The Act of Killing
In 2001, documentary filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer was in Indonesia working on a film. He and his partner began investigating the Indonesian genocide of 1965-66, an event that has received little attention from outside Indonesia.
Set against the backdrop of the Cold War and US involvement in the Vietnam war, an allegedly pro-democracy party that called themselves the New Order staged a military coup and took over the country. To consolidate their power, the New Order staged anti-communist purges, eventually killing an estimated 1 million people over the course of a year.
The New Order won the day, and still rules Indonesia today. What Oppenheimer discovered when he was in Indonesia was that history there (as everywhere) is written by the winners. No one acknowledges the genocide. He described it as visiting German 40 years after the Nazis had won World War 2.
In his research, he meets Anwar Congo, a gangster who was promoted to lead the largest death squad in North Sumatra – he allegedly personally killed 1,000 people. What shocked Oppenheimer in his encounter with Congo was how remorseless he was about what he had done.
Anwar Congo rejected the term “war crime”, insisting he was not a murderer but a “free man”.
Oppenheimer decided to document Congo and his friends, in a film released in 2012 called “The Act of Killing”. In one haunting scene, Congo takes the film crew to a rooftop where he killed hundreds. He reenacts the killings, then starts doing a cha cha, happy and carefree.
It’s deeply messed up.
And it raises questions that make me (and I bet you!) deeply uncomfortable. Where is the justice in this situation? The murderers are still in power. It’s been 50 years and Indonesia doesn’t even acknowledge anything happened, let alone move toward reconciliation and restoration.
What do you do with a man like Anwar Congo?
And even a casual student of history knows this is only the tip of the iceberg on the world stage. There are lots of Anwar Congos in the world, and those of us in this room are powerless to stop them.
How do we resist in the face of these giant, impossible evils? What are we who are powerless to do anything that has an impact really supposed to do?
Friends it is precisely because of these impossible evils we need faith. Faith calls us to look beyond ourselves, to cry out for the God who is bigger than us and trust that God is bigger than these evils too. Today, we’ll see that clinging to God’s way in the world and living out the story of Jesus even in the face of these big evils is the only hope we have of resurrection, of new life.
We’ll see that those who perpetrate violence and oppression, people like Congo and his friends, are locked in prisons of fear.