Thousands of Evangelical Church of Vietnam pastors, missionaries and other clergy attend their 2018 congress in Ho Chi Minh City. (Photo courtesy of the southern branch of the Evangelical Church of Vietnam)
Vietnam’s largest evangelical church has called off its congress to elect candidates for the next term of its clergy council after the government refused to approve its plans.
On Nov. 25, the Evangelical Church of Vietnam’s southern branch announced that it could not organize the 10th Congress of the Clergy Council, which was scheduled for Dec. 1-3 at the Biblical and Theological Institute in Ho Chi Minh City.
It said the government's committee for religious affairs refused to grant written permission for the meeting because the church could not observe the government’s Belief and Religious Law, which demands religious organizations send lists of candidates for the clergy council and their résumés to the committee before the meeting.
The announcement was signed by Pastor Thai Phuoc Truong and Pastor Phan Quang Thieu, president and general secretary respectively of the southern branch of the church.
The pastors said the church could not go against its good disciplines and rules that have existed over the past 100 years. The church obeys its constitution that allows “the church to elect officials for the council before presenting the list of them to the government.” The constitution is acceptable to the government.
On Nov. 11, the church’s standing committee asked the government to grant permission for the meeting one week before its date so that the church could hold the meeting that happens every two years.
“Now the church has not enough time to organize the meeting even if it has formal permission,” they said.
Some rights activists said the government intervenes in religious groups’ internal issues. The government’s demand for lists of religious candidates aims at leaving out candidates who fail to support the government, they claim.
They say the Belief and Religious Law approved by the National Assembly in 2016 seriously violates religious freedom.
The Evangelical Church of Vietnam, the country’s main Protestant group, was founded in 1911 by the US-based Christian and Missionary Alliance.
When the country was reunited under communist rule in 1975, the structure in the south was not recognized by the government and reportedly suffered from serious persecution.
The southern branch of the church was only recognized by the government in 2001.
As of June 2020, the committee for religious affairs, which controls all religious activities in Vietnam, recognized 11 Protestant groups.