Although Christianity is the second largest religion in Indonesia as recorded in , its people are only a minority in Indonesia. About 10% of Indonesia’s population is registered as Christian, a percentage in absolute terms of about 23.5 million people. Indonesian society has the habit of distinguishing Catholicism from Christianity.
For Indonesians, the term Christianity or Christianity usually refers to Protestant Christianity, while Catholicism is considered a different religion. In accordance with Western tradition, in this article we use the term Christianity (or Christianity or Christianity) to refer to Protestant Christianity and Catholicism because the core teachings of both are the same: belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.
The majority of Indonesian Christians are Protestants. Of the 23.5 million total population of Indonesia who are Christians, about 16.5 million people follow Protestant teachings, while another 7 million people follow Catholic teachings. Christian communities are unequally distributed throughout the country. However, as can be seen from the map below, most of these communities live in eastern Indonesia which has a lower population density.
Locations with sizeable Christian communities:
- North Sumatera
- North Sulawesi
- West Sulawesi
- West Timor
Christianity in Indonesia Today
Although there are a number of areas in Indonesia that have a clearly Christian majority (see map above), overall, Christianity is only a minority religion in Indonesia. Therefore, Christians have a rather weak socio-political position in the country with the exception of some Christian-majority areas (in these areas Muslims sometimes have to face discriminatory actions).
This weak general position makes most Indonesian Christians realize their position as a minority and therefore they try to build good relations with Muslims. Even so, regarding the sense of Indonesian nationality, Christians are just as strong in nationalist pride as Muslims who make up the majority. Christians are also very supportive of maintaining Indonesian unity.
In the last few decades, there have been many case records of attacks by radical Muslim groups against churches and Christians. This created fear within the Indonesian Christian community. These incidents mainly took place on the island of Java where Christians are a minority. Unfortunately, this situation is likely to continue.
However, these attacks can be explained as expressions of fear and frustration from the perpetrators because Indonesia (considered by the perpetrators) to have undergone a process of ‘Christianization’ after the independence period.
In fact, the root of the problem lies in history which records that sizable Christian elites (who were better equipped with better education and economy) were treated better by the Dutch during the colonial era. After Indonesian independence, Christian elites became an influential force in politics (including within the military) and the Indonesian economy both during the Soekarno and Suharto administrations (in the first half of his regime).
The main reason for this paradoxical situation is that Christians – as a minority group – are not a big threat. In the 1950s and 1960s there were power struggles between nationalist, communist, and Islamic groups, while when Suharto took power in 1966 (and communist groups were abolished), there was still a big need for government efforts to reduce the role of political Islam in Indonesian society.
In decades of chaos and mistrust, Christians were seen as allies (because they had no hidden agendas) in the face of rival forces in society. This condition changed in the late 1980s and 1990s when not only hardline Islamic groups rejected the government but also moderate Islamic groups began to criticize the government and demanded democracy.
In order to gain more popular support, Suharto (a less religious traditional Muslim) decided to adopt more pro-Muslim policies, including placing more Muslims in top government positions (including in the military). This led to a decrease in the influence of Christians in national politics.
In Indonesian society, Muslims and Christians live in social harmony. Between 1997 and 2004 (during and after the fall of Suharto) a number of areas in Indonesia were attacked by gruesome incidents of violence labeled ‘religious conflict’. However, it is wrong to think of these conflicts as merely a matter of religion. Suharto’s fall opened fierce competition for political, economic and social powers in parts of Indonesia; and also between religious groups alike.
Combined with a weak and disorganized central government (including the national military) due to the Asian Financial Crisis, these conflicts had the opportunity to enlarge and prolong their period. There are also reports that claim the Indonesian military is encouraging the continuation of these conflicts in order to create chaos at home in order to gain more political power.
You may also like to read: Strong Faith In Christ.