Vietnam: As Western Influence Expands, the Church in Vietnam Continues to Suffer
A McDonalds store in open for business in neighboring Thailand. In July, McDonald’s announced they would be opening their first location in Vietnam, a country formerly closed to most major Western businesses.
Doors Open to the West, but Closed to Religious Freedom
In July, fans of Western fast food chains among Vietnam’s 88 million citizens had cause to rejoice as McDonald’s announced they would be opening their very first restaurant in the country. The announcement marks McDonald’s entry with other major Western brands like Pizza Hut, Subway, and Starbucks into a rapidly expanding market under a surprisingly open Communist government.
Unfortunately for the suffering church in Vietnam the announcement brings little comfort. Even as economic liberalization over the past decade has led to ballooning trade ties with Western governments (the U.S. conducted a record $24 billion in trade with Vietnam in 2012) it seems that Western notions of religious liberty have made little if any headway. For Vietnam’s 8.5 million Catholics and 1.5 million Protestants, this is bad news.
According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s most recent report, the Vietnamese government is actually actively working to control the growth of the suffering church among the countries ethnic minorities. Ethnic groups such as the Hmong have experienced an unprecedented growth in Christianity over the past few decades. This growth is viewed by Vietnamese authorities with great suspicion given the perceived Western nature of the faith and the fact that groups like the Hmong assisted U.S. forces during the Vietnam War. When efforts to control this growth seem to fail, violent attacks on Christians ensue.
The most recent example of an attack on the suffering church in Vietnam occurred at the end of June when the heads of two newly converted Hmong families were summoned to report to local police in Lao Cai Province, located in the countries mountainous northwest. After one couple persistently refused to recant and return to their traditional animist belief system, officers became so angry they repeatedly punched both husband and wife until the wife began bleeding. The couple was released from custody soon after but no word has come yet on if or when the police involved will face disciplinary measures.
Mrs. Nguyen (name changed for security) was struck on the face repeatedly by police in Lao Cai Province on June 24th for refusing to recant her newly accepted Christian faith.
The attack on the couple came only a month after authorities in Dak Nong Province concluded their investigation into the March death of 38-year-old Hoang Van Ngai. Ngai, an elder in the suffering church of Vietnam and a member of the legally recognized Evangelical Church of Vietnam who was taken into police custody and beaten to death. Despite entering the police station a healthy man, photos of Ngai’s body showed evidence of severe bruising. Police claimed Ngai committed suicide by sticking his own finger into an electrical socket despite the fact that Ngai’s elder brother, detained in a nearby cell, could hear the sounds of his brother’s violent beating. After an outcry from Ngai’s family police launched an opaque investigation which concluded in May and upheld the original explanation of suicide. Attempts in the West to raise the case with Vietnamese officials were met with silence.
A Small Ray of Hope
One bright spot for the suffering church in Vietnam did emerge at the end of last month when officials in South Vietnam unexpectedly resettled four Christian families from Kontum Province after their homes and property were destroyed by neighbors angry at their conversion. For four months the families lived in the home of a pastor and his wife while news of their case garnered attention around the country and overseas. The attention paid off and higher level officials eventually ordered the family to be given new land for homes and farming, as well as government food support for at least six months.
However this one positive turn of events is almost certainly the exception to the rule. For the majority of religious adherents facing human rights violations in Vietnam, there is little hope of justice or restitution unless their story finds an international spotlight. While things have certainly improved over the past ten years, there remains an astonishingly small level of religious freedom for the suffering church of Vietnam, especially considering the rapid growth of Western businesses in the country. With reports of serious violations and mistreatment coming out every few weeks, it appears it will take much more than a few Happy Meals to ensure the people of Vietnam are guaranteed the right to choose whatever faith they want without fear of being harassed, arrested, and even murdered.
BY COREY BAILEY
Thanks to International Christian Concern