Vietnam (MNN) — Vietnam is a country steeped in communist tradition. In an effort to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world, they are seeking to present themselves as a progressive country. But with communism comes the inability to move beyond some practices frowned upon by most of the world.
Tim Muret of Open Doors USA says Vietnam is trying to keep the focus on the one common interest of every country: money.
They’re emphasizing their growing economy. “That’s sort of the message the government pushes out there, that the quality of living is on the rise, people are coming out of poverty, there’s a strong workforce,” says Muret.
While this may be true, it is only getting at one aspect of the country’s development. The issue of freedom of religion is discussed, but only vaguely. While there are rumors and even claims by the government for law reform regarding religions, the big question is this: will Vietnam institute reforms that protect citizen,s or will persecution, particularly of Christians, continue?
Communism and religious persecution go hand-in-hand
“On the other side,” Muret explains, “there’s still a great deal of persecution, a lack of religious freedom. The reality is that Vietnam is one of the few remaining countries in the world that follows the communist ideology.”
With communism, there is inherent fear of anything associated with Western culture, including Christianity.
“As long as that type of ideology is going to be in place, there’s always going to be some level of persecution of religious groups.”
Persecution in Vietnam
It’s complicated, to be sure. Vietnam wants to promote religious freedoms because the world sees that as progressive; they’ve even been making contact with the Catholic Church in an attempt to improve relationships. But persecution is still very real.
Vietnam is #16 on the Open Door’s World Watch List. The main religion is Buddhism, but the source of persecution is communist oppression, not religious tension. Open Doors says last year, persecution against Christians noticeably increased. Churches and Christian homes were destroyed, and more than 10 Christians were sent to jail. World Watch Monitor cites several instances of violence and restriction against Christians. Open Doors witnesses these struggles as they work with Christians up close and personal on the ground.
“What we’re seeing first-hand is that if you’re a Christian Church, you have to register with the government–simple things like that,” Muret observes. But it’s not that simple. To register your church, all the members’ names and addresses have to be reported. Heavy surveillance is only the beginning.
“The government, again, still looks at Christians as Western agents, and so we see reports every year of people being thrown in jail, houses being raided.”
For the Vietnam government, it’s not a question of spirituality and whose religion is true. It’s a question of influence. The government is clinging to an old way of thinking, refusing to consider Christians as good citizens–not people trying to overthrow the government.
Their distrust trickles down to the citizen-to-citizen level.
Violence from their neighbors
“Within the country, about 10%-11% of the total population is considered Christian. The vast majority are part of the Catholic Church. What we’re finding is that a great percentage of the population lives in the rural or tribal areas, and a lot of them are going to the bigger cities to find work, employment. They return to their villages, and in many cases, that’s where the persecution starts,” Muret says.
People who have left tribal religions like animism and decided to follow Christ make their villages nervous. Because of the intense government surveillance, village members are scared they’ll get in trouble for their neighbors’ new religion. And so they take persecution into their own hands.
With the threatening pressure of government, community, and family, Christians don’t have it easy. “It’s very difficult to become a Christian and practice your faith.”
Will a change take place?
Muret says Vietnam made amendments to their constitution with effects taking place in 2014. Yet, the reforms aren’t necessarily doing much because, as Muret explains, “Vietnam clearly remains a one-party state, with the constitution that allows for the authorities to restrict basic rights on vague grounds whenever it sees fit.”
While the government makes up its mind what to do about religious freedom, there is one thing you can always do to help Christians in Vietnam.
“The #1 thing they always ask for is prayer: prayer that they can stand strong in the face of persecution, but in the case of Vietnam, also prayer for the government and the leaders and the general assembly to think broader, to think more about the people and improving the quality of life and improving people’s ability to practice their religion.”
You can also write letters to your local government and encourage them to do something to make human rights and religious freedoms a prioritized discussion with Vietnam.