EDITOR’S NOTE: BP Ledger carries items for reader information each Monday from various Southern Baptist-related entities, and news releases of interest from other sources. The items are published as received.
Today’s BP Ledger includes items from:
LifeWay Christian Resources
American Bible Society
Baptist Convention of New York
Compass Direct News
Campbellsville University confers Leadership Award on Bill Mackey
By Joan C. McKinney, news and publications coordinator
CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. (Campbellsville University)–Dr. Bill Mackey, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, was presented the Campbellsville University Leadership Award, Campbellsville University’s commencement May 13.
Mackey, who was the commencement speaker for the graduate ceremony, was given the Leadership Award by Dr. Michael V. Carter, president of CU; Dr. Frank Cheatham, vice president for academic affairs; and Dr. Joe Owens, vice chair of the CU Board of Trustees and pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.
In making the presentation, Carter said Mackey was given the Leadership Award due to “his strong support of the Christian higher education mission of Campbellsville University.”
Carter said, “The Campbellsville University Leadership Award has its roots in the pioneering spirit that brought higher education and its succeeding growth to Kentucky. The award, a special recognition in Kentucky–cast bronze, is the revered great seal of Campbellsville University, proclaiming the universal attributes of fellowship, leadership and scholarship.”
award is given following the university’s legacy of more than a century of commitment to Christian principles in higher education.
Mackey became executive director of the KBC in 1998 and has “served
this capacity with passion, commitment and a servant’s heart through the years,” Carter said.
He said Mackey is retiring this month from this position in order to spend time with his wife, Kay, and they will be moving back to North Carolina in order to spend time with their five grandchildren and extended family.
“However, there is no doubt that Dr. Mackey will remain active in Christian service and simply moving into a new era of active ministry,” Carter said.
During his tenure at the KBC, Mackey has been a strong advocate of Christian higher education and has made numerous visits to the Campbellsville University campus, Carter said.
“He has been a very strong proponent of CU and has pointed out in numerous venues how Baptist higher education is an important means of fulfilling the Great Commission,” Carter said.
Mackey is a graduate of North Greenville College and Furman University and has a B.D. and D.Min. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has completed a number of specialized educational programs and seminars that have enhanced his leadership roles.
Prior to coming to the KBC, Mackey was the director of evangelism for the South Carolina Baptist Convention for a number of years and previously served as pastor of First Baptist Church of Whitesburg, Ky. and associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Middlesboro, Ky.
Mackey has served in a number of denominational leadership roles at the association and convention levels.
He spoke at the 2000 commencement at Campbellsville University and received an honorary doctorate of divinity degree from CU on that occasion.
In his address to the graduate students, Mackey quoted from Philippians 1: 9-11, encouraging passages which he said told the graduates God’s purpose for their lives. He urged them to lead a Christian life and career and to grow in love for Jesus and one another.
“God is at work in you,” he said. Mackey said we can be blameless through the work of God through forgiveness of the cross.
“Grow in love and grow in relationships with others,” he said.
A total of 517 students received degrees, pending completion of all academic requirements. There were 119 graduate student degrees awarded May 13 and 262 students receiving undergraduate degrees May 14. December’s class consisted of 136 graduates.
Of the 119 graduate degrees, there were: master of arts in organizational leadership, three; master of arts in social science, five; master of arts in special education, 41; master of business administration, 24; master of music in piano pedagogy, two; master of music in church music, one; master of music in performance, six; master of arts in education, five; master of arts in teaching English to speakers of other languages, five; master of music in music education, one; master of social work, 12; master of theology, seven; and master of science in counseling, seven.
The following undergraduate degrees included: bachelor of arts, 19; bachelor of music, four; bachelor of science, 162; bachelor of science in business administration, 42; bachelor of social work, 10; associate degree in nursing, 15; and associate of science, 10.
Campbellsville University is a widely acclaimed Kentucky-based Christian university with over 3,000 students offering 63 undergraduate programs, 17 master’s degrees and five postgraduate areas. The website for complete information is campbellsville.edu.
LifeWay seniors’ event features loud music, loud crowd
By Polly House
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (LifeWay)–The music was loud. The crowd was rowdy – clapping, cheering, singing and waving their arms in the air along with their favorite groups.
No, this wasn’t a teenage crowd rocking out to Skillet, Lacrae or the David Crowder Band. It was a sold-out event of about 1,000 senior adults getting down with the likes of Guy Penrod, Squire Parsons and Paid in Full.
They came from 20 states on April 6-7 to Nashville, Tenn., to the 2011 Music City Gospel Singing event hosted by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The event began with the Peasall Sisters, three young women best known for their songs on the soundtracks of the movies “O Brother Where Art Thou” and “True Grit.”
Comedian singer/musician Aaron Wilburn had the crowd in tears of laughter telling about an “unexpected result” from the kidney he received from his sister-in-law in a transplant a few months ago.
“I was thrilled to get the kidney from my sister-in-law,” he said, “but downside is now every time I go to the mall I have to look at purses. I have learned colors I didn’t know existed. Fuchsia? What’s fuchsia? But, I just had to have a fuchsia purse!”
He spoke of his long marriage to his wife and the love they have for each other. He did say, though, that another woman has caught his eye.
“The only time in my married life I have ever thought I might have married the wrong woman is when I saw Paula Deen. It wasn’t her pretty hair or pretty smile. It was because this woman puts a stick of butter in everything!”
Three groups – Paid in Full, Tribute and Three Bridges – brought the audience to their feet with their classic Southern gospel performances.
Mike Harland, director of LifeWay Worship, moved some audience members to tears during a patriotic moment, honoring all attendees who had served in the military or had family members currently serving. Sadly, many stood when family members of military members who had died in the line of duty were honored.
After seeing so many stand, the singing of “America the Beautiful” took on a sacred tone.
Attendees were treated to a ride on Nashville’s famous General Jackson riverboat down the Cumberland River. Singer Jason Catron and musicians Bruce and Lisa Wethey performed during the cruise.
Guy Penrod, a crowd favorite, focused on love and family. At one point, his wife, Angie, joined him on stage. When he discovered a couple in the audience – Delbert and Thelma Butts – who had been married 68 years, he asked for their secret. To Penrod’s delight, Delbert Butts answered, “Keep the magic going.”
LifeWay President Thom S. Rainer welcomed the crowd to LifeWay and reminded them to “wake up, look up and get up” to see what God will do.
“Wake up to His power; look up at what all He has to offer; and get up and serve Him more than you’ve ever served Him before,” he said.
The event ended with a performance by gospel music legend Squire Parsons.
Parsons talked about his recent diagnosis of leukemia and how he has felt God’s touch in such a powerful way. He performed a new song, “I’m Still Here,” that was born out of the experience.
“The Gospel Music Singing event is just so much fun,” said LifeWay’s Deborah Burnett, coordinator of the event. “The people who come are ready for a good time. They know these songs and these groups and really love them. It sells out just about every year because of the enthusiasm of the ones who come for the gospel music.”
The 2012 River City Gospel Singing will be April 30-May 1, 2012, in Chattanooga, Tenn., at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel. More information about this event and others for senior adults can be found at www.LifeWay.com/SeniorAdults.
Shorter to apply for NCAA Division II membership
By Dawn Tolbert
ROMA, Ga. (BP)–Shorter University will apply for membership in NCAA Division II by June 1, the university recently announced.
Athletic Director Bill Peterson said a feasibility study that began in February examined Shorter’s current athletics program and outlined how a transition to the NCAA would affect the university. The school has been affiliated with the NAIA since the 1950s.
“We feel that the move to NCAA Division II will allow us to take Shorter athletics to the next level in terms of name recognition,” Peterson said. “We are also appreciative of the emphasis that Division II places on the development of the total student-athlete.”
Peterson said NCAA Division II has a program entitled “Life in the Balance” that “is a great fit with our mission of not only winning athletic championships but also of developing student athletes who are well-rounded, well-educated and who leave Shorter with an understanding of the value of helping others.”
If accepted into the NCAA Division II, Shorter would become a member of the Gulf South Conference, which has unanimously endorsed Shorter’s application.
A decision on Shorter’s application should be made this summer, beginning a three-year transition period. During the first year, Shorter would remain a full member of the NAIA and be eligible to compete in national tournaments. During the second and third years, Shorter would have full NCAA Division II schedules, but would not be eligible for postseason play.
American Bible Society Announces Change in Board Leadership
Contributions of Outgoing Board Chairman Dennis Dickerson Are Honored as New Chairman Pieter J. Dearolf Is Welcomed
NEW YORK, N.Y. (American Bible Society)–The American Bible Society Board of Trustees today announced the election of a new board chairman and the departure of his highly respected predecessor. Mr. Pieter J. Dearolf has been tapped for the position, replacing outgoing chairman Dr. Dennis C. Dickerson.
Dearolf brings to the board chairmanship expertise in finance and philanthropy. Having built a successful public accounting firm, Dearolf recently retired to devote more time to ministry and philanthropic efforts. He currently serves as the volunteer chairman of The Idlewild Foundation in Tampa, Fla. The mission of the foundation is to motivate, educate and facilitate wise Christian stewardship.
“Pieter Dearolf has spent his career helping people use their resources astutely,” said American Bible Society President Lamar Vest. “He brings to American Bible Society a wealth of experience and a heart for the Word of God. Our team is looking forward to his leadership.”
Even as he looked ahead to the future, Vest applauded the contributions of Dickerson, who served for 15 years on the board, the last five as chairman.
“It is difficult to measure the full contributions of Dr. Dickerson,” said Vest. “He provided a strong and graceful hand of leadership for American Bible Society, embodying the very best of all we hope for in the service of the Bible cause. He is a good friend whose day-to-day partnership in the Gospel will be dearly missed.”
During his tenure with the organization, Dr. Dickerson helped to steer the 195-year-old American Bible Society to a new focus on contemporary engagement, digital ministry expansion and biblical life-impact. This last fiscal year, American Bible Society reached more than 8.1 million lives through its global reach.
The change in board leadership comes during the week of American Bible Society’s 195th anniversary. One of the nation’s oldest nonprofit organizations, today’s American Bible Society provides interactive, high- and low-tech resources enabling first-time readers and seasoned theologians alike to engage with the best-selling book of all time.
Pastor Sam Simpson, the “Bishop of the Bronx” Retires
BRONX, N.Y. (Baptist Convention of New York)–On Sunday, May 15, 2011 at the Wake-Eden Community Baptist Church, on the 39th Anniversary of the church, Pastor Sam Simpson, the founding pastor announced his retirement. After speaking himself, his wife, Lola, read his statement. Pastor Simpson has been the only pastor the Wake-Eden church has ever had.
As a young boy, growing up on a farm in Jamaica, Sam Simpson wanted to be a preacher. In the early sixties, he left Jamaica and went to New York City to pursue his education. While he was in Brooklyn, an acquaintance of his from Jamaica was in the Bronx getting a business degree. Her name was Lola. Sam asked Lola to visit a mission church where he was on staff. The church met at the YMCA in Brooklyn, today it is known as Evergreen Baptist Church.
In those days, Sam Simpson was a busy man, juggling Bible School in New Jersey, working on staff in Brooklyn, and visiting his sweetheart in the Bronx. They married in 1963. Serving together for over 40 years, they have been involved in the start of the two churches he presently pastors, Bronx Baptist Church and Wake Eden Baptist Church, as well as several others.
In the fall of 1969, Simpson, then the pastor of the Bronx Baptist Church, and his family relocated to a house less than two blocks from the closed Bernadette Lutheran Church. Because he was a Southern Baptist, church starter at heart and by training, he perceived the closed church in a heavily populated community as being very unnatural. He took the matter to the Lord. Then he approached the still-resident Lutheran Pastor and proposed that they work together to revive the church. The suggestion was not accepted, but later an offer to rent the building was accepted by the Lutheran Administration.
Pastor Simpson led the new work. He did so while continuing to pastor the Bronx Baptist Church. Bronx Baptist gave its blessing and Greenwich Baptist Church in Connecticut undertook to pay the rent for two years. The Name Wake-Eden is a combination of two neighboring communities adjacent to the church Wakefield and Edenwald, and its inaugural service on May 2, 1972. At the invitation at the end of the service several Christians in the congregation committed to become members of this mission of Bronx Baptist Church. The mission became an incorporated church in 1979. From its inception Wake-Eden has been a praying church, emphasizing bible study, discipleship training, evangelism and the training and involvement of lay persons in leadership. Numerous ministries and programs have been implemented and utilized for the purpose of reaching the unsaved, deepening the commitment of believers and promoting fellowship – all to the glory of God.
Dr. Sam Simpson is also known as the Bishop of the Bronx by his church members and in the neighborhood. In his book, entitled, To Dream the Impossible Dream (copyright 2003 by Dr. Samuel G Simpson, Orman Press), he is described as one who has helped to change a community from poverty to prosperity, from crime to Christianity, from unemployment to business development, from idleness to productivity, from nastiness to networking, from ignorance to education, from isolation to fellowship, from battling to brotherhood, and from hatred to hope.
Dr. Simpson also served as president of the Baptist Convention of New York from 1987-88 and 1995-96.
Often one can hear him repeat the Simpson motto: “God is good. It is good to be good. It is good to do good.”
New Dean Appointed to HSU’s Logsdon School of Theology and Seminary
By Janlyn Echols Thaxton
ABILENE, Texas (Hardin-Simmons University)–Dr. Don Williford professor of New Testament at Hardin-Simmons University will become dean of the Logsdon School of Theology and Logsdon Seminary on June 1, 2011.
Williford has served as interim dean for Logsdon since Dr. Tommy Brisco, Williford’s predecessor, took over the position as HSU provost and chief academic officer. Williford began his service at Hardin-Simmons University as director of church relations and assistant professor of New Testament in 1992.
Since then, he has moved through the faculty ranks, being promoted to professor in 1999. In addition to his teaching responsibilities, he has served as president of the HSU faculty, accreditation liaison, associate vice president of academic affairs, associate provost, and interim vice president for academic affairs.
President of HSU, Dr. Lanny Hall, made the announcement of Williford’s promotion during graduation ceremonies this past weekend. “Williford is a seasoned administrator, a valued faculty member, and a veteran minister who is widely respected by faculty, staff, and students,” Hall told the audience gathered at commencement exercises.
“Before joining HSU, Williford served in full-time vocational ministry for more than 20 years, including service as a youth pastor, associate pastor, and pastor. He is a gifted professor and preacher, whose breadth of experience will serve Logsdon well,” said Hall.
HSU provost, Dr. Tommy Brisco, says, “Dr. Don Williford’s 20 years of experience as a pastor, combined with 19 years as a gifted teacher and administrator, provides an excellent balance of academic and ministry experience that will serve Logsdon well as he assumes this new position.”
Among other subjects, Williford specializes in the Letters of Paul. While Williford is a professor of New Testament, he also has a background in archaeology and was involved in archaeological excavations at Banias, Israel, for a number of years. He has taught archaeology of New Testament cities where Paul established churches on his missionary trips.
Williford received his Bachelor of Science degree from Howard Payne University in 1970. He earned his Master of Divinity and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, in 1974 and 1981 respectively.
Williford was born in Bangs, Texas, and started his teaching career at Carter Junior High in Arlington. During his pastorates, he served in churches all across Texas, including Birdville Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, First Baptist Church in Eldorado, and First Baptist Church in Brownwood where he spent 10 years.
His involvement with the State Missions Commission established him as a leader in the Baptist General Convention of Texas. He has served as board member of the Texas Baptist Prisoner Family Ministry Foundation and as a member of the Hispanic Relations Task Force.
His wife, Dr. Pam Williford, joined the HSU faculty in 1993 and serves as the dean of the Irvin School of Education. They have one daughter, Dr. Natalie Frost, a pediatrician in Irving. She is married to artist John Frost, who teaches at St Marks Academy in Dallas. Natalie and John are both HSU alumni.
In addition to his service as dean, he will continue to serve as HSU’s accreditation liaison through the 2012-2013 academic year. “HSU and Logsdon will benefit from his leadership in this key administrative role,” says Hall. “I know him as a fine professor, preacher, pastor, and administrator. We are fortunate that he is willing to assume this important post,” says Hall.
“I am humble and grateful at the appointment as dean of the Logsdon School of Theology and Seminary,” says Williford. “This is both an exciting and challenging time in the advance of God’s Kingdom. I believe unique doors of opportunity are open for Hardin-Simmons and Logsdon School of Theology to carry out its part in preparing men and women for the global challenges facing those called to the Kingdom enterprise.”
Indonesian ‘Blasphemy’ Law a Weapon for Radical Islam
Rarely-used law in ‘moderate’ nation could provide alternate force against Christians.
DUBLIN (Compass Direct News)–On Feb. 6 in Indonesia, Muslim hardliners armed with machetes brutally murdered three members of a “blasphemous” Muslim sect in the village of Cikeusik, West Java. Five other members escaped with severe injuries; police were present but did not intervene.
The attack followed two years of violence sparked by a June 2008 Joint Ministerial Decree banning public worship for the Ahmadiyah, whose members believe that their founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was the last prophet of Islam, rather than Muhammad.
On Feb. 8, a large mob gathered outside a courthouse in Temanggung, Central Java, chanting “Kill, kill!” after judges awarded Antonius Richmond Bawengan, a Roman Catholic, the maximum five-year sentence for blasphemy. By nightfall some 1,000 people had rampaged through the town burning vehicles, two churches and a church-run school, injuring nine people in the process. (See www.compassdirect.org, “After Attacks, Christian Leaders in Indonesia Decry Lax Security,” Feb. 11.)
Three days later, prosecutors in Jakarta sentenced Murhali Barda, a regional leader of the hardline Front Pembela Islam (FPI or Islamic Defenders Front) to only five-and-a-half months in prison and fined him the equivalent of 10 US cents for orchestrating an attack on a Protestant church in which two Christians were seriously injured. (See www.compassdirect.org, “Light Sentences for Attack on Christians in Indonesia Condemned,” March 10.)
These events, occurring in a single week, provide a snapshot of the rising fanaticism that has seriously damaged Indonesia’s reputation as a moderate Islamic nation.
“The real root of the country’s religious intolerance is the 1965 Blasphemy Law,” wrote Armando Siahaan in a recent Jakarta Globe report. Many observers agree that the 1965 law and associated legislation, coupled with a lack of political will to curb hard-line groups, are to blame for the steep climb in religious violence.
‘Enmity’ Towards Religion
Last October, Bawengan distributed a book he’d written that criticized the Catholic faith and allegedly handed out pamphlets that described sacred Islamic symbols as phallic images, according to local news reports.
Catholics, while offended – and falsely blamed for Bawengan’s remarks about Islam – did not accuse him of blasphemy against the Catholic Church. The state, however, found him guilty of blasphemy against Islam under Article 156(A) of the penal code, which stipulates up to five years in prison for anyone who publicly shows “enmity” or “abuses or stains” a religion adhered to in Indonesia, or prevents other people from adhering to such a religion.
The maximum sentence under Article 156(A) is surprisingly lenient compared with blasphemy punishments in other countries, but this is likely due to Indonesia’s founding principle of Pancasila, which strives for “unity in diversity.”
Protestants are rarely prosecuted under this law, although police in April 2007 arrested 41 members of the Indonesian Students Service Agency and charged them with blasphemy under Article 156(A) for allegedly depicting the Quran as the “source of all evil” in Indonesia. A court in East Java sentenced all 41 defendants to the maximum five years in prison in September 2007, although they were granted a reprieve in August 2008, according to The Jakarta Post.
In December 2008, a student in Masohi, Maluku, claimed that his Christian teacher, Welhelmina Holle, had insulted Islam. When the Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI or Indonesian Clerics Council) filed a complaint with police, a mob of at least 300 protestors gathered outside the local regent’s office; a riot broke out, with the mob burning dozens of homes, a church and a village hall.
According to local media reports, one of the protestors carried a banner that stated with inadvertent irony, “Don’t destroy the peace with blind fanaticism!”
Military and riot police eventually stopped the violence, but Holle was detained, found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to a year in prison, along with former parliamentary candidate Asmara Wasahua, who was charged only with inciting the riot.
Insult v. Incitement to Hatred
Article 156(A) is based on Law No. 1/1965, introduced by President Sukarno in 1964 and more commonly known as Indonesia’s 1965 Blasphemy Law. Article 1 of Sukarno’s law prohibits anyone from intentionally trying to gain public support for a religion or participating in religious activities that might be considered a deviation of a recognized religion.
Sukarno enacted the law after critics said that Pancasila offered little protection for the Muslim majority.
The law officially recognized six religions – Islam (88 percent of the population of 238 million), Protestantism (6 percent) Catholicism (3 percent), Hinduism (2 percent) Buddhism and Confucianism (both less than 1 percent) – but orders the state not to interfere in the practice of other religions such as Ahmadiyah, currently numbering between 100,000 to 400,000 adherents. These figures are based on a census carried out in 2000; the results of a 2010 census have not yet been released.
In 2005, however, the MUI issued a fatwa or religious opinion against the Ahmadiyah and urged President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to ban the sect. Under pressure from hard-line groups and Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali, the government issued a Joint Ministerial Decree in 2008 forbidding Ahmadis to worship publicly on the grounds that they had deviated from true Islam – an act qualifying as blasphemy under the 1965 law.
The decree drove adherents underground and gave tacit permission for hardliners to attack Ahmadi communities throughout Indonesia with little fear of prosecution – culminating in the Cikeusik murders on Feb. 6.
The 1965 law, Article 156(A) of the penal code and the 2008 Ahmadiyah decree clearly contravene international law, which differentiates between simple religious insult and incitement to hostile and violent actions, according to an October 2010 Freedom House report entitled “Policing Belief.” Only incitement to hatred can be legitimately restricted, whereas freedom of expression includes the right to offensive or controversial religious comment.
International law also allows for freedom of belief, contradicted by Indonesia’s requirement that every citizen choose one of the six official religions and display it on his or her identity card. Atheism or adherence to an unrecognized religion is simply not an option, clashing with Article 29 of Indonesia’s constitution, which stipulates that all citizens may choose and practice their own religion.
In 2010 the FPI and a new group, the Bekasi Islamic Presidium, launched a campaign against “Christianization” in West Java, accusing local churches of aggressively trying to win Muslim converts – a behavior that could be labeled blasphemous under Article 156(A).
The hardliners pledged to set up a youth army in order to monitor and attack churches suspected of “Christianization.” While this act in itself could be regarded as “enmity” under Article 156(A), Yudhoyono simply appealed for tolerance and took no action against the organizers. (See www.compassdirect.org, “Indonesian Muslims Call for Halt to Christianization,” July 2, 2010.)
The charge of “Christianization” was also leveled against three Christian teachers in Indramayu, West Java in 2005, after they allowed Muslim children to attend a Sunday school program with spoken consent from their parents. Busloads of Muslim hardliners chanting “Allahu Akhbar [God is greater]” surrounded and filled the courtroom, threatening to carry the teachers out in coffins if they were not found guilty. The teachers served three years in jail. (See www.compassdirect.org, “Teachers Appeal ‘Christianization’ Conviction in Indonesia,” Sept. 23, 2005.)
The FPI has also used the term in multiple protests against unregistered churches in West Java. In response, the government in 2006 revised a Joint Ministerial Decree governing places of worship, making it virtually impossible for congregations to obtain a worship permit and leaving them vulnerable to attack.
Setara researcher Ismail Hasani has said he believes a new wave of radicalization is sweeping through the suburban regions of Jakarta, partly due to new legislation built on existing blasphemy laws, and partly due to the implied or actual support provided by police and government officials. For example, after West Java Gov. Ahmad Heryawan banned Ahmadiyah worship on March 3, by mid-April at least 400 Ahmadis had converted to Islam, according to the Jakarta Globe.
Officials in West Java arranged public conversion ceremonies for the Ahmadis, despite this practice being contrary to provisions in Article 156(A). In one ceremony, 13 Ahmadis in Bogor recited the Muslim confession of faith, accepting Muhammad as the last prophet. Their confession came just days after local residents repeatedly hurled rocks at their homes, the Globe reported.
Local official Eros Kusniawati, however, told reporters that the 13 had converted willingly.
“We’ll hold another ceremony for the seven others who wanted to convert but couldn’t attend today, and for the five others who still refuse to repent,” he said.
Courts Bow to Mobs
Last September, a mob led by local FPI head Barda confronted members of the Huria Kristen Batak Protestant Church (HKBP) in Ciketing, West Java, which has struggled for years to obtain legal permission to worship. During the clash, hardliners stabbed church elder Hasian Lumbantoruan Sihombing in the stomach and beat the Rev. Luspida Simanjuntak over the head with a wooden beam in a clear case of “enmity” against another religion.
Judges on March 10 awarded sentences of just five to seven months to the perpetrators.
In this climate of impunity, attacks on churches and religious sects have increased dramatically over the past three years. The Setara Institute of Peace and Democracy recorded 75 religious attacks in 2010, up from 18 in 2009 and 17 in 2008. In the same year, the Wahid Institute recorded 196 cases of religious violence, an increase of almost 50 percent from 2009, while the Moderate Muslim Society recorded 81 cases, an increase of more than 30 percent from 2009.
A significant percentage of these attacks were against Christian churches, with others directed against the Ahmadiyah, but neither Christians nor Ahmadis have invoked the “enmity” clause in Article 156(A).
“The FPI have established fear in so many hearts, including the courts and the government, that we all feel it would be less troubling to just ‘let it go,'” a local Christian leader who requested anonymity told Compass. “Also, this is Indonesia – justice depends on who is bringing someone to court and who they know. And in religious cases, the radicals pressure the judges and let them know when they’re not happy with a verdict.”
In practice, he concluded, the blasphemy law only works for the benefit of Muslims in Indonesia.
“There are many Christian lawyers,” one such lawyer confirmed to Compass on condition of anonymity, “but many don’t defend Christians out of fear, because they know it’s a Muslim country.”
While not all Muslims support the hardliners’ agenda, a September 2010 survey by the Center for the Study of Islam and Society found that among 1,200 randomly sampled Muslim men and women, 57 percent were against the construction of church buildings and other non-Muslim places of worship – the highest rate the center has recorded since 2001.
With its history of Pancasila, Indonesia is still generally considered a moderately Islamic country even as radical elements gain force, and one source said the blasphemy law would be invoked more often were it not for a general sense that the courts and officials are corrupt and/or ineffective. Some observers believe groups like the FPI and the Bekasi Islamic Presidium have gained momentum by protecting and promoting Islamic interests in a way that government officials will not.
Furthermore, the blasphemy laws are not often invoked due to a general impression that prisons are full enough.
“Everyone knows that our prisons are overflowing,” the anonymous source said. “Why put more people into these prisons with longer sentences? That’s why a murderer can sometimes get away with a sentence of less than 10 years, and get out on parole after six years on good behavior.”
Interestingly, while the Christians found guilty under Article 156(A) were sentenced to five years and one year, Muslims who displayed “enmity” were generally charged with misdemeanors and sentenced to six or seven months despite causing physical harm.
Blasphemy Laws Upheld
In October 2009, the Advocacy Alliance for Freedom of Religion, a coalition of Non-Governmental Organizations and activists, asked Indonesia’s Constitutional Court to review and repeal the 1965 Blasphemy Law and Article 156(A) of the penal code, citing violations of the constitutional rights of freedom of religion and freedom of expression.
FPI members staged loud demonstrations outside the hearing, while extremists inside the courtroom shouted insults at speakers arguing for the repeal, the Jakarta Globe reported. Although regarded as moderate, Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s two largest Muslim organizations, also opposed the review, as did Religious Affairs Minister Surhadharma Ali, who insisted that the law was needed to “maintain social harmony and prevent an explosion of new religions,” according to the Globe.
Ali in fact met with leaders of the FPI and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia – an organization supporting global Islamic rule – in February 2010 to discuss concerns about the review, according to The Jakarta Post.
The court upheld both laws in April 2010, echoing Ali’s claims that the laws were necessary to maintain public order.
Following the violence in February, however, Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) Deputy Chairman Choirul Anam told the Jakarta Globe that HRWG would appeal for a second review on the grounds that “attacks on religious minorities have increased and continue to rise.” He also pointed out that some judges had referred to the Quran during the hearing, proving unacceptable bias in a secular court.
“The next step will be to push the government and the legislature to draft a law on religious freedom, not religious harmony as has been discussed until now,” Anam said.