Recently, Muslim extremists in Indonesia have been burning Christian churches. This is news around the world, and it seems to be another example of Muslim intolerance, but I think there is a hidden story here.
Indonesia has the largest Muslim population of any country. It’s interesting that the second largest Muslim population is in India. The mostly Hindu population of India is so large, that close to 200,000,000 Muslims are a minority.
Asia is amazing.
Indonesia also has close to 200,000,000 Muslims, with large minorities of Christians, Buddhists, Confucianists, and Hindus. Hindus dominate the island of Bali. The country is a democracy, and the government strives for unity. And until recently, Muslims in Indonesia were known as tolerant and inclusive.
The most northern province of Indonesia is Aceh, a conservative Muslim region where Sharia law is imposed on everyone, including Christians. That’s where churches are being burned.
Religious divisions could lead to civil war. In July a mosque was burned in Papua, which is predominantly Christian, and the nations largest province. In Aceh, Christians defended their churches and at least one attacker died, and three others were hospitalized.
On the surface this is another story about conservative Muslim intolerance. Accusations of religious abuse, and police corruption are giving Indonesia a bad reputation around the world, and the national government is concerned.
But there is a story behind the story. Aceh was given special status as a conservative Muslim region, with Sharia law, to prevent separatism. In the plan, the number of Christians was estimated and they were permitted an appropriate number of churches. The problem developed when the number of Christians did not stay small, as planned.
Today there are thousands more Christians in Aceh than the planners expected, and they worship in churches. Conservative Muslims feel threatened and are taking defensive actions. Churches have been burned, and now the government is demolishing church buildings that don’t have official permission.
Someone forgot to include God in the plans.
Jesus said he was responsible for the growth of his church, and no force could ever stop him. I used to wonder about the “gates of Hell” that Jesus mentioned. It was hard to imagine someone chasing Christians with a gate, and trying to hit them with it. Finally I realized that the gates were a defensive barrier, to keep the church out.
The hidden story is that the offenders are really defenders, and the persecuted churches are on the offensive. The number of Christians is increasing dramatically in Indonesia, and all those Christians want church buildings, with or without permits.
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 18:16)