In Makassar, the largest city in eastern Indonesia (about 1.5 million population), the history of religious relations has its ups and downs. In 2019, Setara Institute, a nationally renowned research institute, declared Makassar as one of the 10 most intolerant cities in Indonesia. This is supported by a number of aggressive actions of Islamic intolerant groups in this city. Islamic internal intolerance towards Shi'ites and Ahmadis is common. Also, intolerance towards other religious communities with cases of rejection of the construction or renovation of Christian worship buildings. There have been the closings of restaurants that sell pork as well as eliminating books at bookstores that are considered to teach communism or Marxism.
This kind of intolerance is based on exclusive religious truth claims and also religion as an instrument of socio-political and economical rivalry, a latent disease in the life of the nation.
Our institution, Oase Intim, together with other socio-religious institutions formed a forum to develop harmonious interfaith relations and fight intolerant attitudes. We promote an open religious approach to the diversity of religions based on our understanding of our respective religious teaching and our mutual respect for the principle of religious freedom. Everyone has a personal right to religion, which is the basis for religious freedom: choosing a religion, practicing religion, spreading the religion, and converting others to the religion.
Our interfaith cooperation is also in the midst of the new Coronavirus pandemic. We did social assistance actions to help people who are economically experiencing difficulties due to unemployment, layoffs, and being barred from work (such as street vendors) because of the pandemic.
We also held an online interfaith discussion about the Covid-19 pandemic, specifically sharing the theological views and social actions of each community. We are arranging an online discussion about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on women and children.
In viewing the Covid-19 pandemic as a disaster, I do not so much want to develop a theodicy about who God is in the middle of this pandemic, but rather emphasize our call as Christians, the church, to engage in the pandemic. The church was called and sent to witness and serve in the midst of a pandemic.
In the pandemic God is present not to punish, to test, or to give a lesson, but God is in solidarity with suffering humanity to hear and answer the prayers of those who suffer and to welcome to God’s merciful lap those who die from disaster. The "disastrous texts" in the Bible, therefore, must be read in the perspective of God's love and solidarity in Christ to human sufferings.
The call to witness and to minister is also rooted in Jesus’ love commandment, to love God and love fellow human beings. And from that commandment perspective, we should develop an appreciation for the human value and dignity as the imago Dei. The church, therefore, opposes stigmatization of people who are infected with the virus or who die and their families and communities as damned or cursed. the dead have been refused to be buried in public cemeteries, and even doctors and nurses are bullied. The phenomenon of stigmatization that often occurs in the midst of this pandemic is resisted as violating human rights. The church asserts that the Covid-19 pandemic is not God's punishment, and those who are stranded or die are also fully loved by God.
Zakaria J. Ngelow
Director of Oase Intim (Makassar, Indonesia)