Daily Archives: 18 April 2004

Holy Warriors vs. the Salvation Army in Poso, Sulawesi, Indonesia

Yet another outbreak of violence hit the area around Poso in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, over the Easter weekend.

At 7:15 pm, April 10th, three masked men in Ninja-like costumes arrived on motorcycle and stormed the Protestant congregation, opening fire on hundreds of Christians who were celebrating Easter. Seven people were injured, including a four-year old girl who was shot in the right leg. The assailants escaped to a nearby forest.

Three previous shootings in the last month have claimed the lives of three Christians and injured another. The deaths of Rosia Pilonga, a 41-year old dean of Law at the Siontuwunu Maroso University and Jhon Christian Tanalida, who were shot dead by unknown gunmen earlier last month, were followed by the shooting death of a local clergyman, Reverend Freddy Wuisan, in his own home late one evening.

These anonymous attacks have targeted the Christian population in the Poso region even after the 2001 Peace accord was established by the government to end two years of fighting which killed some 2000 people. In the worst bloodshed last October, gunmen killed 10 people in attacks on mainly Christian villages.

Christians so far have not retaliated to any of the attacks with violence.

The violent outbreaks in 2000-2001 were attributed to the Laskar Jihad holy warriors, which officially disbanded in the wake of the Bali bombing in 2002, but is more likely to have relocated to West Papua, well away from international media TV cameras. The most recent violence has been attributed to the Jemaah Islamiya terrorist group apparently responsible for the Bali attack.

One odd irony of the conflict in Poso is that Christianity first came to Central Sulawesi by means of the Salvation Army, which describes itself in military terms but, as far as I know, has never sanctioned violence as a means of spreading its message. A good, concise account of the origins of the Salvation Army and its arrival in Central Sulawesi can be found in the chapter, “Onward Christian Soldiers: The Salvation Army in Sulawesi,” in the book Fields of the Lord: Animism, Christian Minorities, and State Development in Indonesia, by Lorraine Aragon (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2000), pp. 116-118. (Author-date references are omitted in the following extract.)

The Salvation Army began as the East London Christian Revival Society in 1865, when a Wesleyan Methodist preacher named William Booth took his message to the street people of East London. Booth quickly discovered that these lower-class individuals, often alcoholics or scofflaws, were unwelcome in established English churches. When their roving street evangelism was discouraged by Methodist Church institutions, Booth and his wife, Catherine, founded their own sect…. They recognized that their prospective audience was not attracted to the staid atmosphere of conventional churches and organ music, so they created a circus-like environment of tents thrown up in public squares with vivacious music played on guitars, banjos, trumpets, and bass drums…. In this context, Booth and his wife preached eternal salvation through Christian faith and discipline to individuals who were considered the most sinful members of British society.

Booth remained doctrinally faithful to Wesleyan principles: faith in both Old and New Testament scriptures, the Trinity, original sin, and the atonement of Jesus Christ…. It was less a matter of doctrine than Booth’s constituency and approach to them that made the Salvation Army a distinctive sect apart from Methodism.

Because many of his original followers were alcoholics, Booth eliminated the sacraments, which he saw as tempting his followers with sips of wine. Salvation Army members are forbidden alcohol and tobacco in order to purify their physical and spiritual selves from sinful habits. Booth also encouraged, yet disciplined, the charismatic expression of penitence among his followers by restricting their confessions of faith to moments in the service when all were called upon to volunteer their “witness” to the greatness of the Lord….

The East London Christian Revival Society changed its name to the Christian Mission and then, in 1878, to the Salvation Army. Booth found military references in the Bible evocative of the kind of energetic and disciplined movement that he envisioned…. [This was the heyday of the YMCA and “muscular Christianity.”] Hence the organization’s chosen processional hymn became “Onward, Christian Soldiers!” Once the Salvation Army name was chosen, the way to structure and clothe the organization’s members became clear to “General” Booth, who began to assign military ranks and adopt used British Army garments that later were altered to create a distinctive Salvation Army uniform.

By the late 1880s, Salvation Army congregations, or “corps,” were opened in other parts of the British empire and European continent. Given the organization’s early statement that “[t]he Salvation Army makes religion where there was no religion before” …, missionization in Europe’s overseas colonies was a natural next step for the Salvation Army’s expansion. Methodists already disavowed the high Calvinist view of strict predestination, which made missionary work more purposive, merely another extension of the desired corpus Christianum….

In 1909, A. W. F. Idenburg, the newly stationed governor-general of the Dutch East Indies, contacted Gerrit Govaars, the first Dutch Salvation Army [Du. Leger des Heils] officer ever commissioned and the newly assigned Indonesian territorial “commander.” Govaars was assigned to travel from an established Salvation Army headquarters in Semarang, Java, to assess the possibility of opening missions among the “pagan Toradjas” of Central Sulawesi. A 1970s interview with Govaars indicates that once he arrived in the Palu Valley, he met a German named Zuppinger. Zuppinger, who was married to a “native” woman and could speak some local language, accompanied Govaars on a journey to Kulawi‘s pagan temple, where Govaars became “the first Christian to preach the gospel in Kulawi” …. Of his travels into the interior farther south, Govaars said:

From place to place we hired carriers, and so traversed the country. We spoke to the heads of the tribes. One of them listened interestedly to what I told him about Christ, serving the Lord and not doing bad things. Then he asked, “Are we allowed to eat pig’s meat?”

Upon my affirmative he said, “Oh well, that is all right. Wild pigs eat our harvest, so we ought to be allowed to eat pigs.” …

These comments, familiar to all missionaries in Indonesia, encapsulate one of the primary objections that highlanders have to Islam. By initial comparison, the Christian religion seems less of a dietary hardship. Unlike the coastal Kaili, most of whom gradually gave up eating pork to forge alliances with Muslim merchants from South Sulawesi, highland Kulawi people never found a sufficiently good reason to renounce their major feast food in favor of a foreign religion.

UPDATE: Indonesian police say they have “found 17 bombs and scores of home-made guns, knives and bows and arrows in an extensive search of Indonesia’s Poso district. Hundreds of police conducted door-to-door searches and combed fields in the Central Sulawesi district from Wednesday to find illegal weapons.” … Local residents “gave police a lot of information.”

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