This is the only brief paper by which I would like to share about general perspective on Christianity in Indonesia since the Proclamation of Independence of Indonesia on August 17, 1945 up to now. In my view, the contemporary struggle of Indonesian Christianity has been started from the historical point when people choose for seizing their freedom from colonization and committed to achieve political consensus establishing new nation-state on the basis of democracy principle namely Indonesia. Indonesia is a new phenomenon for it never existed before August 17, 1945. Since the beginning the founding fathers had committed to built up fundamental consciousness about multiculturalism nature of this new nation-state so that consciously they took name ‘Indonesia’; neither ‘Republic of Java’ though Javanese is the biggest ethnic group until today nor ‘Islamic state’ though Muslim is the majority religious group.
The historical consciousness that Christianity has been existed and evolves in Indonesia might be seen as product of (West) European culture which was introduced by various Christian mission organizations during colonial period should be considered as integral part of ideological project of becoming Indonesia. It means that Christians and Christianity have constructive contribution to build up the idea and praxis of becoming Indonesia altogether with other social groups. On the basis of Proclamation of Independence 1945 and Constitution 1945, the principle of Indonesian democracy is not based on simple meaning of ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ or ‘distribution of power’ but primarily on socio-historical understanding that ‘we’ have common ground to be one independent nation while realizing the variety of socio-cultural and religious backgrounds.
It is the crucial point where I tend to see Christians and Christianity in Indonesia as part of national endeavor to encourage democratization, social justice and living together with differences. Interreligious problem between Christianity and other existing world religions in Indonesia is mostly determined by perspective and attitude how to be ‘Indonesia’ and ‘Christian’ at the same time within the biggest Muslim society in the world.
Christianity in every colonial territory of Dutch East Indies (pre-Indonesia era) developed in many different ways in accordance with local contexts and colonial political interests. In many colonial reports, however, the progress of Christianity in certain local context was facing specific Islamized communities as well as colonial policies restraining Christian missions to prevent religious-based clashes with local Muslim communities. On the other side, in many expressions, Indonesian Christianity strongly demonstrates hybrid character between preserving Western-adopted Christian traditions and propensity for contextualizing Christian messages while expecting Christianity able to absorb dynamic of social changes and its theological notions are relevant to the struggle of contemporary Indonesian society.
Christianity and Indonesianess
Early Periods of Independence: Search for Indonesianess Identity
The starting historical point that brought Christianity – both as product of Western Christian mission and contextualization of Christian teachings – vis-à-vis reality of social and religious pluralism in nation-state of Indonesia was the Assembly of Preparatory Committee for the Independent Indonesia (BPUPKI/PPKI) in 1945. Some prominent representatives of many regions gathered to discuss ideological foundation of new nation-state of Indonesia and determined Indonesia nationalism orientation that consist of different ethnics, religions, languages and cultures. Sukarno introduced the concept of Pancasila as modus vivendi (third way) or ideological outcome syncretizing three ideological standpoints, i.e. Nationalism – Islamism – Socialism, or well-known in abbreviation ‘nasakom’.
Although there were propensities from some representatives who proposed Islam as national foundation of Indonesia – regarding the majority of Muslim population – but the discussion eventually reached political consensus that, considering reality of pluralism in Indonesia, Islam could not be a single state ideology. In other words, it was determined politically that Indonesia is neither a religious-based state nor Islamic state. Johannes Latuharhary and I Gusti Ktut Pudja, two representatives of Christian and Hinduism, in the assembly raised critical considerations against the proposal of Islam as state ideology of Indonesia. In that context, negotiating process of non-Islam representatives (Christian, Hinduism, and Buddhism) and nationalists eventually succeeded to achieve political consensus for taking secular foundation of Republic of Indonesia. Since the beginning Indonesia as new geopolitical entity is not established on the basis of majority-minority principle but harmonious unification of various socio-cultural and religious dimensions which is its primary national character.
Orde Baru (New Order): Dialectic of Church and State
Interrelationship of Christianity (church) and state during New Order had up-and-down experiences. In the early New Order administration, Suharto, the second president of Indonesia, provided sufficient political space for Christian’s participations and roles within military and civil bureaucracy of national government. It was mainly generated by historical trauma that since previous government of Sukarno there was many contra-productive ideological disputes as well as massive Islamic groups whose ideological propensity to force Islam as national ideology. New Order regime considered such reality as serious threat for national stability and national development which are the foundation of economic growth as political jargon of the regime.
In such political openness and great opportunity to involve within civil bureaucracy of the regime, Christian has demonstrated permissive political attitude deal with national regulations and development program. In order to strengthening reason for Christian alignment in New Order’s politics of developmentalism, some Indonesian-Christian thinkers proposed ideas of contextual theologies for legitimating Christian participation in national development.
General (Army) Tahi Bonar Simatupang was one good example. He was Suharto’s right-hand person during early phases of New Order as well as a devout Christian who belongs to the biggest Lutheran church in North Sumatera and Indonesia as well. During his military duty and after his retirement from military office he was one influential Christian lay-theologian who develops idea ‘national development as an implementation of Pancasila’ as theological principle of Indonesian churches during New Order. His political theological reflections about Christian participations and roles at national level of Suharto’s administration brought about the great impact on theological paradigm of Indonesian churches. It was possible because Simatupang enacted as theological advisor of Communion of Churches in Indonesia (Persekutuan Gereja-gereja di Indonesia – PGI) along with Dr Johannes Leimena as the initiator of Indonesian Christian Student Movement (Gerakan Mahasiswa Kristen Indonesia – GMKI) and PGI. They are both well-known as prominent lay-theologians whose concern on church-state issue and Christian participation in contemporary Indonesia.
At certain extent, the rejection by some Muslim representatives toward Pancasila as the single state political principle of Indonesia – as it was imposed by New Order regime – then become theological milestone of Christian exponents to construct sort of Indonesian political theology. Theological conversations about Christian participation in national development and Pancasila as the single national ideology were mostly Christian theological discourse during the New Order since Christianity subsequently achieved dominant political role at that time. It explained the reason Christian’s unwillingness to criticized structural injustice and violence by the state. On the other hand, several Muslim groups felt being marginalized and systematically eliminated from civil bureaucracy of national government, and organizing movements to block Christian mission on the grass-roots level of societal life.
Nevertheless, New Order and Christianity ‘honeymoon’ declined incrementally during the last decades of Suharto’s presidency. Monetary crisis since 1997 generated multidimensional crises in the last period of thirty-two his authoritarianism administration. Thus, he thought of political strategy embracing Islamic groups to defend his power, business, families and cronies. The pendulum of power swung into another side by which Islamic groups had great opportunity to hold key positions in government and gradually restrained Christians in civil/military bureaucracies.
Sociologically speaking, Protestantism in Indonesia generally divided into two different mainstreams: ecumenical and evangelical. The former is dominated by churches or denominations which inherited the Dutch Reformed Church traditions and maintaining certain forms of nineteenth century European-style Christianity. Based on their long historical trajectory since colonial periods until today they have at least decisively political perspective and attitude in dealing with church-state issues as written in church documents as well as theological considerations vis-à-vis sociopolitical context of Indonesia. Mostly these ecumenical churches are members of PGI and promoting ecumenical movement of Indonesian churches.
The latter, on the other hand, has more apolitical viewpoints and ethics in regard to sociopolitical and cultural issues. They have strong emphasis on and preoccupation with transcendence spirituality and individual piety. At the grass-roots level, evangelization and/or proselytization by some evangelical churches had often clashed with other religious groups, particularly Islam. This provoked resistances from Muslim communities in some places of Indonesia and situating Christian as scapegoat of intolerance and violent acts.
Christianity and Democratization in Indonesia
After Suharto was toppled down by massive national student movement in 1998, democratization process in Indonesia has gained its crucial momentum. There were reform movements which, then, systematically reconstructed political principle and practice – for instance, amendment of the Constitution 1945 – in order to reinforce democracy. During his administration Suharto implemented quasi-democracy political system where the state was powerful in controlling political dynamic from local to national levels. The regime applied security approach to restrict public freedom for criticizing and evaluating performance and responsibility of the government for the people. Only the government (state) whose absolute authority to convey its single interpretation about what is right or wrong; ‘right’ meant in accordance with government policies and ‘wrong’ meant opposing or disagreement or showing differences than the government’s will.
The ‘reformation’ brought Indonesian people into tiresome transitional periods and social turbulences. Common phenomena which marked ‘reformation’ transitional democracy are the escalated tendencies to promote primordial identities based on religion and ethnicity that were taboo in the previous regime (New Order). Violent acts and riots occurred in some places by previously peaceful and tolerant communities. Cases in Aceh (North Sumatera), Sampit (Central Kalimantan), several villages in Java, Maluku and Papua obviously demonstrated massive intergroup violence at horizontal level and also at vertical level between society versus state (police and military). In all the regions religion and ethnicity are becoming hot issues that provoke monstrous social conflict. It seems to me that the state has been undergone political dysfunction vis-à-vis democratization euphoria in post-New Order time.
Christianity itself is experiencing disorientation on its sociopolitical perspectives and ethics. Openness seems to be the reason for the state to let the acts of violence against objects and people on the basis of its religious differences. On the one hand, Christianity today is dealing with the stiffening of religious fundamentalism (Christianity and Islam) that often leads to violence against otherness. While on the other hand, the Christians are not getting fair treatment and experiencing that their human rights as citizen is not protected by the state, notably in interreligious relations. Some of the printed and electronic media released news about intolerance cases and intimidation by certain religious-labeled groups against other religious communities. Interestingly, most of such news also reported that acts of violence and intimidation are not prevented by the police, even tend to be left. It brings about vacuum of power on state’s role ensuring security and justice for all citizens whose different religious, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Post-1998 Indonesian democratization is becoming new path of political movements that in some cases destruct the character of democracy fought by Indonesian people in accordance with the mandate of Proclamation of Independence, Pancasila and the Constitution 1945.
Christianity in Indonesia is not a single or monolithic reality. Christianity and churches are cultivated by various mission institutions and subsequently growing in various cultural contexts with different progresses. Efforts to contextualize Christian tenets and praxis through service programs by churches manifest in concrete service works on many fields. The reality of local and national politics has been also considered as one determinant aspect that affect dynamic of interdenomination relationship in plural Indonesian Christianity as well as relations of Christianity and other religions, especially Islam.
The elected president and vice president of Indonesia, Joko Widodo and Jusuf Kalla, are now facing challenging situation particularly in terms of interreligious anxiety as result of state’s dysfunctional roles. However, they are also bringing promises for the better future in managing Indonesian plurality and strengthening state’s roles and responsibilities proportionally. Nevertheless, non-Islam communities still in turmoil whether the new government of Joko Widodo and Jusuf Kalla is able to overcome politics of identity (religion and ethnicity) that for years dominating sociopolitical discourses and practices and at the same time decaying state’s authority.
Looking at recently Christian perspectives as PGI did, I tend to see that the PGI, as an ecumenical mainstream representation, has obviously put its hope on the shoulders of new government of Joko Widodo and Jusuf Kalla. Enormous expectations are up in the air that their leadership able to carry out the mandate of Pancasila democracy as it has been agreed by the founding fathers since sixty-nine years ago. Indonesian churches of PGI are struggling to reformulate their new political perspective and attitude in line with social, economic and cultural changes as well as responding issues of corruption, good governance, social justice and environment devastation in contemporary Indonesian society. It is obvious, however, that Christianity in Indonesia still has efforts rooting itself into cultural soil of Indonesia through process of contextualizing theologies with much more considering Indonesian plurality as theological resources in order to establish its role and responsibility.
Yogyakarta, August 27, 2014