tell It on the Mountain" in Bahasa Indonesian, the national language. Worshipers listened to a sermon, and an offering was collected. Then everyone wished everyone else a Merry Christmas and filed out into the parking lot under the blazing late-morning tropical sun.

Yet, 24 hours later, as though on cue, another disturbing incident in a disturbing year happened to Indonesian Christians, who live within a country with the largest Muslim concentration.

In Tasikmalaya, a city of 250,000 in West Java about 120 miles southeast of the capital, Jakarta, Muslim rioters destroyed four churches, more than 80 shops and department stores, 12 police stations, six banks, four factories, four schools, and three hotels. The rioters, estimated to have numbered more than 10,000, scrawled obscenities and slogans such as "No to Jesus," "No to the Jews," and "Police are super-corrupt" on walls and left at least three dead in their wake.

A DIVIDED SOCIETY: "Tasikmalaya is divided now," a Muslim scholar later told the Bangkok-based newspaper The Nation. "It will take a long time to heal the wounds."

For the 42,000 Protestant and Roman Catholic churches in Indonesia, last year was by all accounts a trial by fire. While North American Christians were mobilized ...

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Indonesia: A Nation Out of Control?
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March 3, 1997

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