Churches in North Sumatra burnt Down


2 churches, pastor’s home burnt in N. Sumatra

Apriadi Gunawan ,  The Jakarta Post ,  Medan   |  Mon, 01/25/2010 9:53 AM  |  Headlines

Security was restored Sunday after two Protestant churches and a pastor’s house were set on fire
allegedly by a Muslim mob in Sibuhuan, Padang Lawas regency, North Sumatra.

This is reportedly the first time such attacks have happened in the history of North Sumatra, where significant Muslim and Christian communities live alongside each other.

Two unregistered churches  were burned down last Friday night by   about 1,000 people in Sibuhuan.
 The attack was the culmination of tensions between Muslims and Christians over the latter’s use of buildings not registered as churches.  

North Sumatra Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Baharuddin Djafar said Sunday the attack caused no fatalities, and hundreds of Christians fled.

However, two days after the arson attack, none of the attackers have been arrested by the police.

“We are still investigating the case. We have yet to be able to identify the perpetrators as the burning  of the HKBP and GPdI churches were carried out en masse,” Baharuddin told The Jakarta Post.

The leader of HKBP District I overseeing South Tapanuli and West Sumatra, pastor Marolop Sinaga, said at least 272 of his congregation at the HKBP Sibuhuan Resort Sion Nauli Ujungbatu Sosa fled their homes to avoid possible attacks.

He also expressed hope that the local authorities could restore peace and guarantee that his congregation would be able to worship securely and freely.

A police interim investigation, according to Baharuddin, revealed the burnings were incited by local residents angered that church managements failed to show  licenses to set up local churches since 1982.

The residents, he added, had repeatedly warned the managements not to go ahead with establishing the two churches in the middle of the majority Muslim communities.

Baharuddin said there been an agreement in 1992 between the locals and the church administrators, stating that the development of the churches would not be continued.

But the agreement was violated and the churches kept continuing activities and worship, he said.
“Last Friday the managements actually were asked to dismantle the buildings used as places of worship but this was not done, so the mob spontaneously burned the two churches,” Baharuddin said.

The case has been discussed by the Padang Lawas administration, local agencies and religious leaders.

“They agreed that all the financial losses caused by the attacks will be  covered and that neutral locations would be provided for Christians to rebuild the churches,” he said, adding that a follow-up meeting is scheduled for Monday.

Padang Lawas Regent Basyrah Lubis said his administration would facilitate the issuance of permits to rebuild the two churches.

He also called on the people to maintain peace and mutual respect among followers of different faiths. “Just don’t be afraid. We guarantee that no such incident will happen again,” he said, while calling on the fleeing victims to return home.



Editorial: Stop church burning

The Jakarta Post   |  Tue, 01/26/2010 10:11 AM  |  Opinion

We bet most people are not happy about the burning of churches in North Sumatra on Friday night. As a Muslim-majority nation, we are a proud democracy. And we have had enough Christian-Muslim conflicts in the past, notably the Ambon and Poso conflicts. We are also an emerging multicultural nation with a proud legacy of religious pluralism. However, the trajectory of a nation toward its maturity is often difficult to fathom.  

Our minds promptly turn to religious leaders and the many interfaith dialogues that have been held.

We are afraid that they might have only churned out sweet talk and exacerbated such conflicts.

We are also concerned that there is a big gap dividing religious leaders and those at the grass roots.

The question is how to close this gap.

Past experience has taught us that religious conflicts often mask the real issues beneath them.

One of the causes of the previous Ambon conflict between Christians and Muslims in Ambon that began in the late 1990s is understood as a perceived shift in the makeup of the bureaucracy. What was once a Christian-heavy civil service in the predominantly Christian community, slowly gave way to a majority Muslim one when Soeharto played the Islamic card in attempt to stay in power.

This was also related to the similar follow-up conflict in Poso that turned the once beautiful town of Central Sulawesi into a ghost town following the hellish destruction. Blood and tears were shed in both communities. Thousands of lives perished in the wars and a sustained suffering of immense proportions has since haunted the communities.

Small-scale tensions between Christians and Muslims, like the rash of attacks against churches in Jakarta in recent years, have often stemmed from trivialities such as disputes over the control of parking fees, but they have been reported as religious conflicts nonetheless. The media is partly to blame for this as it is often too lazy to report the real issue.

It is a public secret that in some cases unscrupulous elements treat plans to construct churches as a potential way to extort bribes. These elements do not oppose church construction as such; they just identify the cash benefits behind it. Still, however, the public sees it as an affront against Christians.    
It is with such cautiousness that we have to view the North Sumatra incident, where two churches and a pastor’s home were set on fire, allegedly by a Muslim mob. We know that dealing with such a geographically diverse area such as the predominantly Muslim South Tapanuli and its neighbor, the predominantly Christian North Tapanuli, requires sensible handling. Particularly as this was the first time such attacks have occurred in the region.   

Learning from the past, we cannot rule out the intrusion of outsiders in Tapanuli. There will always be elements that will take advantage of religious conflicts for their own political interests.

Unfortunately, too often people will take the law into their own hands in such circumstances. To prevent this from happening, we need a professional police force that will not take sides. The way the police have handled the incident in Padang Lawas regency in Sibuhuan, where not a single perpetrator was held days after the arson attacks, is not a good example.

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