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Friday, August 13, 2010

Church and the Struggle for Common Justice: Reflection of the Protestant Church in Maluku


First of all, I would like to grateful for the opportunity to involve in GIT’s intensive course during two weeks in Chicago. Coming from all over the world we are gathering to share our stories, struggles, faith, and spirituality in ecumenical sphere. Personally I very realize that this is not merely an intensive course but a real intensive encounter.

This paper is a final paper for the core course which is divided into three themes: “Creation” by Prof. Dr. Anna Case-Winter from McCormick Theological Seminary, “Civil Society” by Dr. Douwe Visser from WARC, and “Church” by Dr. Benebo Fubara-Manuel from Presbyterian Church in Nigeria. Basically these themes are integrated. It could be distinguished but could not be separated to one another. There is fundamental connection between these three.

In this paper I would like to describe briefly my analysis and theological reflection about struggle to pursue common justice in Indonesia context generally and in Maluku context specifically. I am going to focus on “civil society” as my main theme but I think as well that the focus cannot be isolated from two other themes. My theological concern is on church within context. However, theological exploration is useless without considering its context: social, cultural, political, economic, and so on. Church can only be understood in its context.

What I mean as theological exploration is a basic understanding to make correlation creatively as well as critically between the Christian tradition which I belong to and the dynamic of context which people express deeply their suffering and hope, happiness and sadness, history and future, daily economic life and struggle for welfare, vision and crisis, etc. I am a part of my people, my community, and my society. Their stories are my story as well. As a people of God who live in Maluku we are not only living together but we are sharing our life and work, our faith and hope, which are deeply rooted in our common historical and cultural realm as Maluku people.

In that way this paper would not be such an academic paper which trying to elaborate theological grand narrative but willing to listen people’s story and their faith as Christian who live in local context of Maluku that at the same time touching and influencing by global impact of globalization in economy and politic. I will take account church specifically on my church, that is, the Protestant Church in Maluku (GPM) and the social-cultural context of GPM is Maluku, a province of Republic of Indonesia.

Struggle for Common Justice in Indonesia Context

Indonesia is an archipelago country in Asia. It consists of thousands islands spread from north to south-east and has diversity of ethnic groups with approximately 300 vernaculars. Through its long history since periods of monarchy or kingdom such as Majapahit, Mataram, and Sriwijaya, to the period of colonization by Portuguese, Britain, and Dutch, and then modern period of independence the concept of “Indonesia” gradually had been forming. “Indonesia” is established as a new nation-state since its Proclamation of Independence on August 17, 1945.

The history of modern Indonesia is very complicated one. I have no intention here to describe completely in chronological way about that history. What I would like to do, however, is to pay attention specifically on particular stages of the history through criterions namely [1] the birth of new nation-state of Indonesia; [2] political upheaval during the revolution of Indonesia; [3] developmentalism as new ideology under New Order of Soeharto’s regime; [4] awakening of Islam as political ideology and way of life.

[1] The birth of new nation-state of Indonesia

Indonesia is not monoethnic and monoculture country. Through its history the concept “Indonesia” waving up and down in interpretative line in order to form the unique identity among other nations. Formally, it could be said that before August 17, 1945 there was no “Indonesia” – there was only so-called Nusantara (archipelago). Some great kingdoms such as Majapahit and Mataram attempted to unify Nusantara into one region under their administration but failed. The influence of Hindu and Islam had been rooting for generations around Nusantara by which some parts later being Indonesia’s geo-politic. It is obviously true that then one can regard Indonesia’s culture might be contained by plenty elements of Hinduism and Islam.

However, the concept “Indonesia” then is very determined by its encounter with Western civilization through spice trading of Portuguese and prominently by Dutch. The concept of Indonesia as geo-politic entity was forming during the period of VOC (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie – Dutch East India Company) 1610-1619 and Dutch East Indie (Nederlands-Indië) during 19th century. VOC established new economic system and constructed social structure of Maluku society for the sake of their economic advantages. Some significantly social changes taken place at the period of VOC through monopoly economic system of spices and crops. VOC implemented “structural adjustment” – like cultuurstelsel – in order to protect their benefit in global market at that time.

Then after the VOC’s period, Dutch government defined new concept of geo-politic which later became Dutch’s legacy deal with the establishment identity of modern Indonesia. The most important in this period was the emergence of sense of nationalism as one nation. During this period some profoundly figures endeavored to reconstruct national identity based on plurality of social-cultural backdrop. Revolutionary ideas and democracy notions expounded by indigenous scholars whose Western educational background formed national identity and triggered sense of nationalism. On August 17, 1945, Indonesia existed as a new independent nation-state.

[2] Political Upheaval during the revolution of Indonesia

The periods after Proclamation of Independence were well-known as revolutionary periods. “Revolution” due to many political disputes that focused on nation-building and common ideology as a basis for the new nation-state. Soekarno, the first president of Indonesia, introduced Pancasila (Five Principles) as Indonesia’s common ideology. According to Soekarno, Pancasila basically was excavated from indigenous cultural soil of Nusantara. He claimed that Pancasila is truly the unity spirit of new born Indonesia albeit he actually attempted to merge main elements of Marxism-Islam-Democracy/Nationalism, which he used it as Nasakom (Nasionalisme-Agama-Komunisme / Nationalism-Religion-Communism).

On the other side, however, Pancasila was accepted as a strange idea for those who believe that this new nation-state must be founded on Islamic law or syariah. They opposed it and argued that as a largest Muslim population country Islamic law should be a fundamental spirit for the people. The defender of Islamic law then was opposed by some Balinese who adherent of Hindu and Christian representatives from eastern part Indonesia, such as Minahasa (North Sulawesi), and Ambon (Maluku). The later groups denied Jakarta Charter (Piagam Jakarta) which was proposed by Muslim groups contained requirement to conducted syariah for all people. They questioned what Indonesia should be: secular state based on positive legal system or Islamic state based on syariah?

Overcame the ideological disputes, after long debates, then most representatives in parliament, of course very influenced by Soekarno’s ideas and ambitions, took a modus vivendi, that is, they had consensus to accepted Pancasila as common ideology of Indonesia. They eventually came to understanding that Indonesia is not a single ethnic or religious society, but multiethnic, multicultural, and multireligious society. Pluralism is the characteristic of Indonesia since the beginning.

[3] Developmentalism as new ideological approach under New Order of Soeharto’s regime

In the last 1960s Soeharto was elected as the second President of Indonesia. As a person who trained in military sphere, Soeharto applied national security approach to made social-political stability in order to implemented development program he called as “our calling to provide welfare for all people of Indonesia”.

Conceptually he realized that Indonesia society is pluralistic society. But practically he forced the unity as national orientation even though what he had been shown during his administration was sort of uniformity in many fields of social life. And the center of all social-cultural expression was Javanese culture and way of thought. Soeharto reduced political parties into only three; infused military discipline and character into civil services; recognized only five official religions; used military treatment to face some regional rebellion; caught and exiled thousands former PKI’s members or those who suspected have link with PKI; forced transmigration program to spread Javanese families around many islands in order to rooted Javanese culture and marginalized other cultural ways of life, etc.[1]

The main orientation of Soeharto administration was economic growth. During his administration Indonesia became a “paradise of investment” of multinational corporations from all over the world, especially Europe and USA. Indonesia economic rate growth significantly as then Indonesia became one of “Asian Tiger” in South-East Asia. National development was therefore basic tenet of Soeharto’s regime which well-known as developmentalism. In Soeharto’s regime Pancasila was an important ideological instrument to establish social stability for the sake of economic growth. Differences or diversities were only recognized in term of national unity; and national unity according to Soeharto means uniformity way of life under the shadow of Javanese worldview and culture.

The consequence of developmentalism obviously was uncontrolled multinational corporations invested their capitals in Indonesia. For example, the government produced soft regulations for such multinational corporations to explore natural resources (forest, mine, oil, sea, etc.) unlimitedly, and set aside rights and dignity of indigenous people who live in the certain land and their life depends on those natural resources. The government does nothing to advocate the people dealing with the impact of uncontrolled multinational corporations which affect on deforestation, air pollution, water poisoned, environment degradation, marginalization of indigenous people on behalf of national development, etc.

[4] Awakening of Islam as Political Ideology and Way of Life

When in his administration Soeharto oppressed some radical religious (Islamic) movements, during periods post-Soeharto Islam has rebirth as an alternative thought and praxis against globalization and neo-liberalism economic system. Some Muslim leaders condemned that the reality of mass poverty and structural injustice in third world countries, especially Indonesia, is an impact of Western globalization and neo-liberalism. They considers that the globalization is merely Western ideological weapon to paralyze and to subjugate, and then to seize natural and human resources in third world countries for the sake of their vested interest as wealthy countries in Western hemisphere.

They therefore eagerly propose Islamic values as an alternative against Western civilization which is suspected base on Christian values and ethics. In economic field, they apply Syariah Bank; in law system, they infuse syariah into national law system; in political field, they introduce Islamic political concept; in educational field, they send many Islamic scholars to study abroad (Nederland, USA, Australia) to absorb Western logic thought combining to Islamic ideas in order to cope with contemporary issues; in religious affairs, they tend to emphasize Islam as majority so that must be gain more advantages instead of minority groups (based on the concept Madani Society, which somehow translated as “civil society”), and so on. Today they do not prefer to use “Islamic state” but they are projecting idea of “Islamic society”.

Their belief on Islam become stronger in fact of economic crises hit Western countries, especially USA. They have more doubt on “globalization” and “neo-liberalism” instead of they have got much advantage from globalization. But they take critical distance to globalization and constructing the paradigm of Islamic global civilization. Interconnectedness of Islamic movements all around the world has open huge possibilities to link Islamic ideas both radical and moderate.

Church and Civil Society: GPM’s case

As a part of Indonesia, Maluku society had been facing the impact of social-political changes for the last two decades. Here I would like to note some critical moments in Maluku:

1. National economic crisis since the end 1997. This crisis had the great impact for Maluku people. Many lost their job due to job-dissolution by local or national corporations. The price of goods and services increased extremely as well as high rate of unemployment. Mass poverty becomes a social reality in Maluku. Indeed they have richly natural resources but actually they have no capacity to produce, manage, and sale to gain money for daily life. In some cases, multinational corporations seized people’s lands and did not allowed them to enter the land for cultivating or producing food, even not for hunting animals.

2. Socio-religious conflict between Christian and Muslim erupted on early 1999 had radically been changing social-cultural-political construction in Maluku. It was one terrible moment for almost four years Christian-Muslim groups fought one to another. Many public facilities, including mosques, churches, schools, universities, even hospitals, were destructed by unknown armed mass groups. During these years (1999-2005) Maluku in general, especially Ambon is capital city of Maluku, completely immobilized. Thousands died and wounded, orphan children, moral degradation due to violence and desperate, etc.

3. Political system changes deal with multiparty system. Multiparty system is a consequence of democratization in Indonesia. In local context the system opens space for people compete politically to reach political position. There are cases that it is a triggering factor to blast social conflict at the grass-root level. Money politic becomes a new political habit of Indonesia’s democracy.

4. Local autonomy and sharing power. There are tensions between local authorities and national elite leaders deal with sharing power under local autonomy regulation. Distinctly clear that this political business then push them far away from their public responsibility as people’s representative in parliament and as ruler. Political orientation to bring welfare and justice for people’s life shift into money and power oriented.

5. Urbanization and job opportunities. These are common social reality in many third world countries. Unbalanced development program between city and village had been generating villagers move to urban areas for many reasons. Consequently, on one side, many villages only dwelled by aging people and children. All whose productive ages live out their villages for seeking jobs in city. On the other side, people who move to cities trap on cultural-shock. Few can survive but many feel despair and frustration.

The Protestant Church in Maluku (GPM) is one of largest Reformed church in Indonesia. It has a long history since colonization until modern Indonesia. As an institution, GPM realizes that its history and life cannot be separated from people’s history and life in Maluku islands. GPM birth and had been growing on the soil of Maluku islands. Its existence is reflecting the struggle of Maluku people both historically and sociologically. It does mean that GPM is an integral part with the society and context where it existing.

However, theologically GPM also realizes its calling to bring the Gospel as good news in all situations. That Gospel is not only understood narrowly as “the bible” but as the Spirit of God who flows into the biblical message and reflecting by human being in certain time and space. The Spirit of God who actualized God’s truth through the biblical stories which enlightening the disciple of Christ to get God’s wisdom and reading the signs of time. The Spirit of God within Gospel is guiding church to be God’s witness to proclaim the Kingdom of God as God’s work for liberating and strengthening church to enforce justice, peace, and integrity of creation in the world.

However, GPM is realized that its theological understanding cannot be the praxis without programmatic action dealing with the concrete situation. Faith to God must be applied concretely in the context. Five problems that faced by GPM recently must be taken seriously as a part of contextualize its faith. And over all GPM commits to involve within people’s life as sign of God’s Kingdom in the world. The theological concerns of GPM deal with five problems above lay on “equality in life” and “quality of life”.

“Equality in life” dealing with struggle for living in balance between human being and God; human being and his/her neighbor; human being and other creations (nature, animal, and all environment). Equality of life is a sign of God’s reign in creation since God created all as a good creatures for all. The concept is also referring to responsibility. In the story of creation God gave duty to human being, that is, to name all creatures and to manage them with their own characters. It means that all creatures have their role and responsibility to maintain equilibrium of life which interdependent. None has higher status than other. Even human being must recognize that his/her life is depending on other creatures, and without others human being is nothing. Therefore equality in life directing all creatures to perform their potential for doing justice and kindness for all as God’s calling to responsible one another.

Equality in life leads all creation into deep responsible toward reach highest quality of life based on interconnectedness of whole elements of creation. Interconnectedness is main sign of quality of life. Life is become complete and qualified because of interconnectedness, relation between all elements in creation. The universe lay on basic interrelationship. This is so-called quality of life. Jesus started his works with makes relation with twelve disciples. May be he could do his ministry by his self but he choose to do it in relation with other.

During his life and works Jesus preferred to position his self “in-relation” with others: with God who he called as Father, with his disciples who he called “brother and sister”. Until his death Jesus still “in-relation” with people who crucified along with him. Jesus has power to do miracle or supernatural action as healing, teaching, and transforming. He did miracles not for his honor but to increase the quality of life through empower people to find inner power in their bodies, their minds, and their perspective about life, also the meaning of social body in society.

This is a basic theological understanding which generates GPM to continuously contextualize Gospel’s message in concrete life of human being. Along its history GPM believe that God is calling it to enforce equality in life and empower people to gain quality of life. Equality and quality are in turn strengthening GPM to live in dynamic situation and social changes. That is the purpose of its mission as Christ’s disciple.

GPM selects “plurality and human rights” as the main theme for one period of its ministry 2005-2010. The context of socio-cultural plurality basically is an objective of its programs to empower people managing and transforming their everyday life as a qualified life before God and with other creations. Other religions, mainly Islam, are important partner to actualize church’s calling as the witness of Jesus Christ. In that point interfaith dialogue is a key to make interconnectedness of all creation become possible.

Human right is another important theme by which GPM takes account its calling to advocate people who marginalized and diminished within global system of life. Some critical problems in third world country such as mass poverty, human trafficking, child prostitution, street children, drugs, etc., are coming urgent problems faced by GPM. The main challenge is how GPM can understand and involve and also overcome the problems? Considering the complexity of those problems GPM realized that they could be overcame “in-relation” as Jesus did. Mutual interrelationship therefore is regarded as the main direction to cope with crucial situation today institutionally and sociologically.

Closing Remarks

Throughout this paper I actually would like to reflect my involvement in church’s ministry facing social-political-cultural-economic problems in Indonesia and Maluku. The theme of Uniting General Council 2010, that is, “Unity of the Spirit in the Bond of Peace” derived from Ephesians 4:3 which is try to crystallize long historical church tradition, differences theological reflection based on each own context, and challenges of globalization in twenty first century.

As a member of World Alliance of Reformed Churches, GPM involves in the struggle to implement the vision of that theme. The theme pervades its theology and action dealing with social-political-cultural-economic problems in Indonesia and Maluku. Facing the globalization and its impact all over the world, church cannot be stand alone without others in web of interrelationship. Church must take account the problem of globalization and postmodernism and hand in hand to solve human being’s problems as its impact.

Globalization offers us global problems that could be overcome by global networking of churches. As church, we are not only sharing our joy and sorrow, but our commitment to step further beyond our internal problem to the global problems that unifying human being as victim of that global system. Globalization is not Western countries’ problem but all society in the world. That is the reason globalization fundamentally deconstructed borderline between first- and third-world, and tied all “world” into common calling to cope with it.

“Unity of the Spirit in the bond of Peace” is God’s calling to shift our attention and theological understanding critically into the dialectic between text and context. And through the ages, church always in the journey to find, interpret, and get particular understanding of its correlation to God and its responsibility to human being as individual and communal. I hope by this short expound church in Maluku can be fulfilled God’s calling to perform equality in life and quality of life.

Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda

Grand Rapids, 20 June 2010

[1] Michael R.J. Vatikiotis, Indonesian Politics Under Soeharto: The Rise and Fall of the New Order (London: Routledge 1998), p. 93.

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One Earth, Many Faces

One Earth, Many Faces