Wedding disrupted, worship banned at site in Indonesia

By Morning Star News |
Ampel Mosque in Surabaya, Indonesia.
Ampel Mosque in Surabaya, Indonesia. | (Consigliere Ivan, Creative Commons)

Local officials in Indonesia on Sunday (June 30) stopped a wedding ceremony and banned the church from further worship meetings at the site, sources said.

In Mergosari, Tarik District, Sidoarjo Regency of Java island, village head Eko Budi Santoso halted the wedding at the Pentecostal Church in Indonesia (Gereja Pentekosta di Indonesia, or GPdI) site and banned them from meeting, claiming the congregation lacked a building permit and that area residents opposed their church, local media reported.

Area residents in the Muslim-majority country reportedly said they were not opposed to the presence of the church worshipping at the “House of Prayer,” a structure that does not have the function and markings of a church building.

Declining to allow the congregation to finish the wedding and worship, Eko and five state officials took Pastor Yoab Setiawan to a roadside stall to tell him they were responding to public complaints about the existence of the prayer house and the lack of permit, according to media outlet radarsidoarjo.jawapos.com.

A video by the Hagios Legal Aid Institute (Lembaga Bantuan Hukum, or LBH), shows Pastor Setiawan telling the officials that they might first ban the prostitution taking place in front of the village head office. The pastor’s wife, Lidya Laviyanti, adds, “We’re not causing any trouble, sir. We’re sorry, we ask for your understanding. We come from everywhere. We are a minority group. Our congregation is small in number. So please understand.”

Village head Eko, motioning to the head of the community association and the head of the neighborhood association, says all activities must have permission from the “neighborhood.”

Pastor Setiawan and his wife ask him what activities, and Eko responds, “All activities. Period,” and ends the discussion.

The House of Prayer is registered through a local government report certificate signed by the Christian Community Guidance Regional Office leader, Luki Krispriyanto, on Dec. 7, 2023, according to International Christian Concern (ICC), which said Eko admitted he was not aware of the certificate.  

At a meeting with the parties in conflict at the office of the village head in Mergosari village, 10 miles from Surabaya, on Monday (July 1), the acting regent of Sidoarjo, identified only as Subandi, supported the ban at the site but said congregation members could worship at home, according to Celah.id.

Officials at the meeting concluded that the church must obtain a building permit, which they said they would expedite. They gave a deadline of one month to complete the permit.

“While waiting for permission to be completed, you can worship at home,” Subandi said on Tuesday (July 2), according to celah.id. “It doesn’t mean that you are not allowed to worship.”

Asserting that residents welcomed construction of a place of worship and upheld tolerance among religious communities, Subandi suggested the parties build good communication among themselves.

An area resident said that they were not disturbed by the congregation’s worship activities, according to detik.com. Even when hundreds of people attended, the residents welcomed them, said the resident, identified as 53-year-old Mulyati. Another resident, 25-year-old Agus Febro, said that residents, especially young people, never felt unrest due to the prayer house’s Sunday activities.

Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy chairman of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, a human rights organization, said the case was “a clear sign of state subordination to the will of the intolerant groups.”

“Local political constellations and electoral interests, in gaining support from the masses, make public officials choose sides and accommodate the demands of intolerant groups,” Bonar told Morning Star News. “They intentionally ignore it, even though it is considered to violate the constitution.”

Indonesia ranked 42nd on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. Indonesian society has adopted a more conservative Islamic character, and churches involved in evangelistic outreach are at risk of being targeted by Islamic extremist groups, according to the WWL report.

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