National policy of religious tolerance facing headwinds
A decision to prevent citizens of Indonesia from being able to access a Bible application for cell phones and mobile devices is sparking arguments amid that nation’s openly tolerant campaign to allow people to choose their own faith and practice it.
The worldwide Christian ministry Barnabas Fund is reporting that the Bible application for the Minangkabau people was removed from the Google Play Store for residents of Indonesia following a demand from Irwan Prayitno, the governor of West Sumatra.
He claimed it was causing discomfort in the Minangkabau people who are living in his province, the majority of whom are Muslim.
Only about 1.43% of the people there, about 69,000, are Christian.
The Indonesian Ulema Council supported the censorship by the nation’s Communication and Information Ministry, with a statement of secretary general Anwar Abbas that said, “The guidance of the Minangkabau people is not the Bible. Hopefully there will not be a Bible [published] in the Minangkabau language.”
“The decision to ban the Minangkabau Bible App failed to take into account the rights of Minangkabau Christians,” the Barnabas Fund reported.
And the decision was criticized by the chief of the nation’s longtime Agency for Pancasila Ideology Education, which advocates for tolerance.
That agency’s opinion is that holy books could be translated into any language as long as they were not misinterpreted.
The chief of the agency said, “Every individual is given the freedom to observe their beliefs as long as they do not cause disruption in the public. And, of course, some of the residents of West Sumatra are also Christian, and the governor himself is governor to everyone, not a certain ethnicity or religious belief.”
Pancasila is a formal doctrine instituted in Indonesia to encourage tolerance for religions – and discourage extremism. It prevailed for many years, with Christians and Muslims living as equals. That started changing only a few years ago.
Then, Barnabas Fund reported, the nation saw “a rise in hard-line Islamic ideology in recent years. A generation ago, Muslims and Christians lived peaceably as equals in accordance with Pancasila.”
“In 2019, the government took several steps to counter the spread of fundamentalism by urging members of the public to report extremist content posted online by civil servants and taking action to replace school textbooks deemed to contain radical material.”
That battle against “hard-line Islamist ideology” includes requests to the public to “report extremist content posted online by civil servants and taking action to replace school textbooks deemed to contain radical material,” Barnabas Fund said.
Indonesian Communications Minister Johnny G. Plate said the intention was “to bring together and improve the performance of our civil servants, as well as to foster higher levels of nationalism.”
Indonesia has the world’s biggest population of Muslims, and reports suggest that 19% of civil servants and 3% of military personnel favor an Indonesia under Islamic rule. About 18% of private employees and 23% of students share the view.