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Politics of the (Most) High: Transnational Networks between Gospel of the Kingdom Megachurch (Indonesian Mennonite Synod) in Central Java, Indonesia and Pentecostal/Charismatic Institutions in the United States
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This dissertation examines the transnational networks of Gospel of the Kingdom megachurch (the Indonesian Mennonite Synod) with Pentecostal/Charismatic institutions in the United States. It begins by asking what can American Studies as a discipline learn about the United States from examining a story of an Indonesian megachurch, far away from U.S. geographical borders? The dissertation specifically asks: 1) How is the growth of Gospel megachurch closely related to its partnerships with Pentecostal/Charismatic (P/c) institutions in the United States? (2) How does Gospel church apply teachings and values from their American partners?
Through archival work, fieldwork, and interviews, this dissertation finds that, first, Gospel church under the leadership of Pastor Petrus Agung, partners with the JKI (Jemaat Kristen Indonesia) or Indonesian Christian Congregation synod, located in both Orange County, California and Central Java, Indonesia under the leadership of Pastor Sutanto Adi. The transnational Indonesian/American synod highlighted the contribution of Indonesian immigrants. Second, Pastor Petrus Agung, the leader of Gospel church, partners with other non-immigrant Pentecostal/Charismatic leaders such as John Avanzini, Morris Cerullo, Harold Gingerich, and Bill Wilson. In their direst needs to get out of debt, Gospel church found an affirmation in teaching on “Biblical economy” with emphases on financial independence, concerns for the marginalized poor, and giving as key to church growth. Gospel church had consistently applied the teachings from transnational partnerships in the contexts of local struggles against poverty and religious marginalization in Indonesia. Third, from 2005 until 2016, as the teaching was confirmed by continuous growth in finances and numbers of congregations, Gospel church sought collaborations with five other P/c institutions in Indonesia to form a Bahtera (translation: Ark) movement. Gospel church and Bahtera predicted their institutions and Indonesia would be the center of the world’s economy and spiritual movement. Bahtera sought to bring the movement abroad to many different countries, especially through the worship dance performances.
My work contributes a transnational understanding of American cultural histories, particularly the diversity and networks of Pentecostal/Charismatic and Mennonite movements. It is a conversation with the field of Asian American Studies to fill the gap of literature on Indonesian immigration and the lives of Indonesian immigrants in particular, and Southeast Asian immigrants in the United States in general. This research will be of interests for scholars particularly in Sociocultural Anthropology and Sociology that continue to examine the issue of “structure and agency” especially in religious spaces. Lastly, In portraying Gospel church’s story and struggles as part of “archives of America,” this dissertation joined scholarship in American Studies, Asian American Studies, and Anthropology that challenged the one-directional narrative of American influences. Gospel church is one example of a community that lives “against America.” In both their periods of struggles and high prosperity, Gospel church did gaze at America for inspiration and affirmation, to eventually prophesy for an agentive ability of an Indonesian Pentecostal/Charismatic, Mennonite institution to play a central role in the prosperity of the world and thus hint at the fight against America’s hegemonic power and influence. Analyzing Gospel church’s transnational partnerships with Christian institutions in the United States, therefore, is moving to the center a narrative from of an “empire striking back.”