Persecuted Church: Vietnam

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Every month our ministry chooses a different country where Christians are being persecuted and we commit to pray for them, as you can see in the sidebar here on our website. The country we are praying for in October is Vietnam. Much of the information regarding persecution in Vietnam that I’ve included here comes from Open Doors USA’s World Watch Research Vietnam: Country Dossier (WWR).

Country Background

Vietnam is the easternmost country in mainland Southeast Asia. There are around 95.5 million people in Vietnam. Around 8.7 million of these people are Christian, making up about 9% of the total population.

Members of the Viet ethnic group entered history via China expansions in the 3rd century BC. Within a century China reduced the formerly independent kingdom to nine military districts. They became a region independent from China in 938 AD, but they continued to pay tribute and continued to be deeply influenced by Chinese culture. In the late 19th century Vietnam was conquered by France and turned into a colony. French mismanagement led to further exacerbation of the ill-will already felt toward the French for their subjugation of the Vietnamese people. Anti-colonial sentiments arose immediately, but it would not receive any kind of hope for change until the 20th century when a new nationalistic movement arose which incorporated Western ideas, rather than seeking to revert to a pre-colonial traditionalism. Communism was introduced into these anti-colonial sentiments, most notably by Ho Chi Minh who in 1930 founded the Vietnamese Communist Party. After France was subjugated in World War II, Vietnam became an important military location for the Japanese. In 1941, Ho Chi Minh reinvigorated efforts to form an independence group. The group he founded took advantage of the power vacuum created by the surrender of Japan in 1945 to take control of the nation. However, the French were able to take control of the southern part of the country by 1946, and they sought to take control of the north as well. This led to the First Indo-China War, which ended with an agreement (the 1954 Geneva Accords) to designate a border between North Vietnam (controlled by the Vietnamese Communists) and South Vietnam (controlled by the French and the Vietnamese allies who they supported). The North did not give up attempts at a unified Vietnam, and they supported insurgency groups in the south, namely the Viet Cong. There were additional internal tensions in the South which made the situation precarious. The United States began sending troops into South Vietnam and bombing North Vietnam in 1965, what would become known as the Second Indo-China War (or the Vietnam War). The US involvement in the conflict ended in 1973 with a peace agreement between the US and the three Vietnamese factions (North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and the Viet Cong). Conflict still continued, however, and in 1975 North Vietnam had taken over the South’s capital, Saigon. The unification of North and South was made official in 1976 with the creation of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The country struggled to recover from the war and integrate the south into its socialist economic system. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Vietnam has increasingly opened up to its non-Communist neighbors and Western nations regarding diplomatic relations and trade.

Because of the influences from China and other surrounding countries, a kind of syncretistic Buddhism has been prevalent in Vietnam for centuries. This exists side by side with traditional beliefs and practices, and there is frequent mixing of aspects of different religions. Christianity was introduced into Vietnam by Dutch and Portugese traders in the 16th and 17th centuries. Protestant representatives didn’t arrive in the region until the early 20th century. Thus most Christians in Vietnam are Catholic, although Protestantism has been particularly successful among religious minorities. Christianity has likewise been syncretized in some cases, such as the formation of the Caodai religion, which incorporates religious elements of Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, Confucianism, and Islam.

Persecution

Because the nation is governed by communism, its fundamental tenets are opposed to religion in general. Christians are allowed to practice their religion, but they are closely monitored by the government and their activities are restricted. “It is very common that pastors and church leaders are called in by the police and interrogated. In northern Vietnam, the police threatened church members with cancelling their health benefits if they continued to meet as a church. In villages, Christians are normally summoned by the village elders to report on their activities. Local community members also question them. If they notice anything suspicious they report it to the police or village leaders” (WWR).

The government has a high degree of distrust for Catholicism, since it sees it as a foreign political influence. Not only does it resist current intrusions by the Vatican and local Catholics involved in social activism, but it also remembers the relationship between Catholicism and the French from back in the days of colonialism. Additionally, Protestantism is associated with American values. This suspicion means that Christian activities are highly monitored and limited. Although evangelism isn’t illegal, those who are outspoken about their faith may be questioned by authorities. Conversion is not illegal, but there are social pressures, and getting one’s religious status officially changed can be a tortuous process. Those who advocate for social reforms or religious freedom (including Christians) are in danger of being arrested or deported for violation of vaguely worded laws such as, “undermining the national unity policy,” or “disturbing public order.” Prison conditions are unsanitary and unsafe, and there are reports of police mistreating prisoners.

“There have been reports that Christians from minority tribes were denied birth certificates and that in other cases government officials forced them to change their surnames into "Ho" (after Revolutionary Communist leader Ho Chi Minh). There were many reports of Christians asking local officials to certify their documents for education, school and employment. But when the local authorities discovered they were Christian, they refused to certify the documents - especially if in the past the Christians had not obeyed warnings to stop attending Christian Meetings” (WWR).

Prior to any religious meetings, the proper authorities need to be notified. Christians might be accused of not meeting proper meeting requirements and legally punished.

There are issues where the government has appropriated land from Christians without sufficient compensation or warning. For example, there was an incident in 2019: “The demolition of about 100 homes near Ho Chi Minh City, including one owned by the Catholic Church, has pitted the church against authorities in the latest such dispute over land in the Communist Party-ruled country. . . . Disputes over property between Catholics and authorities are common, and have posed one of the key obstacles to a normalization of relations with the Vatican.”

There have also been incidents where house churches were raided.

“Christians are tolerated as long as they do not challenge the existing order. As many of the Protestant Christians belong to ethnic minorities, which historically fought on the American side in the Vietnam War, they are quick to be seen as being troublemakers. To a lesser extent, this is true for the far larger group of Catholic Christians as well, since they have a colonial background and are seen as being connected to a foreign power, the Vatican. Thus Christians are always on the radar of the local or national authorities” (WWR).

A new religious law was implemented in 2018, called the “Law on Belief and Religion.” As a report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom says, “As noted in USCIRF’s 2019 Annual Report and confirmed on the trip, the law requires religious communities to register their organizations and their places of worship with the government, via complicated and burdensome procedures, as a prerequisite for religious activity. . . . During the trip, multiple evangelical pastors told USCIRF that provincial and local officials regularly exceeded their authority by demanding that applicants submit information—such as the names of their congregants—not explicitly required by the law. . . . The law also requires religious organizations to have a formal structure with a charter. This requirement places less formalized groups in a dilemma: they must register in order to engage in religious activities, but are not eligible for registration.” They note that the law has led to some improvements for churches that are already registered, but there are also these and other major concerns.

Christians also face discrimination in education and the workplace. Ethnic minorities and Christians may be denied scholarships or access to education. If their religion becomes known to a prospective employer, they probably will not get the job.

In local communities, converts to Christianity will be expected to continue observing certain traditions and rites. If they refuse, there is a good chance they will be socially excluded or even banished from the community. They may be refused inheritance rights. Non-Christian spouses of converts may force a divorce, and loss of child custody is a possibility. In places where local authorities are willing to turn a blind eye, Christians may also be beaten or their houses of worship disrupted/vandalized. Persecution of Christians is thus strongest in the central and northwestern highlands of Vietnam.

Due to the nature of the Communist government, this is the religious atmosphere in general. There isn’t any religion which is given particular favor, although those religions which are unregistered are under a greater degree of pressure than those that are unregistered. For example, Buddhist monks have also been arrested and deported for protesting the government’s religious policies.

How to Pray

Here are some specific ways you can pray for Christians in Vietnam:

  • Pray that Christians in Vietnam will be encouraged and protected despite the harsh difficulties they face.
  • Pray that Christianity will no longer be seen as a political tool of the West.
  • Pray that ministries such as Open Doors and Voice of the Martyrs will be successful in providing Bibles to believers in rural areas.
  • Pray that those who are sharing their faith will be protected and successful.
  • Pray that religious freedom will prevail in the nation.
  • Pray that Vietnamese (including the persecutors) will come to know the truth and receive salvation through Yeshua.

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