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Urban Christian aspirations

The Indonesian worship team lead the audience in song - CY Hoon
Published: Mar 28, 2016

A new interdenominational Christian movement is gaining momentum in urban centres

Chang-Yau Hoon

On 22 February 2014, thousands of young people gathered at an open-air concert in the car park of the Gelora Bung Karno Sports Complex in Jakarta. As the concert opened, performers sang patriotic songs upon a stage completely decked out in red and white – the colours of the Indonesian flag. But, despite the apparent display of nationalistic fervour, this was no political party rally, rather a concert for Christian youth. Jointly organised by the interdenominational JDN (Jaringan Doa Nasional or National Prayer Network), and the International Rise Up Movement, that originated in South Korea, the concert heralded Christian youth with the theme ‘Rise Up Indonesia: Pray for Our Nation’.

Singing along to KWJM - CY Hoon
Singing along to KWJM - CY Hoon

Despite the massive downpour on the day of the event, and the resulting flood and traffic congestion, the concert still attracted more than 6000 young people. After the patriotic opening, various church leaders took turns to proclaim emotional prayers for Indonesia and its political leaders: praying for blessings, prosperity, conversion of non-Christians and repentance of the nation. When one of the leaders called on the audience to raise their hands to the sky to pray for Indonesia, the crowd responded accordingly as tears and rain rolled down their cheeks.

Then came the highlight of the evening: contemporary songs led by the Korea Wave Jesus Movement (KWJM), a praise and worship team from South Korea. The torrential rain and muddy ground did nothing to dampen the spirit of the audience who were literally ‘singing in the rain’ as they swayed to the groove of the music. Christian mission organisations in Korea like KWJM have been riding on the rise of K-pop in the region to reach out to nonbelievers.  Under the auspices of the KWJM, Korean Christian bands frequently perform in major Indonesian cities at concerts that attract Christian youth in the thousands.

Interdenominational networks

The last two decades have seen the establishment of interconnected interdenominational Christian networks in Indonesia. Those active in such networks endeavour to unite all churches and break down denominational boundaries. They are keen to forge new denominational modes that depart from vertical structures including formal membership structures, traditional liturgy, and appointed council leaders. They take a fluid and horizontal organisational configuration coalescing around ‘networkers’ and ‘contact persons’ instead of formal office bearers such as chairperson, presbytery and council members.
The non-hierarchical structure of the network leaves little incentive for institutional politics and power struggles among its activists. The fluid nature of these networks means that their membership is not cast in stone; their core activists are often the same group of people with a shared vision. Unlike traditional churches, they do not compete with each other for members.

The JDN is one such network. It has co-organised large-scale events such as the aforementioned concert and the World Prayer Assembly, held on 12 May 2012, when 3.5 million people prayed simultaneously in 378 cities across Indonesia.

The JDN was founded by Iman Santoso, a Chinese–Indonesian businessman. Santoso embodies an interdenominational unity because of his background in an ecumenical church, his evangelical commitment, and his charismatic spirituality. Santoso is resourceful and widely respected, and has frequently and successfully mobilised various Christian bodies across denominational boundaries to collaborate and hold large-scale prayer assemblies focusing on national issues like the 2014 presidential elections.

The Seven Mountains of Culture Movement

The core aim of these interdenominational networks is to unite disparate groups of Christians to achieve an ambitious vision based on the Seven Mountains Theology. This theology encompasses the following areas of influence: arts and entertainment, business, education, family, government, media, and religion.

As an extension of the ‘Dominion Theology’, which proposes that God has planned for humans to have dominion over the earth and its animals, the Seven Mountains Theology maintains that Christians are biblically mandated to control all earthly institutions until the second coming of Christ.
This theology was envisioned by two prominent American evangelical leaders: Bill Bright and Loren Cunningham, founders of Campus Crusade and Youth with a Mission, respectively. Closely associated with the New Apostolic Reformation and the Christian Right movement in the USA, they promote the reclaiming of the seven mountains of culture.

Audience members clap joyously despite the mud and rain - CY Hoon
Audience members clap joyously despite the mud and rain - CY Hoon

Ambitious, combative, well-organised, and resourceful, the Seven Mountains of Culture Movement foregrounds a new type of Christian activism in Indonesia. The movement attempts to transcend denominational divides and influence all sectors of society, from the media to education to governance.

Its urban focus endeavours to capture the aspirations and imaginations of the nation’s emerging urban middle class. It also claims to offer a response to the polarisations occurring in urban Indonesia amid forces of increasing religious intolerance.

Politics and capital

Among these Christians, anxiety about the possibility of violent attacks from Islamic vigilantes is high.  Consequently, the security for Rise Up Indonesia concert was very tight – military personnel flanked the entrance and strategically dispersed themselves amongst the crowd. The conspicuous presence of the security forces deterred provocateurs from sabotaging the event. 

The protective military presence at the event reflects the substantial capital backing and high-level connections of the movement. Since the Dutch colonial period, the Christian minority has maintained a patron-client relationship with power holders to seek protection and favour. This has continued to the present day and was evident in the patronage organisers of Rise Up Indonesia sought from Major General (Ret.) Darpito Pudyastungkoro, a former Christian general from the military command area of Jakarta (Kodam Jaya).

In Indonesia, patronage is the unparalleled way to access security in the absence of state protection. Without such backing, the organisers could not ensure the safety of the congregation, especially given that the concert was held in a public venue. The concert went ahead ostensibly without a hitch, free from harassment by radical Islamist vigilantes who have frequently carried out attacks on various public gatherings of a similar nature. The ability to deploy military forces points to the connections that the organisers command but also, more importantly, to the financial support of a handful of wealthy Christian business people who generously funded the event. Such intricate relationships between the state, church and business remains the key to the success of new urban Christian movements in Indonesia.

Chang-Yau Hoon (cy.hoon@outlook.com) is Associate Professor at the Institute of Asian Studies, Universiti Brunei Darussalam, and Adjunct Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia. He was Assistant Professor of Asian Studies and Sing Lun Fellow at the School of Social Sciences, Singapore Management University.

Inside Indonesia 124: Apr-Jun 2016

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