Kriss: Talking politics in Indonesia

Feb 13, 2017 by

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I spent the two weeks preceding President Trump’s inauguration in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country. Conversation about the U.S. presidential transition was lively.

Stephen Kriss

Kriss

Some Indonesian Christian leaders saw Trump as an ally, a savvy businessman who might lead with strength to defend Christian perspectives. It seemed business leaders could relate to Trump’s deal-making acumen and appreciate him as a hedge against a perceived globally radicalizing Islam. They felt less confident in his character and word choice.

In my visit to Gajah Madah University, the tone was markedly different. There was a sense of looming fear among academics that a clash of civilizations was happening. Indonesian students’ hearts and minds felt increasingly closed and less curious about the world. Trump’s election seemed to echo a similar American mindset. A friend who attended Friday prayers at the campus mosque said the sermon that day had anti-Christian overtones.

A quick conversation with a young man in Bali offered a different perspective. Bali is known as a place of relaxation and laid-back culture shaped by the mountains, sea, beaches and lingering practice of Balinese Hinduism. It’s a place more spiritual than religious, where people set out small offerings of food and flowers on sidewalks and street corners each morning.

While checking out of my hotel, a young man asked me how I felt about our new president. His response was quick: “I feel bad for America. You have made a choice rooted in what seems like so much fear, so much presumption of what is wrong. I just feel bad for your state of mind as a country. I will pray for you because so much of what you do and how you feel affects our world, too.”

As he spoke, he helped me put my bags into a taxi. He refused my tip, told me his name, smiled kindly and walked back to work.

In my international travels, I find many people happy to discuss American politics. Those conversations seem often more fluid and fluent than those I experience in the U.S. The world is attuned and aware of our sometimes shifting role and influence, our potential for both help and hindrance.

These responses of hope, frustration and prayerfulness also represent our responses in this time of political change. Each of these people might be in our congregation, neighborhood or extended community. Each is passionate in their own way. Their insights, fears and hopes are real — not rooted in alternative facts but viewed from particular perspectives and experiences.

What strikes me from the Indonesian context was the sincerity of the conversations. Maybe I was better able to hear because I was away from the barrage of media that hems in my thoughts. Or maybe in a strange land I was more open to listening than to defending a position. Maybe I need to remember I am in a strange land now, too.

In this land, as one charged by ordination to speak on behalf of the church and the legacy of our Lord, I want to make sure I hear well the real perspectives, challenge alternative facts and still remain faithful to the Good News that in prophetic tradition offers true healing, vision and freedom (Isaiah 61:1). This is our shared challenge in the days ahead.

Stephen Kriss is a teacher, writer, pastor and follower of Jesus living in Philadelphia.


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