Church leaders from north Vietnam say the government is now expressing openness to the possibility of reforming the restrictive edict on religion, Decree 92, implemented countrywide in 2013.
“The government seems to be loosening a bit on religion, but not on human rights issues,” Wang*, a church leader from the north, told Open Doors. “Last February, Pastor Jonathan* and I met with government officials, and we were given the impression that things will get better.”
Wang said the government is currently drafting a new law on religion that will supersede the two-year-old decree. “They’re taking a new approach now,” he continued. “They think it will be more beneficial to work with religious groups rather than oppose them.”
“From what we’ve heard, there will be a more relaxed requirement in the recognition of churches,” he explained. “For example, groups that have a good record for 10 years will have a strong chance to be recognized.” Decree 92 only allows the recognition of churches that have existed for 20 years.
“The government is observing how governments relate with organized religion inside and outside the country. They somehow realize that it will be for their advantage if they start practicing leniency,” Pastor Jonathan, added.
Despite the government’s move towards open-mindedness, however, the pastors report that the state is still afraid of the church. “Things have improved, but we can’t say the church’s label as a threat is completely gone,” said Jonathan. “I believe it’s still there. Reduced, perhaps. But last year, the government observed the behavior of the Evangelical church, and because of our good standing, they’re now open to reform.”
The pastors believe the new law is slated for completion this May, and will come under further review by lawmakers in November.
Vietnam ranks 16th in Open Doors’ World Watch List, a comprehensive rundown of the top 50 countries hostile to Christians.
Father, we bring before You the challenges faced by churches in Vietnam and thank You for this new development. We pray for the passing of this new law and for the increase in churches able to become registered. We pray for the open proclamation of Your Word from their pulpits, knowing that Your Word does not return void, but brings about the salvation of many and the growth of Your church. We pray for the churches to seek to please and honor You alone, both preaching the truth of the gospel boldly in power and authority, and reaching out to the lost in compassion and mercy. In the name of Jesus, the Word made flesh, Amen.