Vietnam’s house church fellowships traveled to Hanoi last week deliver a petition to the government. The petition, signed by Pastors and leaders from over 50 house church and indigenous mission organizations, appealed to Vietnam’s Communist Party leadership to reconsider a controversial new law on religion and to allow greater freedom for religious worship.
According to the official Vietnam News Agency, the lengthy Ordinance on Beliefs and Religions, due to take effect on November 15 “assures citizens of their basic rights regarding religious freedom” and says these rights “cannot be violated by anyone.” However, church leaders within Vietnam and other critics say the authorities are, in actuality trying to restrict the freedom to worship.
The petition, signed on behalf of thousands of Protestant Christians throughout the country, begins with a brief salutation to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, and then, as reported by Compass News, reads:
“We are people who have put our whole trust in the living God, worshipping him and exalting his ultimate sovereignty, faithfully carrying out his teachings in the Bible as do billions of Christian believers in all other human communities in the world.
“It is because of this true faith in God that millions of Vietnamese lives have been transformed to become better, and have contributed significantly to the social and spiritual life of our homeland and people.
“In obedience to the Bible and following the example of the early church, we evangelical believers have come together in various organizational forms: in small groups, in independent house churches, sometimes organized into an evangelical denomination.
“We meet together in many places: in our private homes, in chapels and in churches, to worship God and to help one another to live out God’s Word, to become good citizens and believers.”
Under the Communist government, churches must register and comply with strict regulations governing the activity and teachings of the church, training and appointment of ministers, and contact with Christians from other countries. The evangelical house churches of Vietnam, which have opted not to register because of these conditions, operate independently of the officially recognized Evangelical Church of Vietnam.
The petition then gives a brief history of the church in Vietnam, emphasizing that after almost 30 years of Communist rule, the government still has not recognized evangelical house churches. Because of this, the petition claims, they are forced to worship in private homes rather than church buildings. Police frequently disturb their meetings and slander them, forbidding them to carry out normal church activities.
Bibles, hymnbooks and church equipment have been confiscated. Many believers have been fined, arrested, publicly mocked before their communities, beaten and imprisoned. Others have suffered when government officials withheld social and financial benefits normally available to Vietnamese citizens.
The petition continues: “In light of all these matters above, we affirm that our belief is laid on the foundation of the Bible -- the perfect model that directs all of our religious activities and practices. Throughout history, millions of Christian believers, regardless of their political system, their culture or their location on this planet, were always loyal and faithful to the standards of the Bible.”
The document then explains the basic foundational principles of the Christian faith, and asserts that according to Scripture, ministers should be ordained and appointed by God, not by the state.
The petition affirms the role of the government in other spheres.
“As Vietnamese citizens, we express our respect for leaders of the various levels of government, for our Bible itself teaches that, ‘Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established’ (Romans 13:1).
“In the history of mankind, because of prejudice and misunderstanding, there were times when certain people caused great difficulties toward blameless Christian believers. Today, if we are to be placed into such a situation, we would follow the example of Christian believers through the ages... and say, ‘We must obey God rather than men’ (Acts 5:29).”
The petition then lists, “with all of our good will,” three suggestions to overcome religious tensions in Vietnam.
First, the government should allow every citizen, regardless of religious belief, to live equally under the constitution. The writers pointed out that the new Ordinance on Religion contained articles that were contrary to the constitution, as well as to international treaties and conventions signed by Vietnam.
Second, in order to promote peace and social equality, the government should cease discrimination against Christian believers worshiping in house churches.
Finally, the government should create favorable conditions for believers in house church networks to carry out their religious practices according to the dictates of their faith. Christians meeting together to worship should also have the freedom to choose “times and places of their convenience.”
The petition closes with a blessing on the Communist Party leadership and their families.
The petition, with its list of 50 signatures representing thousands of Protestant Christians throughout Vietnam, was delivered to the government on Monday, Sept. 27.