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Cablegate: Presbyterians Celebrate First General Assembly Since

VZCZCXRO9097
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHNH
DE RUEHHM #0917/01 2800946
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 060946Z OCT 08
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5001
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 3356
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 5230

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 000917

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS AND DRL/IRF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL KIRF PHUM VM
SUBJECT: PRESBYTERIANS CELEBRATE FIRST GENERAL ASSEMBLY SINCE
RECOGNITION

HO CHI MIN 00000917 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: On September 19, the Vietnam Presbyterian
Church celebrated its first General Assembly since it received
national recognition in 2007. Deputy Director of the National
Committee for Religious Affairs (CRA) Nguyen Thanh Xuan welcomed
the Consul General and other foreign officials to the simple but
recently repaired Binh Chanh Presbyterian Church in Ho Chi Minh
City, where he spoke candidly about both the progress and the
challenges the CRA has faced in understanding and responding to
the diverse community of Protestant groups in Vietnam. Visiting
American Presbyterian leaders also reported successful visits to
the Central and Northwest Highlands, with only one minor run-in
with local authorities that was quickly cleared up with a phone
call to the CRA in Hanoi. While acknowledging stiff competition
for hearts and minds from other Protestant groups, the
Presbyterians are optimistic they can continue to expand from 80
to 300 congregations over the next three years. End Summary.

CRA Admits With Growth Comes Challenges
---------------------------------------
2. (U) The Consul General joined in the celebration of the
Presbyterian Church of Vietnam's first General Assembly on
September 19, held eleven months after the denomination received
national recognition in October 2007. The colorful ceremony
included performances by ethnic multiple minority groups and was
attended by GVN officials and foreign dignitaries. Nguyen Thanh
Xuan, the Deputy Director of the National Committee for
Religious Affairs (CRA) welcomed guests to Binh Chanh
Presbyterian Church and noted the significant contributions the
Presbyterians have made to the local community. The church
itself is simple structure with plan brick walls and a tin roof
but was recently restored and remains in very good repair.

3. (SBU) Xuan was refreshingly candid in his discussion of the
GVN's struggle to understand the diversity and complexity of the
many Protestant denominations present in Vietnam today. Because
Protestant denominations differ greatly in their traditions,
practices and organizational structure, Xuan admitted they
present quite a challenge to officials who are used to dealing
with the more centralized Buddhist and Catholic religions. As a
result, it has taken the GVN a long time to understand that "one
size does not fit all" in terms of handling registration and
recognition of Baptists, Mennonites, and other Protestant
denominations. Xuan said the CRA has expanded their dialogue
and understanding through the registration/recognition process
for a number of Protestant groups since 2005, including
Baptists, Mennonites, United World Mission, and the Vietnam
Inter-Christian Fellowship.

4. (SBU) Xuan acknowledged the challenges of working in the
Central and Northwest Highlands, where, like many other
Protestant faiths, Presbyterianism has grown rapidly among
ethnic minority groups. Xuan said while the 100 Presbyterian
congregations now registered in the Northwest represents "a
humble number," it reflects the efforts authorities have made to
"reconcile differences and maintain social order" in an area
where "conflicts between the Protestant culture and the
traditional culture" have been difficult to settle. During his
time as a scholar of religion, Xuan said he observed how South
Korean Protestants combined elements of traditional Korean
culture into their faith, and expressed his hope that
Protestants in Vietnam would create a similar blend of
Vietnamese culture and Protestantism in the future. He ended
with a quote from Ephesians 4:2-3 asking all followers to
"preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

Visiting Pastors Travel to NW and Central Highlands
--------------------------------------------- -----
5. (SBU) On October 1, Poloff met with three American
Presbyterian leaders who visited Presbyterian congregations in
the Central and Northwest Highlands in addition to attending the
General Assembly. The delegation said they were warmly received
by ethnic minority congregations in Lao Cai and Kontum, adding
that they witnessed a great deal of "pent-up demand" for
religion. During the trip, the group reported difficulties in
only one Lao Cai commune where they said local authorities
followed them by motorbike and attempted to halt their visit to
a chapel near the Chinese border. Pastor Bao Xuan Nguyen said
they called the CRA in Hanoi on the spot, and local police
quickly backed down after receiving word from their superiors to
allow the visit to continue.

6. (U) Vietnam Presbyterian Church leader Rev. Nguyen Ba Nha
said that since 1975 the church has survived many "tests of
faith" and looks forward to a time of peaceful development, but
noted that competition among Protestant groups is drawing some
Presbyterians to other denominations. Nevertheless, he has big
plans for the future, and hopes to expand from approximately 80
congregations to 300 over the next three years. He and other

HO CHI MIN 00000917 002.2 OF 002


Presbyterian leaders met with the HCMC People's Committee
recently to request land to build a new headquarters here and
hope to begin discussing the establishment of international
churches in Vietnam's major cities in the near future.

7. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Hanoi.
FAIRFAX

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