About 9% of Indonesia’s population is Christian, making it the country’s second biggest religion after Islam (86%). In the capital Jakarta, 12% of the population is Christian.
Pastor Gilbert Lumoindong is a livewire preacher of mixed Indonesian and European ancestry. He developed a brain tumour when he was 10 years old but says he was cured after a Dutch pastor prayed for him. He studied, became a TV preacher and started the Glow Fellowship, a network of churches with links in Singapore and New York, in 2007. He says some Muslims use conflict between the West and Muslims in other countries as an excuse to attack Indonesian Christians. His office is in Thamrin City, a huge mall mostly selling Islamic clothing.
I came across him because one of my former students from Manado, a Christian, is now living in Jakarta and invited me to attend an Easter service with him and his family. It was extremely lively, with a brilliant live band and, judging by the laughter, quite a few jokes too – see video above. A far cry from the (very few) church services I’ve attended in the UK.
1) What is the relationship between Muslims and Christians in Indonesia?
Any problem between the US and the Islamic world and the blame gets pointed at Christians. If the US does stuff to Afghanistan, Christians are attacked here. Muslims will make a demo in the street attacking our churches. They don’t care about the UK/US. They burn churches sometimes. They throw firebombs. They bring so many people. I called the Palestinian embassy to complain. I said please tell these people that everything Israel/US/UK does is not on our behalf. Every time we see the news about US/UK on TV we know what comes next.
For living and business, things are ok. There are problems sometimes in the army and politics, where only certain people can get to the top. It’s not meritocratic. Christians working for the government have the same problem. In Indonesia your religion is marked on your ID card. If you are the best in your field then you will have work, if not, then no.
2) How hard is it to build churches to worship in in Indonesia?
This is one of our biggest problems. It’s so hard to build a church but it’s easy for us to find public spaces to rent once we have the permit to worship. We take theatres, malls, restaurants and we make churches of them.
Muslims talk to the government to try to get them to close down churches. There’s a law here that if neighbours don’t like a local house of worship then it has to be closed down. Churches are being closed down all over Jakarta. There are 600 churches in Jakarta, big and small. To get permission to build we need signatures from non-Christian local residents and their ID cards. Hundreds will come to organise against it. We are still waiting for our permit here for three years already. But many of the mosques in Jakarta have permits. We asked about the moshallas. The authorities say there’s no riot taking place so everyone must be in agreement with their construction.
3) What challenge does radical Islam pose to Indonesia?
Less than 5% of Muslims want sharia government. Fundamentalist Muslims are strong even though they are few. The politicians use fundamentalist Muslims. When [former Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri] was in charge, the politicians asked how a Muslim country could be run by a woman? The politicians use these people because they aren’t smart enough on their own. This is the problem for our country. If religion is driven by politics things will get much worse.
4) What is your approach to Christianity?
We have to be fundamentalist Christians in our church and moderate outside it by working together with Muslims and so on. I don’t think the one attacking another belief has the strong belief in his own faith.
What I preach is something real. It’s not in the air. It’s down to earth. It’s a very simple sermon. We are talking about now and what we need today. We put in jokes. We want a joyful church. Everytime we gather we must laugh and smile. Some churches put that after the service, we say it must start in the church. The European church is too serious. They talk too much about 2000 years ago. It’s in the air. The church needs today. Bring back the smile, excitement, music. Don’t bring this Sebastian Bach from so long ago. Entertainment. Westerners think in the abstract. Thy bring the 6th century style to this 21st century life. Modern people think time is money. If they are interested, if they find it stress-relieving and they will be there. We do a lot in English because people think English is modern.
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