Thursday, February 3, 2011

Vietnam’s stance on religious freedom improving?

Vietnamese believers continue to
suffer persecution. Pray!
Wikileaks recently published a U.S. Embassy cable revealing what appears to be indifference about religious persecution, reported Mission Network News today.

According to a related report from International Christian Concern (ICC), the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam is dismissing recent attacks on Christians in Vietnam as “land disputes.” The ICC report calls this document proof of "the State Department being lax in its assessment of religious persecution in Vietnam."

In the cable, the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam determined that the situations (over Christmas) did not “meet the threshold of religious persecution” and should not distract the U.S. from “the significant gains in expanding religious freedom that Vietnam has made since the lifting of  CPC (Countries of Particular Concern) designation in November 2006.”

Mission Network News spoke with Todd Nettleton of VOM USA. He recently travelled to Vietnam with Greg Musselman of VOM Canada and Denise Lodde of 100 Huntley Street, a Christian television program. Nettleton says, "It is better. Things have improved. There is less persecution than there was five or 10 years ago,” however, “we did hear stories of Christians being harassed, so persecution is still very much a part of following Christ in Vietnam."

There are many reports that seem to conflict with the strides the Vietnamese government is making for its image. “The Vietnamese government has given more churches registration; they've given permission to operate. But even one of the pastors that we talked to very clearly made the statement, ‘Registration is not the same as religious freedom.’”

Church registrations are often tools used by governments to keep an eye on what's going on with Christians. This has proven true for believers in Vietnam, too. Nettleton explains that “those churches now have to do some things to answer to the government. They have some pressure and some control that the government exerts on them that they didn't have before. One of the places where persecution is still going on at a fairly intense level is among the tribal minority groups in the Highlands.”

Reports of persecution have not stopped VOM partners from evangelising. Rather, it seems to have had a galvanising effect. “We talked to several tribal pastors who are leading unregistered churches amongst those tribal groups, and even doing missionary work, reaching out to other tribal groups.”

In the coming days, 100 Huntley Street will release a three-part series on VOM's recent travels in Vietnam. Stay tuned to this blog for details or check with 100 Huntley Street online.

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