Thu, 13 Oct 1994

Govt-backed HKBP faction lodges protest with PGI

JAKARTA (JP): The government-backed leadership of the Toba Batak Protestant Church (HKBP) has protested the decision of the Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI) to invite its rival to its grand assembly later this month.

By inviting both opposing camps, PGI apparently intends to prolong the discord among the church members, said HKBP in a letter signed by its secretary general, Rev. S.M. Siahaan.

"The presence of the opposing camps could turn the grand synod into chaos," he said in the letter, copies of which were made available to The Jakarta Post.

HKBP, the largest Protestant group in the country, has split into two camps over church leadership since December 1992 after many of the 2.5 million members loyal to ousted bishop S.A.E. Nababan opposed the government's appointment of P.W.T. Simanjuntak as the new bishop.

The Sumatra-based Batak Christian Church, the country's largest Christian church, has actually been in crisis since 1990, when its grand synod held in Tarutung, North Sumatra, failed to elect a new bishop to replace Nababan.

Members of the opposing camps in North Sumatra and elsewhere have often been involved in physical clashes which have invoked the intervention of security forces.

PGI officials have decided to invite HKBP representatives from the opposing camps to the assembly scheduled for Oct. 21 through 30 in Irian Jaya's capital of Jayapura to help find a solution to the church's internal bickering.

The gathering, to be opened by Vice President Try Sutrisno, will bring together around 2,000 church leaders from Indonesia and overseas.

Siahaan said in the letter that if Nababan was invited to the grand synod, the policy would amount to PGI's meddling in the church internal affairs.

He reminded PGI that Nababan lost his legitimacy as a church leader when HKBP issued a decree last February banning him from conducting pastoral activities and representing the church.

Siahaan said PGI only sought sympathy rather than genuinely intending to help solve the internal conflict by inviting the opposing camps.

HKBP called on PGI to stick to its statute which gives its members greater autonomy to resolve their internal problems. (rms)