Vietnam (MNN) — When word got out on the drafting of a new religion law in Vietnam, people got excited.
Eager to shed the image of a repressive regime, the citizens hoped to see language in the bill that would let the world know they were serious about religious freedom…
A Communist nation, the government still strictly controls all religious activities. Under the existing regulations, religious organizations are required to register, Christians and churches face land confiscations, and minority groups suffer harassment.
A new law was the chance for a clean break. The yet-to-be-released bill was drafted a couple of weeks ago, and the government is pushing for approval this year. Leaders representing Buddhists and Catholics even praised the law at a recent Patriotic Front meeting.
However, Greg Musselman, a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs Canada, wonders, “Have they really changed from their Communist ideology? On the outside, it looks like that’s happening. You’ve got mouthpieces for the Communist government — ‘religious’ leaders who are coming out and saying, ‘This is great!’ The reality is, it hasn’t changed that much.”
International Christian Concern and Asia News both reported on the legislation that critics continue to slam for its restrictions that will likely worsen oppression on religious communities.
Musselman says, “For those who want to practice their religion freely, (we’ll just talk about the evangelicals), they are restricted. They have to have permission when it comes to a building, or if they want to have an ordination of a pastor, they have to go through the government; even Easter and Christmas services…”
Given that, not much will improve the situation for pastors and churches that are subject to arrest, interrogation, and beatings. Local authorities in rural areas are expected to continue to punish new believers.
Sound familiar? This is a discussion that’s been ongoing since November, when Voice of the Martyrs Canada joined a number of other concerned groups to ask Vietnam’s government to make some changes to the draft law before it’s passed. At that time, the concerns noted were tedious registration requirements, excessive state control, and ambiguous wording that “could be used to perpetuate discrimination.”
Under the bill as written, Musselman explains, “The difficulty that evangelicals have is they want to have the opportunity to preach the Gospel, that people would [be able to] hear the Gospel message — well, that’s not the case in Vietnam.”
However, VOM trains hundreds of Christian leaders and supports tribal pastors in remote villages. Even knowing they’re not forgotten is encouraging.
“We need to continue to pray that the evangelical Church there, especially, will really have the wisdom of the Lord”, says Musselman, especially if the new law has teeth to bite. “You really start to sympathize with them, and the challenges they have in spreading the Gospel, because of division and things that happen. I would think a very important thing is the wisdom for the leaders, and then also unity within the Body of Christ.”
VOM–Canada also noted these thoughts in a Prayer Alert that went out earlier: Instead of feeling threatened by Christianity, may the country’s leaders recognize the benefits of having God-honoring and upright citizens who will work diligently as unto Him and operate with honesty and integrity in all situations — qualities that hopefully these leaders themselves will personally embrace and aspire to achieve for the governance of Vietnam. Pray that their example of steadfast faith will draw others to Jesus Christ.