Should Christians Support Indonesia Criminalizing Cohabitation and Extramarital Sex?

Local leaders weigh in on the Muslim-majority nation’s new penal code and whether governments should legislate morality.

Last week, Indonesia’s parliament approved a new penal code that received backlash from the United Nations and human rights groups inside and outside the Southeast Asian nation.

The new code, which replaces a colonial-era code enacted while the archipelago was under Dutch rule, includes the criminalization of cohabitation and sex outside marriage, bans insulting the president, and keeps in place blasphemy laws that have been used at times against religious minorities, including Christians. The law will go into effect after a transitional period of three years.

Home to the world’s largest Muslim population, Indonesia places a high value on religious harmony—known officially as Pancasila—among its 277 million citizens, and its constitution guarantees freedom of religion. Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population, have mostly kept quiet on the new code.

CT asked five Indonesian Christians for their thoughts on the new criminal code’s article on cohabitation and extramarital sex, as well as other articles on blasphemy and criticizing the president. They explained how enforcement matters and why many Christians share the same stance on morality but disagree with the government’s attempts to legislate it.

Ihan Martoyo, director of the Center for Research and Community Development, Universitas Pelita Harapan (UPH) in Tangerang:

Many reports in Western media found the Indonesian new criminal law controversial, especially the point related to sex outside marriage. But only a few explained that the offense regarding extramarital sex is in fact a complaint offense (delik aduan), which does not apply unless a close family member—a spouse, a parent, or a child—reports the offense …

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