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Easter threats against Christians reveal a grim trend in Indonesia
There has been a marked increase in the level of violence against Christians throughout Indonesia.
It's a trend revealed in the bold bombing attempt at Christ Cathedral Church. Bombs were found beneath a gas pipeline and in bags near the church entrance. Police reports indicate the suspects planned to detonate the explosives with a mobile phone on Good Friday, when the church would be at its fullest.
Todd Nettleton with VOM USA says animosity toward Christians has been at a high level over the last several years, but this is a new direction for the Muslim extremists. "These radical Islamic groups seem to be targeting churches and targeting Christians. It seems to be a little bit of a shift to targeting native Indonesians who are Christians as opposed to targeting foreigners."
Nineteen were arrested in connection with the foiled plot. It's the mindset that's more troubling, says Nettleton. "It does indicate that there is some organization and that there is some effort being made to create disharmony, to create the appearance that there's animosity towards the church."
Other recent attacks in February appeared to come from disgruntled Muslim neighbours over believers meeting in homes. There, too, is an effort to stir up trouble. VOM team members say that militants were trucked into one area from as far away as 80 miles, just to protest a church. The real culprits behind the disruption are hard to find, because their message can be presented without any local relevance. "They're able to recruit troublemakers to come in from out of the area when they need an angry mob to march and shout slogans. They're able to recruit people to join that mob."
Nettleton says they've also noted a corresponding development that could be real trouble in the near future. "One of the things we've seen over the last five years is a shift to of what I would call ‘government persecution.'"
While there is no official state religion, Islam seems to be gaining strength politically, often at the expense of religious minorities such as Christians. Christians say they are being marginalized in society and increasingly persecuted.
Many house churches have been closed. Government officials have been more recently citing legal code and infractions as they close churches. It's unsettling because there's no recourse. "It's one thing when there are criminals and lawbreakers who make trouble. It's another thing when it IS the law that's making trouble. That's what we've seen sort of a shift to. Again, it's not everywhere in Indonesia, but it has become more and more common in the stories that we're reporting persecution there."
However, Nettleton says, "The good news is that the gospel continues to spread. Even in the stories about the potential bomb attack over Easter, many of the comments from the Christians were ‘Church is where we want to be on Easter, and if there's a risk, there's a risk.'"
That attitude is encouraging. VOM has been reaching out to support the persecuted church in Indonesia for years, but in times when oppression is coming from more than one direction, Nettleton says, "That spirit says the future of the church is bright and strong. There is need for prayer though, and there's need for prayer for protection for the Christians. There's also need for prayer for the Muslims, particularly I think for government officials."