Vietnam: Church Laments State Discrimination, Interference
The Executive Committee of the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (ECVN) issued a letter on March 28 called “An Appeal for Prayer” to address the government’s lack of action on church seizures and interferences, as well as discrimination against Christians. House church leaders have reportedly commended the ECVN for their courage in addressing these issues.
4/21/08 Vietnam (CompassDirect) An unprecedented prayer appeal by the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South) indicates that the government has stonewalled quiet, persistent attempts to obtain redress on confiscated church properties, interference in church affairs and discrimination against Christians.
Addressed to “The Church of God Everywhere,” the March 28 letter from the Executive Committee of the ECVN(S) followed several ultimatums in which the church threatened “collective action” and still did not obtain serious dialogue with authorities.
It is uncommon for the ECVN(S), which received full legal recognition in April 2001 and is Vietnam’s largest Protestant Church, to go public on such matters. Its leaders are normally cautious and non-confrontational. While the letter is called “An Appeal for Prayer,” sources said the church leaders expected it would be used by advocates for religious freedom in Vietnam.
The ECVN(S) had provided the government a list of 265 church properties confiscated following the 1975 communist victory. The church leaders’ letter said some properties had been turned to other uses, some simply left unused to fall into disrepair and others demolished.
The demolition of two church buildings, one in Ben Cat and the other in Go Vap, Ho Chi Minh City, occurred last year, the latter at Christmas time. Authorities also destroyed two Bible schools in the Central Highlands after legal recognition of the church in 2001.
The church submitted petitions to the central government on confiscated properties last year on February 10, August 12 and December 10, according to the letter. Church leaders said they were not mollified by the return of a few small churches and government’s utter unwillingness to discuss its priority concerns – a large seaside seminary campus in Nha Trang and a former international church building in a prime area of Ho Chi Minh City.
The letter also asks prayer for authorities to stop interfering into the church’s internal affairs in violation of the government’s own Ordinance on Belief and Religion, promulgated in November 2004. It states that local officials sometimes block routine procedures such the reassignment of pastors.
“There are many sanctions in the Ordinance against violations by religious organizations, but there are no provisions to penalize government officials who break the law,” the letter notes. Not mentioned in the letter, though discussed openly, is the government’s use of a small number of disaffected pastors to sow dissension and confusion in the church.
In the letter’s concern over continued partiality and discrimination against Christians, it cites officials’ inaction in attacks led by ethnic Khmer Buddhist monks on a pastor and his congregation in Tra Vinh, in Vietnam’s western Mekong Delta area, on January 25, 2007 and November 15, 2007.
“There were witnesses from the local government,” the letter states, “but these people only stood aside, leaving the people of God to be beaten up ruthlessly by hundreds of people.”
The Executive Committee of the ECVN(S) sent written petitions regarding the attacks with photos to both local and national authorities but has received no response.
House church leaders, often more aggressive in their complaints than the ECVN(S), commended the church leaders for their courage.
“The situation faced by the ECVN(S) indicates that Vietnam’s concessions to religious freedom is being most grudgingly given,” said one long-time observer. “Vietnam will require consistent international scrutiny and pressure to live up to its promises of greater religious freedom.”