Cablegate: Positive Developments for Northern Protestant Church

Published: Wed 10 Mar 2004 05:32 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: 03 HANOI 3216
1. (SBU) Summary: The situation for the Evangelical Church
of Vietnam: North (ECVN) continues slowly to improve, with
the long-delayed appointment of an ethnic minority preacher
in Lang Son province as well as concrete steps towards
holding a general congress soon. The meeting, which would
be the church's first since 1988, is now tentatively
scheduled for early May. About 800 churches in the
Northwest Highlands have now received "certificates" of
affiliation with the ECVN. The ECVN is hoping to re-
establish an official relationship with the Christian and
Missionary Alliance (CMA) in the United States, which had
originally founded the church, but from which ties have been
cut since 1954. The ECVN's new optimism and plans are
welcome developments. End Summary.
Upcoming General congress -- at last
2. (SBU) In a February 27 meeting with DRL/IRF's senior
advisor Will Inboden, Le Khac Dung and Dao Van Khue of the
ECVN's executive board predicted a "70 percent chance" that
a long-awaited 32nd general congress for the ECVN could be
held this year, probably in May. Pastor Au Quang Vinh of
the ECVN church in Hanoi (who has been acting as unofficial
head of the ECVN in the absence of formal approval by a
general congress) told Dr. Inboden that the likelihood was
only "50/50," however. Separately, Pastor Vu Quang Huyen of
the ECVN church in Nam Dinh City expressed more optimism to
poloffs in late February, claiming that dates had already
been set for May 4 to 6 in Hanoi. Pastor Vinh confirmed to
Pol/C on March 9 that no dates had been set and claimed that
they would not be set until the Committee on Religious
Affairs (CRA) agreed to the formal recognition of a pastor
for the Haiphong Church, which has been pending for
"unexplained reasons" for "years." The ECVN and Haiphong
authorities also continue at loggerheads even over
appointment of a parish council (reftel).
3. (SBU) All of the EVCN interlocutors pointed to various
signs of progress for the northern Protestants. Most
significant was the CRA's recent recognition of Ly Tien Luu
(an ethnic minority Dao) of the ECVN church in Lang Son as a
preacher, after years of acting in an unofficial capacity.
The regularization of Luu's status gives the ECVN 13
registered preachers, of whom only three are formally
recognized as pastors, however. (Note: The position of
preacher --"truyen dao" -- was originally a temporary first
step for seminary graduates before they could be assigned to
a parish and become a pastor --"muc su.") Also significant
is that all but one (Haiphong) of the ECVN's parishes have
now held internal meetings to vote on their own leadership
boards and determine delegates for the general congress.
New charter and activities?
4. (SBU) The ECVN plans to rewrite its charter in advance of
the congress, a process that began in early March under the
guidance of Pastor Vinh. The new charter, which Vinh said
would be modeled on that of the Southern Evangelical Church
of Vietnam (SECV), would have to be accepted by the CRA
before the congress, another potential obstacle, he noted.
5. (SBU) All of these church leaders saw the hoped-for
upcoming congress as an opportunity not only to reestablish
the legal footing of the ECVN, but also to revitalize the
church's activities. A new board of 15 members will be
elected, replacing the current one of three aged leaders
(the others have died off or retired since the last
congress). Dung and Khue said that the members of this
board would similarly require CRA approval, but predicted
this will not be as difficult as in the past. They
suggested that 17 or 18 members might be voted to the board
on the assumption some may be vetoed by the CRA.
6. (SBU) Pastor Huyen suggested that the ECVN might also
establish a board for "missionary" activities during the
meeting. Pastor Vinh described active but ongoing
evangelistic activities currently taking place in Hanoi,
with congregation members inviting non-believer families and
friends to attend weekly discussion sessions at the church.
Both Vinh and Huyen separately talked of the likelihood of
establishing some type of Bible training course soon; Pastor
Vinh envisioned a month-long seminar over each of the next
six years as a precursor to the establishment of a full time
Protestant seminary in Hanoi. The congress might also
establish a board for charity activities and a vocational
training school for poor students, Pastor Huyen suggested.
Northwest Highlands
7. (SBU) Pastor Vinh also noted some improvement in the
situation for ethnic minority Protestants in the Northwest
Highlands. He noted that he had previously received
frequent appeals from Protestants in the Highlands for
intervention on their behalf, but that he has had none so
far this year. The ECVN continues to document Protestant
congregations in the Northwest Highlands that wish to
affiliate with the ECVN, and issue "certificates" asking
local officials to allow them to practice their faith
freely. Eight hundred of these certificates have been
issued so far, covering 110,000 congregation members, he
claimed. (Note: this is an increase of 100 congregations and
10,000 believers since December. End Note) Pastor Vinh
claimed that the certificates were instrumental in improving
treatment for unregistered Protestants by local authorities.
Dung and Khue noted separately, however, that the CRA had
warned the ECVN against issuing these certificates, saying
that the ECVN should not make such affiliations without
being well acquainted with the minority congregations.
Ties with the outside world
8. (SBU) The church leaders all commented on the recent
visit to Vietnam of the President of the Christian and
Missionary Alliance (CMA), Peter Nanfelt. (The ECVN
originally encompassed the 16 churches founded in the north
by CMA missionaries in the early 20th century.) Though
official ties have been formally severed since 1954, the
ECVN leaders said they wished to "express their gratitude"
to the CMA for having established the roots of the church,
and also wanted to explore whether titles to properties in
Vietnam could be found in central CMA archives. Pastor Vinh
said he hoped that reconnecting with the CMA, and especially
its Viet Khieu churches in America, could help the ECVN
expand. More guardedly, Dung and Khue said they would ask
the GVN to "help" the ECVN develop these ties. Pastor Vinh,
Dung, and Khue all said that the ECVN would ultimately like
to join with the SECV and become a single denomination for
all of Vietnam, but predicted this would not come in the
near term.
9. (SBU) Pastor Vinh suggested the USG could help push the
GVN into allowing the ECVN to renovate its largely ruined
church in Thanh Hoa as well as to acquire land to build a
new church in the city of Vinh, where the original ECVN
facilities had been seized by the GVN many years before, and
the church building later destroyed.
10. (SBU) COMMENT: Despite some ongoing problems, the ECVN
appears to have been rather reinvigorated in recent months,
and the convening of a general congress -- after such a long
delay -- would be a major big step forward. Ambassador
plans to encourage this development in a meeting with CRA
Chairman Ngo Yen Thi on March 16. At least these ECVN
leaders appear -- unusually, in our experience -- to be
looking to the future with new optimism and ambitious plans
for growth and outreach.
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