Massive Mob in Indonesia Protests Christmas Eve Service

Jakarta, Indonesia - More than 1,000 people protested the Christmas Eve service of a church meeting in a makeshift facility in Bekasi, West Java.

Christians of the Filadelfia Huria Kristen Batak Protestan Church (HKBP) fearfully held their service, including the Lord’s Supper, in spite of the disturbance.

With the Dec. 24 service scheduled to start at 9 p.m., the mob had already gathered at 6 p.m., shouting demands that it not take place and that the church be disbanded because it did not have permits. The church erected a tent and a semi-permanent structure for the service.

The church does not yet have a permanent building, though the congregation has been trying to obtain permission for one for years, church leaders said. The protestors claimed that the Christmas service could not be held at the site because a church building permit had not been issued.

Hundreds of police and soldiers were on hand to guard the 200 worshippers against the protestors. The service continued until the end, with police accompanying worshippers as they left. Other police and soldiers guarded the property after the mob had dispersed.

The Rev. Palti Panjaitan said that the crowd blocked the street in front of the site in an area of up to 200 meters.

“They blocked vehicles and people trying to get to the church,” the pastor said. “However, after negotiations, our congregation was able to pass, and the service was held on time.”

Bekasi Police Chief Herri Wibowo said that the church had not obtained citizens’ approval or recommendations from either the local government or the Bekasi office of the Department of Religion.

“The mob in the street rejects the building of a church and holding of worship services because permits have not been granted,” Herri said.

The church lot is located in the Ninth ward of Jejalan village in Bekasi district. A captain of the Ninth ward who goes by the single name of Bongkon said that the church permit application has been in process for at least two years.

“Some of the citizens have signed the letter agreeing to the church, but some have not agreed,” said Bongkon. “The church claims that they have permission and will only use the place temporarily.”

Church elder Tigor Tampubolon said that the church purchased the land with the intention of constructing a worship building from the beginning. He said the seller of the land and the village leader agreed to construction of a church building, but that sub-district level officials have created delays.

Thus far Filadelfia HKBP Church has held services in the tent. Tampubolon said he hopes that local residents will not bother the congregation’s future worship.

“Every citizen has the right to worship in his own way,” he said. “There is no need to request permission from the block or ward captains, or from the government.”

Pastor Panjaitan said that the church has submitted all the necessary papers for a construction permit for a permanent building, but that formal permission has not yet been issued.

“The church building will go up as soon as the permit is issued,” he told Compass.

On Dec. 27 another demonstration took place during Sunday worship, with a mob gathering and demanding that services cease. This crowd, however, was not as big as the one that tried to stop the Christmas Eve service.

The Filadelfia congregation has been active since 2000, with services initially held in the pastor’s home. In 2006, a mob of 300 people swarmed the pastor’s home during a Sunday morning service. Claiming to be neighbors, they pressured the pastor to sign a document promising not to hold religious meetings at his home.

Since then, services have been held in the homes of various church members on a rotating basis.

In 2008 there was another threat to close the church. The captain from the Fourth block of the 10th ward sent the church a letter and personally visited the pastor with a community request to stop worship services.