Posted by: Jamilin Sirait | March 25, 2010

Human Rights and Religious Freedom

Part II

The call of Churches to promote human rights and religious freedom

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights in its Article 18 defines it thus: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or in private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. It was affirmed by the 1981 Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief states: Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have a religion or whatever belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or in private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have a religion or belief of his choice.

The 1945 Indonesian Constitution also stresses the human rights and religious freedom. In its article 29 (2) is affirmed: The State guarantees all citizens to embrace their own religion and act of their devotion according to their belief. Before, in article 27 is stated that all citizens has the same rights in front of the law and has rights to get job and prosperous life.  The content of these articles are expanded and affirmed again in the amendment of 1945 Indonesian Constitution. The article 28 (A,B,C,D,E, F,G,H,I) contains the human rights and religious freedom extensively.

Based on the articles mentioned above, especially related to the core teaching of religions about love and peace, normally the transgression on human rights and religious conflict should not be happened anymore. In Indonesia, we have an institution of the human rights, called National Committee for Human Rights. But in fact, it still happens until nowadays.

It is not my task to explain the role of all religions to promote the human rights and religious freedom here. My concern be focused on the Church’s role on building peace with the help of religions which the core content is human rights and religious freedom from the Christian perspective, especially related to my view and experience in Indonesia. Therefore, we need to approach it from the theological outlook firstly and then propose some practical suggestion as the implementation of the church’s responsibility in our own context. In my understanding, the peace does not mean that we have to nullify the religious differences and theological outlook, but using the differences to be our strength in building the peaceful, just and prosperous society.

From the biblical point of view we have many passages of the Old Testament and New Testament to be taken as source of theological bases for human rights and religious freedom.  The entry point of approaching to the human rights can be seen in Genesis 1, where the creation of universe and all human beings is reported. In Gen 1.28 ff. the creation of human beings as the image of God is followed by the blessing of God, and the human calling to be fruitful and rule over all creatures. Human’s rule over the earth is to obey to the will and command of the creator who loves his creation. Human beings are to “till and keep” the earth (Gen. 2:15) and to rejoice in it. Plundering, exploitation, and the destruction of nature contradicted to their right and dignity given by God. Therefore human dominion over the earth includes a sense of community with the earth. Human rule is only then made legitimate when it is exercised in cooperation and community with the environment, and leads to life-giving symbioses between human society and the natural environment. The right of human beings to rule over the whole creatures must therefore be balanced by their respecting the “rights” of them.

Therefore, based on the human’s rights, only in human fellowship with other people is the human person truly image of God (Gen 1.28). Human beings in the fullness of their life and in all life’s relationships – economic social, political, and personal – are destined to live “before the face of God”, to respond to the Word of God, and responsibly to carry out their responsibility in the world implied in their being created in the image of God. They are persons before God and as such capable of acting on God’s behalf and responsible to him. As a consequence of this, a person’s rights and duties as a human being are inalienable and indivisible.

The New Testament emphasizes the liberation of human beings from sin, law and death through the coming, the sacrifice and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the lordship of the crucified Son of man, the vicious circle of evil, “which must bear ever greater evil”, is broken through, and the freedom of the humankinds begins to appear. Liberation through the vicarious death of Christ, the new covenant in his blood, and the new rights and duties of the fellowship which is composed of “slaves and freemen, Jews and gentiles, men and women” (Gal 3.28) are the basic content of the Church’s witness about human rights. Because in his coming, his sacrifice, and his resurrection, Christ is “the visible image of the invisible God”, human beings in his fellowship become his brothers and sisters, and set out on the way towards the realization of their human destiny as the image of God in the world.

The Christian notion of religious freedom does not include any element of indifferentism, relativism or syncretism. Religious freedom is an implication of the Christian faith. Christians see religious liberty as a consequence of God’s creative coming, of his redemption of man in Christ and his calling of men into his service. The whole of God’s plan in creation, redemption and calling is directed towards making man responsible for his own acts, and therefore, freedom. The revelation of God in Jesus Christ requires a free response and, therefore, any other kind of response is incompatible with its intrinsic nature.

The Church’s teaching lays upon all Christians the basic demand that they should first and foremost obey God, and consequently require of others that they should not obscure this obedience. God’s love is given in freedom and calls for a response. The freedom which God has given in Christ implies a response to God’s love. Our Christian insights also give freedom not to believe or not to profess any religion at all according to his/her conscience. But the Church as the visible body of Christ in the world has the responsible duty to proclaim and to be a promoter of religious liberty before society. The Church’s witness must be performed in the strength of the divine power given to Jesus in heaven and in earth, and never by the force of human power. Therefore, the Churches have to oppose the use of the coercive power of the world in matters of religion, like the law based on Shari’ah of the local government in Indonesia. The State is an institution willed and ordained by God to keep the society living in peace. The use of coercion in our perspective betrays the lack of respect for humankind’s dignity. So, in our understanding the human rights include the right to resistance and the duty to resistance against illegal, illegitimate, and inhuman regimes.

Viewed from the basic teaching of Christianity, the Christians are called to promote peace and human rights. Therefore, the Churches are called to perform and implement some practical action as the implementation of theological perspective where the Church members live together with the others in Indonesia, as follows:

  1. The Churches must be serious too initiate the different religious dialogue, especially between Muslim and Christian for the sake of mutual need. In the dialogue meeting everybody can discuss the crucial issues in the society related to the non-theological points where all people have concern for it, like poverty, justice, HIV/AIDs, global warming, climate change, etc. In the dialogue meeting everybody could be enriched by other theological perspectives. The dialogue is useful to minimize the mutual suspicion between the people of different belief and religion. The more the different religious adherents meet it will results the mutual respect and friendship. For this purpose, in the last meeting of UEM members Churches’ representative in Indonesia we discussed to continue the new paradigm of dialogue meeting. The Christian and Muslim representative live together for one month or more in Pesantren and Christian center. So every participant of the dialogue meeting can hear and learn something from other and at the end the understanding of participant toward different religion will be deepened. By intensifying of daily meeting they may build a strong solidarity in facing the social problem.  
  2. The Churches need to build and show the concern for others in their suffering without restriction of religious and tribal background by doing good deeds as the implementation of the love of God into the world. Many people still live in poverty and backwardness caused by various factors, including less opportunity to get good education. The Christians do no need to avenge to the others, in the contrary we must be more enthusiastic to show our humbleness imitating the attitude of Jesus Christ towards the people who in hostile to Him. God through Jesus Christ love all people and ask them to love one another. God does not count the transgression of humankind, but he offered himself to be the atonement of the sins. It means, all Christians need to realize that they are not superhuman in the midst of others. They must cast out their spiritual boasting as if they are only people blessed by Jesus Christ. The offertory of Jesus Christ is addressed to all human, because He is the Savior of all people. He is not only the Lord to Christians, but He came to give the salvation to the world where the sinners live.
  3. The Churches need to develop the networking with various institutions, especially Islamic institution, for instance, the moderate Pesantren, the moderate leaders of Muhammadiyah and Nahdatul Ulama organization, etc. The authority of Pesantren leaders and ulama are still generally recognized by Muslims. For instance, several years ago, the remarks of a Charismatic evangelist in Medan, North Sumatra caused the Muslims be furious. When the FPI (Front Pembela Islam, one of the Islamic Fundamentalism group) would avenge their disagreement to the remarks by attacking Christians, it certainly was suspected to spread the horizontal conflict in that city. In that crucial situation, the role of Sheik Marbun, a moderate Pesantren leader in Medan was very helpful. He succeeded to pacify the critical situation and extinguish a flame and fury of Muslims. 
  4. The Churches’ members must be able to show their Christian behavior and attitude instructed by Jesus Christ. The late Mr. Mohammad Roem, one of the noble Islam Nationalist ever said: he appreciated Dr Johannes Leimena, the Christian nationalist due to his integrity, honesty and dedication to the nation without restricted by religious difference. His understanding to the essential teaching of Christianity and the deep faith as Christian gives him integrity. He was respected by all his contemporary friends, including the people of other faith, because he made the mutual need exceeding his. 
  5. The Christians must maintain the attitude of responsible citizenship in their internal group and in the midst of all people. They have to believe that their citizenship will be accounted for God and all citizens of their country. I agree with the late Th. Sumartana (the popular Indonesian Christian theologian) who ever said that there are four alternatives available for the churches in Indonesia, i.e. First, to participate in politics exclusively by setting up Christian parties; second, to offer a neutral standing which is secular in nature; third, to develop Pancasila as a common basis; fourth, to offer pluralism of nation as a common basis.
  6. I am very interested to the statement of an Indonesian theologian when he said that the church’s members must criticize themselves regarding dichotomy of “in-group” and “out-group”. They understand in-group as the only manifestation of truth and completeness, whereas out-group as darkness and digression.
  7. The Churches must struggle for the right to freedom of religion includes the rights of parents to have their children educated and the rights of children to be educated in accordance with their religion. Religious schools exist to form the whole person through education and to nurture, instil and uphold religious principles and beliefs in and for the benefit of students, parents, teachers and religious communities. Because religious faith is not simply attested to intellectually but lived out in practice, values and life-style choices is an integral dimension of religious faith.”
  8. The churches must be transformed based on the call of Jesus Christ. It is necessary for Churches to be reformed by the Holy Spirit, so that the members will be also transformed to do their responsibilities to the state and society according to and in their context and occupation. All Christians are called to be the witness of Jesus Christ to execute the mission of God (missio Dei).
  9. It is needed to publish a guiding book (pocket dictionary) containing the crucial issues in the global society written by the religious experts from the different perspective which will touch the real problem in the world, for instance: poverty, pluralism, justice, injustice, the rights to get water, climate change, etc. 


Closing Note

            The Churches are called either to be the teaching churches (ecclesia docens) or to be the learning churches (ecclesia discens) as well. The Churches need to have a deep insight concerning human rights and religious freedom theologically and practically. The Churches are not only as the users of human rights, the churches must be as the promoter and defender of human rights and religious freedom. Therefore, the Churches must discard the attitude of considering others as infidel and appreciate every human as the image of God, as our sister and brother who are longing for justice and peace.





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