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Christian Theocracy Comes to West Papua

Plans are underway to introduce Biblical law in the province of West Papua in Indonesia. Indonesia Matters reported in April that the provincial capital, Manokwari, is to become a “Bible city”:

Specifically there are said to be proposed laws against alcohol and prostitution, regulations on dress and worship, including bans on the display of symbols of a “certain religion”, and bans on the building of houses of worship of another religion near a church.

…On 14th May Radio Netherlands interviewed Erna Mahuse, an MP in the Majelis Rakyat Papua (MRP [the Papuan People’s Council, a coalition of tribal chiefs]). Erna says that Papua wishes to follow the good example of Aceh in implementing religious laws. Papua has special autonomous status, he says, just like Aceh. Sharia has been applied in Aceh satisfactorily because most people there are Muslim. In Papua most people are Christian, and Christianity arrived in Papua before Islam did, so Biblical laws are appropriate.

One local pastor, Sherli Parinusa, is enthusiastic:

Maybe there is a misunderstanding that these kind of laws will create ethnic-religious conflict. The purpose of the laws is to emphasise the uniqueness of an area, like in Aceh, the veranda of Mecca. Here we say that Manokwari is an evangelical city, and peaceful and tolerant.

However, according to a recent editorial in the Jakarta Post, other Christians are less impressed:

The Manokwari council’s plan has met with rejection from the Indonesian Bishops Conference and Communion of Indonesian Churches for obvious reasons…

The Post adds that

…the Manokwari legal draft is just the latest example of how religious extremism combined with political fanaticism is threatening the multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural fabric of this nation…Religious extremism has been flourishing since the fall of strongman Soeharto in 1998, exploiting the weak leadership of his successors

…The central government’s inaction against the politicization of religion is undoubtedly dangerous. The proposed Bible-based bylaw in Manokwari and a host of sharia-inspired ordinances elsewhere are ticking like time bombs amid the simmering sectarian conflicts in Ambon and Poso and smaller-scale tensions in other areas.

Last year, the ABC’s Religion Report ran a programme that discussed Christianity in West Papua. According to one of the speakers:

West Papuans are very deeply religious and are very strongly Christian. Christianity first arrived in the region in 1855, and it was always seen as the point in which people began to think themselves as Papuan people, as united people. Christianity had the impact of bringing people together, and giving them a clear sense of identity…To be Papuan is to be Christian, and to be Christian is to be Papuan, and many of the aspirations the Papuans have are very much embedded in their understanding of Christian faith.

Alas, there is very little information in English about the proposed new Christian laws, and so we’re left guessing as to the plan’s real significance. Is this simply about emulating religiously-inspired laws in other parts of Indonesia? Or is this about avenging Christians forced to live under shariah in other provinces by putting local Muslims under similar restrictions (particularly in Aceh, as I blogged here)? Or perhaps it’s about promoting Papuan nationalism, with a view to separatism, or at least to discouraging Muslim migrants from other parts of the country. Worth keeping an eye on.

(Hat tip: Christianity Today Weblog, which I always read through to the end)

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