Tuesday, March 05, 2024

Indonesia Officially Adopts Indonesian Term for ‘Jesus Christ’

Change Should be a Springboard for Wider Religious-Freedom Reforms

A Christian congregation, which has been trying to secure a building permit since 2018, holds a service in their temporary building in Bogor, near Jakarta. The church uses the term “Yesus Kristus” like most Christian denominations. © 2022 Andreas Harsono/Human Rights Watch

Andreas Harsono
Indonesia Researcher

This year, for the first time since 1953, Christians in Indonesia will finally be able to officially use Indonesian terminology for Jesus Christ, Yesus Kristus, when they celebrate the major Christian holidays of Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Christmas. In a victory for freedom of religion and belief, the government is no longer insisting on the use of the Arabic term Isa al Masih for Jesus Christ during major Christian holidays, which the Indonesian state had imposed for the past seven decades.

The recognition came in January, when a joint decree on the change was signed by three government ministers: Minister of Manpower Ida Fauziyah, Minister of State Apparatus Empowerment and Bureaucratic Reform Abdullah Azwar Anas, and Minister of Religious Affairs Yaqut Cholil Quomas.  President Joko Widodo signaled his support for the change when he announced this year’s annual holidays, using Yesus Kristus in his announcement rather than Isa al Masih.

Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs Saiful Rahmat Dasuki said that Indonesian Christians had requested the change in nomenclature: “They want a change, using 'Yesus Kristus' in the commemoration of his birth, death, and ascension.”

Left unanswered is why successive Indonesian governments took so long to lift this unnecessary and oppressive requirement on Indonesian Christians’ terminology. In daily practice, including in Sunday services, Indonesian Christians rarely used the Arabic term, choosing the Indonesian version instead, highlighting the unreasonableness of the government’s insistence on the use of the Arabic term during festivities.

Indonesia has two major Bible publishing houses: the Indonesia Bible Society (Lembaga Alkitab Indonesia), which is jointly owned by various Protestant denominations, and the Indonesian Biblical Institute (Lembaga Biblika Indonesia), controlled by the Roman Catholic church. Alongside the Indonesian language, they also translate the Christian Bible into hundreds of Indonesia’s ethnic languages. Both publishers have traditionally used the term Yesus Kristus, despite the government not officially recognizing it.

Gomar Gultom, the chairman of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia, thanked the government for finally “ending the confusion” around the two different names for Jesus Christ. By this step, the Indonesian government could be indicating greater recognition of the rights to freedom of religion and belief, and this small but important step might serve as a precursor for more far-reaching reforms that can protect religious rights for everybody.

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