Fri, 03 Nov 2000

Religious differences must be accepted, say leaders

BOGOR, West Java (JP): Nationwide acceptance of religious differences is a prerequisite for ensuring harmony among religious communities and the efforts to build the country's civil society anew.

A. Malik Fadjar, deputy chairman of Muhammadiyah, the country's second largest Muslim organization, said a flurry of sectarian conflicts recently had a lot to do with the public's denial of the fact that numerous religions exist here.

"The presence of the various religions must be accepted and this reality should be regarded as a blessing," Malik said at the Indonesian Catholic Church's Grand Synod, which opened here on Thursday.

The five-day synod, which officially opened on Wednesday, is being held to discuss the empowerment of local communities in building a new Indonesia. Among those attending are the Indonesian bishops, Catholic clergy and hundreds of Catholic layman.

Malik, also a former minister of religious affairs, said he was deeply concerned about the escalating religious conflicts in various parts of the country, which have distorted long- established ties between the country's different faiths.

"It is ironic that after 55 years of the country's independence, the nation must go back to square one in building religious ties which are based on universal values," he said.

Malik, however, said the sectarian conflicts and the unhealthy competition among adherents of different religions had a lot more to do with socioeconomic and political gaps than religious factors.

He said that what was happening in Ambon, Ternate, Poso and West Kalimantan was the accumulated result of the gaps in the social, economic and political fields between Muslim and non- Muslim communities.

He added that the conflicts were also sparked by religious communities which are prone to defending their respective religions' absolute truth and their "holy mission" of converting the adherents of other religions.

Rev. Eka Dharmaputera, chairman of the Indonesian Council of Churches (PGI), called on socioreligious institutions and their leaders to play an active role in helping to end religious conflicts and reduce the intense bickering among the members of the political elite.

"Religious institutions and their leaders must play an active role in helping to reduce the race, intergroup and religious conflicts (SARA) that have plagued several parts of the country. They should also be proactive in pressing the political elite to stop the bickering among themselves because this has had a negative impact on the relationship between religious communities," he said.

He warned that the nation was facing a very serious situation and that it would worsen if no action was taken to defuse the current multidimensional crisis.

"I am afraid that the nation will enter a second phase of the crisis if sectarian conflicts and the bickering among the political elite continues," he said.

Eka also expressed deep concern over the spiritual crisis affecting Protestant churches in Indonesia, saying that many Protestants were no longer loyal to their church's hierarchy because of the reality that many clerics had failed to play a role in resolving the conflicts faced by their followers. (rms)