Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 650 | Wed 22 June 2022
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.
VIETNAM: NEW DRAFT DECREES ON RELIGION FLOATED
… if passed, the Church would be like ‘a small candle facing a typhoon’
by Elizabeth Kendal
|Hmong believers in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.|
In early June Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party (CPV) published two draft decrees on religion and posted them online, inviting input from government departments and the public. On 7 June the authorities held a seminar to gather comments on the decrees. Morning Star News (MSN) reports (14 June), that over 12-14 June, religion authorities in Hanoi held an information seminar for unregistered house-churches in northern Vietnam, where they propagandised the draft decrees in the hope of convincing more groups to register. This only shows how incredibly disconnected the authorities are from reality. In Vietnam, as in China, the reason churches refuse to register with the authorities is because the conditions they would be obliged to comply with are unreasonable, onerous and, for most, unacceptable. Furthermore, because the onerous registration process requires that the names, contact details and movements of members be recorded, registration can set churches up for government surveillance and targeted persecution.
One draft decree would replace Decree 162/2017, which provides implementation guidelines for Vietnam’s repressive Law on Belief and Religion (enacted 1 January 2018). While unregistered churches would remain illegal and subject to severe criminal penalties, the new draft decree would worsen the situation for registered churches by extending and tightening government regulation over all their religious activities, including online meetings. MSN reports: ‘There are extremely onerous reporting requirements. All local church activities must be reported and approved a year in advance. Every office address change and reassignment of church staff must be reported within short time limits, or churches would face fines. Mandatory study of Vietnam’s “revolutionary history” and Vietnamese law must be included in all training curriculum for clergy… Foreigners are limited in their activities with Vietnamese co-religionists. The amount a foreigner puts into an offering plate at a worship service must be reported, as must all financial contributions from abroad… Most significant is the continued reference to nebulous “crimes” such as “taking advantage of belief and religion” or “causing social division” or “violating public morality” or “disturbing social order”. There are no definitions as to what these forbidden things actually mean, leaving them completely open to subjective interpretation.’
The other draft decree stipulates remedies and punishments for administrative infractions of the Law on Belief and Religion and other rules. According to MSN, ‘It is already nicknamed the “Punishment Decree”.’ MSN reports that when an original version of this ‘punishment decree’ was floated three years ago it received such a negative response that it was never passed or enforced; and ‘The current draft is hardly better.’ The punishments range from warnings through fines to the shutting down of organisations and institutions.
|Communist Party General Secretary
Nguyen Phu Trong.
The idea that registration would prevent persecution and facilitate co-operation must surely now be laid to rest. Can a totalitarian Marxist-Leninist atheistic regime ever be the Church’s trusted friend or partner? ‘Can a leopard change its spots?’ (Jeremiah 13:23). Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party under General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong appears to be following the lead of China’s ruling Communist Party under Chairman-of-Everything Xi Jinping which has, over recent years, passed one set of ‘Regulations’ or ‘Measures’ after another to regulate the Church to the point of suffocation. MSN reports (encouragingly) that when the draft decrees were made public, ‘even ranking staff members of the Government Bureau of Religious Affairs were taken by surprise and encouraged religious leaders to strongly object’. One knowledgeable Vietnamese observer told MSN, ‘If these decrees are passed in their present form, both legally recognised and unrecognised religious organisations will be like a small candle facing a typhoon.’ That would simply drive more churches/candles ‘underground’.
An ethnic Hmong family of 13 in Vietnam’s Nghe An province has been expelled from their village by local authorities on account of the family’s refusal to renounce Christ and return to traditional religion. It is the culmination of three years of relentless persecution, which began after the family applied to join a registered church.
Protestant family of 13 expelled from their village
By Truong Son for RFA Vietnamese, 21 June 2022.
BACKGROUND: As noted in RLPB 626 (1 Dec 2021), Vietnam’s long-suffering Church has entered a time of ‘deepening darkness’. Religious liberty exists in theory – i.e. in the constitution (a facade to appease the West) – but not in practice as a plethora of vague laws exist precisely to strangle freedom and silence dissent. The darkness has intensified under Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong (78), a ‘hardliner’ who has held the premier office since 2011, despite party rules which set the age of retirement at 65 and limit power to two consecutive five-year terms. Persecution is most intense in ethnic minority areas. Dozens of pastors are in prison for their faith; others have had their passports confiscated, or been dispossessed; and most have suffered violence at the hands of security personnel or their ‘Red Flag’ proxies. Compounding the crisis, Vietnam’s revised national security laws (enacted January 2018) and its new Cyber Security Law (enacted January 2019) have made getting information out of Vietnam a very risky business indeed. Consequently, Vietnam has essentially ‘gone dark’. Like the ruling Communist Party in China, the ruling Communist Party in Vietnam is less committed to ideology than it is to retaining power and privilege.
PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR SOVEREIGN GOD WILL
* continue to build his Church in Vietnam. As repression intensifies and the darkness deepens, may the Holy Spirit lead and empower the Church to grow in faith, wisdom, prayerfulness, and obedience. May the devil have no victory here!
The Lord who walks amongst the lampstands says: ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades’ (from Revelation 1 ESV).
* intervene for the dozens of Christians cruelly incarcerated in horrific conditions simply for leading unregistered house-churches, speaking out against injustice and corruption, and/or promoting righteousness, liberty and human rights. We pray also for pastors who have been beaten, threatened, intimidated and dispossessed of their homes and lands. Lord in your mercy, encourage, sustain and deliver them!
* grant the officials, who were shocked at the new draft decrees, the confidence, courage and clarity required to promote religious liberty in a country where peaceful religious groups contribute disproportionately to the provision of humanitarian services for the masses: including education, healthcare and pastoral care. Lord have mercy!
* awaken a multitude of Vietnamese to the moral depravity of atheism, the deadness and insufficiency of false religion and the sufficiency of the living Christ to transform and renew. AMEN
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
NEW DRAFT DECREES ON RELIGION FLOATED IN VIETNAM
Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party has published two draft decrees that concern the implementation of Vietnam’s repressive Law on Belief and Religion and the punishments that can be imposed for administrative infractions. While unregistered churches would remain illegal and subject to severe criminal penalties, the new decrees would worsen the situation for registered churches by extending and tightening government regulation over all religious activities, including online meetings. Vietnam might be following China, which has in recent years passed numerous ‘Regulations’ and ‘Measures’ designed to regulate the Church to the point of suffocation. Morning Star News (MSN) reports that shocked officials have urged Church leaders to object. One Vietnamese observer told MSN, ‘If these decrees are passed in their present form [the Church] will be like a small candle facing a typhoon.’ Please pray.
Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate for the persecuted Church.
Elizabeth has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016). She is also an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.