Vietnam’s stance on religious freedom improving

By February 3, 2011

Vietnam (MNN) — Wikileaks recently published a U.S. Embassy
cable revealing what appears to be an indifference about religious persecution. 

According to a related report from International Christian
Concern, 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."

Todd Nettleton is with Voice of the Martyrs USA. His team recently traveled to Vietnam and
saw for themselves the "significant gains."
On the one hand, he says, "It is better. Things have improved. There is
less persecution than there was five or ten years ago," but on the other hand,
"we did hear stories of Christians being harassed, so persecution is still very
much a part of following Christ in Vietnam."

Is the U.S. Embassy no longer concerned with the issue of
religious freedom in Vietnam? Nettleton doesn't think so. They monitor what's going on as a part of
their mandate from the International Religious Freedom Act. In fact, "While we were there, a U.S. Embassy
staff member was in the Highlands, was looking into religious freedom, and was
rebuffed by the police in that area." 

The issue is complicated in
Vietnam. There are many reports that
seem to conflict with the strides the 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."

The persecution in the Highlands seems to be the dark
underbelly of the image Vietnam is dealing with, especially among the hill
tribes. However, that hasn't stopped VOM
partners from evangelizing. Rather, it
seems to have had a galvanizing 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."  

Nettleton says there are several ways to stand in solidarity
with the church leaders. "One of the
things they specifically asked us to pray for is their outreach efforts to
some of these tribal groups where there are no Christians, or very few
Christians. They wanted us to pray that
they'll be effective in reaching out to those groups. That's also where they
face the persecution."

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