When Andar Parlindungan says he enrolled in Luther’s Islamic Studies program out of necessity, he’s not exaggerating. Andar is from Indonesia, where inter-religious tensions are running high. Last year as many as 100 mosques and 150 churches were burned in Muslim-Christian hostility. Andar, who is an ordained minister in the Batak Protestant Christian Church, hopes to use his Luther experience to educate others in his country about Islam and foster dialogue between the two groups.
Indonesia is an island nation of about 230 million people. About 200 million are Muslim and 20 million Christian. The remaining five million are Buddhist, Hindu or other faiths.
While one might connect the Muslim-Christian tensions to the wider world scene, Andar says Indonesia’s problem is more a matter of national politics. He is quick to point out that responsibility belongs on both sides.
Muslims, he says, complain that Christians are too noisy. The Christians respond by complaining about the Muslim call to prayer broadcast five times a day. Muslims say Christians have three gods. In return, Christians taunt them saying “Christ is risen, Mohammed is dead.”
The Batak Protestant Christian Church is essentially a Lutheran body. The church has 5,300 congregations with 3 million members, making it the largest Lutheran sect in Indonesia. Two of his seminary professors, Plasthon Simanjuntak and Edison Munthe, are Luther graduates.
After serving in the parish for two and a half years, Andar took a job with the synod’s mission department. Living in a predominantly Christian area, he had little awareness of Muslim-Christian friction elsewhere until he joined the synod office. He traveled to Aceh province to get a first-hand look. Muslims in Aceh have instituted sharia law–regulations for living–causing them to be further isolated from non-Muslims in the area. His objective in that setting was fostering pluralism, not evangelizing. “I want to introduce my Jesus as a helper for you,” he told them, which opened the door to talk about Christianity.
Andar accepted when his synod asked him to enroll in Luther’s Islamic Studies program. Upon completing a master of theology at Luther, Parlindungan plans to teach at his alma mater, where he also took Islamic studies. The need to educate Indonesian pastors about Islam is acute. Some pastors have called for their people to stone mosques, he said. “They don’t know about Islam.”
His second goal is to work with Muslims to create a crisis center. The center would treat victims of the religious conflict and provide crisis intervention services. It would provide education, foster human rights and combat poverty. Above all, he said, it would encourage pluralism by creating a Muslim-Christian dialogue group.
“It will be important for us to approach them,” Andar said. “It’s not merely theological understanding. … It’s a matter of survival.”