Churches are burning again in Indonesia as militant Muslim mobs vent their rage against Christians. But this time mosques have also been set ablaze as Christian extremists retaliated in the nation with the world's largest number of Muslims. Muslim rioters set fire to seven churches and looted 15 others in central Jakarta on November 22.
Six days later, Christians wrecked 15 mosques in Kupang, West Timor. Religious leaders acted swiftly for fear interreligious strife could escalate to civil-war proportions.
"We must not let fanatics and thugs—using religion for their own chaotic purposes—ruin our country," says a Kupang pastor. Catholic bishops issued apologies, and Protestant evangelical leaders urged Christians to pray and fast throughout December to avert a further crisis.
Sularso Sopater, general chair of the Indonesian Communion of Churches, warns, "Indonesia's future depends on enough people upholding the principle of religious toleration; if we cannot, we will Balkanize like Bosnia and our nation will be destroyed."
The latest round of violence began November 22 with a gang fight between ethnic Ambonese, who are primarily Catholic, and Muslims in Ketapang, Jakarta. Fourteen people died in the violence. Arsonists then razed two churches, the Church of Christ and the Bread of Life Church.
During a day of mourning by Christians in Kupang, West Timor, where Christians are the majority, rival gangs began fighting November 30, resulting in damage to 15 mosques.
The spate of church burnings began two years ago (CT, March 3, 1997, p. 50).1