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Kamis, 05 September 2013

GPM and one of its Major Ecumenical Issues regarding the Interreligious Life among Malukan society

This paper has been written as my short description concerning GPM, the Protestant Church in the Moluccas, to be presented at the GETI forum which will be held along with the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Seoul-Busan, South Korea this coming October. In this writing, the main focus will be on describing of the Protestant Church in the Moluccas (Gereja Protestan Maluku) and its major contextual issue related to main theme of the 10thAssembly, “God of Life, Lead us to Justice and Peace”.

a.    The Protestant Church in the Moluccas

The Protestant Church in the Moluccas or GerejaProtestan Maluku (abbreviated GPM) is the regional church (not ethnical) in Maluku Provinceand in some parts of North Maluku Province; those are located in eastern part of Indonesia. Both provinces consist of a thousand islands, so that GPM can be identified as an archipelago church. In term of geographic, the congregations of GPM can be in urban, suburbs, and rural areas – most of them are rural. Those are located in Sula Islands, Bacan, Obi, Ceram Island, Buru, Ambon, Lease (Saparua, Nusa Laut, and Haruku), Kei Islands, Tanimbar, Leti Moa Lakor, Babar, Aru, Kisar, Wetar and many other small islands.[1]Every region or island has its own different ethnic or sub-ethnic, language, and culture (Maluku has almost 150 sub-ethnics and languages). So that cultural diversity becomes one of our contexts.
As the largest church in the province, GPM has approximately 754 local congregations, 524.403 members, and 1.012 pastors[2] (almost 80% of Christian populations are GPM members). Beside GPM there are also some other denominations in the area, such as Roman Catholic, Pentecostalism, Advent, and the Salvation Army. The intra-religious relation between GPM and them is going well and my church has been actively working to promote an ecumenical awareness either through its teachings, faith confession, and other documents or through real participation and mutual cooperation on institutional or grassroots level. However, I do not herewith intend to say that there has not been any tension among them all this time. In local congregational level, it is not rare to find tension related to one’s membership on whether she/he is administratively belonging to GPM or other denominations, but as far as I know, this does not bring about tension on the synod or institutional level.
Historically, GPM was officially formed on September 6th, 1935, after being an independent church. Nevertheless, Christianity in Maluku has existed before 1935. It (especially Protestantism) was introduced in that area in 16th century through the coming of VOC, the Dutch East India Company. Some historians agree that Maluku was the first place of western evangelization or Christianization in Indonesia before the Gospel reached other places. Therefore, GPM is enlisted as one of the older churches in our country. Before it became an official organization, there had been only one local congregation in Maluku and it was under GerejaProtestan di Indonesia (the Protestant Church in Indonesia). This congregation was calledas “Ambon Resort”. The establishment of the Church could not be separated from the governmental regulation – Koninklijk Besluit (1840), that was a formal law signed by the King (at that time, Indonesia in general was under Dutch colonialization, consequently the church was required to obey governmental regulations). This regulation required the church, particularly GPI member churches to organize and form their organizations as independent churches.[3]
Based on its name, we know that GPM belongs to the type of Protestantism. In term of denomination, GPM inherits Calvinistic tradition, so it becomes one of the reformed churches in the country. This church is a member of WCRC (the World Communion of Reformed Churches), CCA (the Christian Conference of Asia), and CCI (the Communion of Churches in Indonesia). GPM practices an ecclesiastical system named Presbiterial Sinodal (synodal Presbyterian?), that is a system in which local congregation becomes the focus of the church’sministries. There are three organizational levels in the body of GPM; “local congregation” – “regional/classis” – “synod”. This can be simply seen hierarchically where thereisSynod at the top level, and then followed by classis or regional committee at the middle level, and local congregation at last. But, in accordance with such system, each organization is not in unequal position and plays an important role in every process of making decision. In some cases, however, we need to openly say that the principle of that system is not fully implemented yet as we expect.
In the history of GPM, one of the crucial-ecumenical problems faced by my church was dealing with conflict and violence between the followers of Islam and Christianity, irrespective of their age, gender, and ethnic. I do not intend to say that it was simply religious conflict, even though it was quite clear to see that there was the usage of religious ornaments or symbols during the conflict, praying for combatants, blessing them before going to battle, preaching on biblical texts which seemed to legitimate anarchism, religious greetings like “syalom” (peace greeting) was used to symbolize Christian’s spirit to defense their faith through fighting against enemy, and for Moslem, term of ““Allāhu Akbar” (the great God) was yelled to organize their group which then identified as laskar Jihad. My option to not directly call it as “religious conflict” is grounded on my reading to some current researches showing that tragedy of Maluku was complicated including ethnical, economical, and political issues.[4] This can be analyzed by considering Indonesian political and economic context after the fall of Soeharto’s regime in 1998 that had ruled the nation for more than 31 years. Another argument is related to hegemonic struggle between the elite Malukan-Christian with Malukan and non-Malukan Muslim to dominate the local political and economic spheres.[5] So that in describing this context I will call it as “a religiously social conflict”.
In 1999, this conflict broke out for the first time and increasingly spread out over the entire Maluku. According to Lambang Trijono, there were three episodes of conflict based on its emergence, escalation, outbreak of conflict, and de-escalation; the first was begun in January until April 1999, the second was in July-December 2000, and the third was in April 2000-2001[6], but I think that there were two other episodes happened in February2002 and April 2004 (one last episode happened in 2011, but it is not enlisted here because it only included two small groups in Ambon and its effects were not too broad as previous ones). As I have mentioned earlier, the riot not only occurred in Ambon, where the central office of GPM is located, but also in other islands – Central and South East Maluku, Lease, Ceram, Buru, etc. – where most of GPM’s congregations live in.
During the conflict, human life was meaningless if someone whose life was in different religious line. So that killing people (almost 9.000 people died on both sides), burning houses and public facilities, and explosions of the bomb were people’s daily realities for approximately five years. As a part of society, I also experienced that situation(second episode) when I had to see my house collapsed; my neighbors and some extended family killed with very tragic ways, and lived in a refuge for almost three years. By living under refuge, we lacked access of good education, good health, good security, unemployment, and many things threatening our life. Conflict and violence left nothing to us other than traumatic experiences for orphans, widows, and all the victims. Who should be responsible for this is another question I do not want to elaborate here, but by observing people’s involvement in it, we can simply say that we were all included in it.
Other impact of the conflict has also beenreligious segregation by which communities are now divided according to their religious identity – Christian and Moslem. This is another issue I am going to highlight in detail in the next part of this paper as one of our major ecumenical issues, along with how GPM’s position to strengthen the process of gaining peace.
Although, this paper will highlight only one major ecumenical issue of the church, I think that it is better to touch briefly on the other comprehensive problems of the church. Beside the issue of social segregation, my church is also faced by;(1) Poverty (in 2011, Maluku was the third poorest province in Indonesia with 23% of the population are poor)[7], (2) Gender inequality (especially within the church itself, wherein leadership are dominated by man), (3) Ecological crises (garbage, deforestation and erosion with their impacts – flood, landslide, etc.), (4) HIV/AIDS and Drugs, (5) Human rights, and (6) Internally Displaced People after Conflict.[8]

b.   Major Issue: “Strengthening the Process of Peace Building and Religiously Social Segregation as Threat in Maluku Province”

The religiously social conflict is now over already and the situation in Ambon back to normal as before 1999. It began in 2005 after the reconciliation between both communities mediated by the government, religious institutions, non-governmental organizations, and even by many small groups of civil society. However, it does not mean that there is not potency for a new conflict in the years to come. Why? Conflict has brought about a permanent impact for the entire Malukan community by which people will still bring their collective memory that they have fought each other when they see that they are living within a divided community. The divided community is my core issue to talk about social segregation according to religious identity.
During and after conflict, people have been living in any region where theirgroup exists. For instance, some places in Ambon such as Batu Meja, Kudamati, Batu Gajah, Passo, western and southern parts of Ambonare the bases for Christians, in this case GPM’s congregations. As well as Batu Merah, Pohon Pule, Waihaong, some parts of eastern and northern Ambon are dominated by Muslims. The situation was not as such before Maluku had entered its darkest times, for both lived together in their ancestral land as orang sodara(brothers and sisters).This reality makes people lack access of intensive communication each other, but restricted it only to official places such as offices, schools, hospitals, and public transportations. There is no longer Christian neighbor for any Moslem family where they can share and talk each other, and vice versa. It then creates border among them by which recovery process can be ineffective. This cannot also provide any space for people to be closer one another in order to rebuild their understanding and mutual trusts on the grassroots level.
I do not see this reality as simple as it. In my opinion, religious segregation geographically or demographically has led people to “segregation by point of view” at once. This kind of segregation brings out a tendency to dichotomize everything according to religious line. In this context, such segregation is more than a physical problem, it is something that will influence the way people think about and act toward their neighbor because their mind hasalso been segregated. One of GPM’s ministers whom also a peace activist, Jacky Manuputty, identifies this as “individual mentality segregation”. He says, “Communities are not only segregated by their abodes, but also by their individual mentalities”.[9]
Segregation by religious identity (and by mind) gives another possibility for a new conflict if it is not responded, managed, and controlled well and continuously by all stakeholders – particularly the government, religious institutions, and social organizations. The latest case in September 2011 – riot in Batu Gantung (Christian) & Pohon Pule (Moslem), has shown our failure to anticipate conflict through managing both groups that were easily provoked by issues of any irresponsible people who wanted to take an advantage of the chaos. What I mean is that, when people abide together in their own group, it is easy for them to be influenced collectively, either for positive or negative purposes.
It is not easy, however, to change the condition, but I think that the idea is not merely about how to relocate them to their previous regions, but also how to break the chain of the segregation of mind that emerges from the physically segregation.Thatsegregation has also been influenced by traumatic experiences. If it is not taken seriously, it can threat the recovery process and “our journey to just peaceis actually at stake.
This is a crucial problem faced by churches in Maluku, especially by GPM. As an integral part of the adherents, we could not escape of the situation and being apathetic concerning what has been gone through by people. We are continuously striving for strengthening the process of gaining peace, either through visions and the real efforts along with the other groups. This is based on the awareness that GPM is not merely a church “in” Maluku, but more than that a church “of” and “for” many Malukan-Christians.[10] In addition, during the conflict we were working on preventing conflict and building peace as well. For instance, right after the first conflict broke out in 1999, GPM institutionally along with MUI Maluku (the Indonesian Ulama Council) held a meeting and it resulted a common agreement that that conflict was not religious and either Christians or Moslem were withdrawn to be in control and not provoked by issues, even though it was not successful enough to deescalate conflict at that time. At the second stage, GPM had also established a lawyer club (advocacy team) aimed at investigation of the conflict. The church also founded “GPM Crisis Center” (it was initially organized by UKIM) and the Maluku Interfaith Institution for Humanity (LAIM). The former was responsible for documentaries and analytical purposes of the riot, and the later for peace building programs through dialogue (it is an interreligious institution owned to GPM, MUI, and Roman Catholic Church and still exists now).[11] Both organizations were often threatened, accused, and terrorized, but “there is no point of return, for we cannot imagine how our people and our families would suffer if the conflict was still escalating. At every meeting, we repeatedly convinced ourselves that nobody should take our right to live in peace for their own advantage”, one of the members said.
In order to minimize the increasing number of the segregation by location, GPM has concerned enough on the problems of internally displaced people (IDP), those who fled to another safe place and still living there up to now. The church took initiative to coordinate with the local government to return them to their previous regions, especially the displaced congregations (44 displaced congregations left).GPM has also disagreed with the government’s plan and policy to relocate the IDP to a new place where it is the basis for their group, i.e. any Christian IDP group into other Christian community, vice versa.
In term of segregation by mind, the church is actively striving for transforming their concept of being church or being Christian in a multi religious context. At the 36th Assembly of GPM (2010), the chairman of GPM stated that the theme for the next five coming years would give an emphasis on religious pluralism as the most important issue in the recovery process.[12]It is then mediated through the sermons that promote peace and justice and many other programs as the ways to heal people from tragic experiences. It does not mean, however, that transforming theological paradigm has just been begun in 2010, but since conflict period itself. Through this GPM expects that segregation by mind could be broken off. Another attempt carried out by the church dealt with the objection of rebuilding trust among religious leaders. It was implemented through “live in program”,  where many GPM’s ministers could live together with Moslem families for a couple days.
There are some other programs initiated by the church to strengthen the ongoing process of building peace. They are related to educational, cultural, and artistic approaches. The church has actually tried to take those ways, but I think that they should give more concerns on them either in different or same methods. (1) Peace Education. According to the document of International Ecumenical Peace Convocation, Declaration on Just Peace, one of the effective ways in seeking and pursuing just peace is peace education.[13] In my church, this idea has been implemented in several ways such as the curriculum of SekolahMinggu (Childreen Sunday School) and Catechism as formal educations of the church, weekly sermons, and seminars on peace and religious pluralism. Actually, GPM through its theological institution (UKIM) has also developed “the Center for Peace Studies” which is expected to conduct researches on interreligious relation and peace in Maluku, but unfortunately to say, it does not function yet. Nevertheless, I think that it is better if we take a forward step, for instance, developing a new faculty or department at least in peace studies, where people can study on that issue intensively in a more academic way. It could be more effective not only because the visions of peace could be transferred in that way, but also those who study it are those who will be the future religious leaders with abilities to influence the society. Moreover, the church can take initiative to suggest the government to specifically develop a more contextual curriculum covering peace and pluralism issues and having applied to all levels of education. (2) Local Wisdom or Culture as the means to transfer the Spirit of Peace. In a long period after the western colonialization, churches had preserved the belief that local wisdom was blasphemous and Christians had to get rid of it. But in 1960 the church confessed and accepted itas the part of its journey in that cultural society, even it has been seen as the source of doing theology (contextual theology). In Malukan post-conflict era, GPM promotes and supportes culture as the way to gain peace. Malukan people have  a few cultural practices which can reunify them regardless of their location and  religion, such as Pela gandong. “Pela Gandong” is a siblinghood allience between two or three villages in Central Maluku. This culture has bound them since their ancestors lived. Usually, those who are bound in it come from different faith traditions and they have to be responsible for each other. Unfortunately, Pela involves only for certain villages and its affects are commonly adressed to such communities only. Hoewever, I think that its values and spirit of brotherhood can be transferred as wide as possible to entire community.Other local wisdoms are ain-ni-ain, kakawait, larvul-ngabal, kidabela, etc. These local wisdoms are expected to be able to break off the segregation by mind. (3) Building Peace through Art. The soul of the Malukan people is the soul of art. The city of Ambon is well known as the city of music or art. This is reason why Ambonese people are called as Manise and the city as Ambon Manise (‘Manise’ means sweet) – they are sweet because of their melodious voices and artful creativities.The art or music can be another way to provoke and speak more of peace to people. I think that this has also been concerned by GPM, but unfortunately we need to elaborate it more in a systemized and continued ways.
To conclude, I will say once again that my church, the Protestant Church in the Moluccas, will never stop to struggle for the recovery process in Maluku, but in its journey to rebuild peace, GPM is in collaboration with many groups which have a common vision. In that journey, we are all awaring that “the segregation by location and mind” can be a threat for our paths toward just peace. Nevertheless, we still believe in the Real, the Father of Justice, that there will be just peace in time and it has started from now.

“God of Life, lead us to Justice and Peace”.

September 6th, 2013
"Dirgahayu (Long Live!) yang ke-78"
“I (Paul) planted, Apollo watered, but God gave the growth”
(1Corinthians 3.6)

[1]Majelis Pekerja Harian Sinode GPM, Dokumen Pola Induk Pelayanan, in  Salinan Ketetapan-Ketetapan Hasil Persidangan XXXIO Sinode Gereja Protestan Maluku, Ambon, 2010, p. 259.
[2]Majelis Pekerja Harian Sinode GPM, Dokumen Pola Induk Pelayanan, in  Salinan Ketetapan-Ketetapan Hasil Persidangan XXXIO Sinode Gereja Protestan Maluku, p. 259
[3]Tapilatu,  Mesakh,  Sejarah Gereja Protestan di Maluku (The History of the Protestant Church in the Moluccas), Ambon, 2004, p. 4
[4]Lambang Trijono, Keluar dari Kemelut Maluku (Escape from Malukan Crisis), (Yogyakarta: Pusataka Pelajar, 2001), pp. 95-103.
[5]See Gerry van Klinken, Perang Kota Kecil (War of the Small Town), (Jakarta: Yayasan Obor Indonesia, 2007), pp. 147-178.
[6]Lambang Trijono, Keluar dari Kemelut Maluku (Escape from Malukan Crisis), pp. 33-46.
[7]“The Number and Precentage of the Poor in Indonesia” downloaded from
[8]Majelis Pekerja Harian Sinode GPM, Dokumen Pola Induk Pelayanan, in  Salinan Ketetapan-Ketetapan Hasil Persidangan XXXIO Sinode Gereja Protestan Maluku, pp. 262-271.
[9]Jacky Manuputty, The Maluku Conflict and the Process of Gaining Peace, this article was presented at EUKUMINDO Forum in the Netherland, p.2.
[10]By saying Malukan-Christians I do not intend to give  restriction only for those who are ethnically Malukan, but including people from other ethnic groups who belong to GPM.
[11] This information is based on my interview with one of GPM’s ministers, Rev. Steve Gaspersz, who was actively taking part at both organizations during the conflict.
[12]The Speech by the GPM’s Chairman at the 36th GPM Assembly in Majelis Pekerja Harian Sinode GPM, Dokumen Pola Induk Pelayanan, in  Salinan Ketetapan-Ketetapan Hasil Persidangan XXXIO Sinode Gereja Protestan Maluku, Ambon, 2010. P. 259.
[13]World Council of Churches, Declaration on Just Peace, 2011, p. 28.

1 komentar:

  1. A well-written article, I am looking forward to read another ones in the future. Good luck with your studies.