Cablegate: Northern Protestant Church Holds Long Awaited

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


1. (SBU) Summary: The Evangelical Church of Vietnam: North
(ECVN) held its first National Congress in 20 years December
1-2. The meeting allowed the Church to name a new
leadership board, appoint two new pastors and make progress
on rewriting the ECVN's charter. The new leadership
indicated that it plans to undertake a number of
initiatives, including seeking official recognition for
ethnic minority believers in the Northwest Highlands. The
Government reportedly did not interfere in votes for the new
leadership and has accepted the results of the internal
election despite the fact that none of the GVN's candidates
was elected. End Summary.

2. (SBU) The ECVN's two-day Congress was held December 1-2
in Hanoi and represented the first time the ECVN had met as
a whole in 20 years (Ref. A). (Note: This 20-year delay
was initially due to obstruction by the Government, but more
recently was because of the ECVN's refusal to hold a
congress while the GVN continued to try to influence its
leadership. End note.) The new President of the ECVN, who
will hold his position for four years, is Reverend Phung
Quang Huyen, who leads a church in rural Nam Dinh Province.
The Vice President is Pastor Nguyen Gia Huan of Haiphong,
with whom the Ambassador met in November (Ref. B). Well-
known pastor Au Quang Vinh of the Hanoi congregation is the
new General Secretary. Two new pastors were also recognized
during the Congress.

3. (SBU) Pastor Vinh (protect) told us December 6 that the
GVN gave the Church "a lot of freedom" in electing its new
leaders. The GVN had indicated its preferred candidates,
but none of these was elected, and the GVN "will accept the
results." Vinh noted that Deputy Prime Minister Vu Khoan
had invited the new leadership committee to meet with him
the day after the Congress adjourned; Pastor Vinh added that
the Church appreciated this "sign of respect." The Congress
was widely covered in Vietnamese language newspapers,
although without editorial comment.

4. (SBU) Setting forth the tasks of the new leadership,
Pastor Vinh said that the two highest priorities are to
complete the creation of a new charter for the ECVN and to
gain official recognition for Protestants in the Northwest
Highlands. The charter, approval of which the ECVN had
initially set forth as a prerequisite for holding its
Congress, is largely finished, but there are "a few
remaining issues to work out" with the GVN. The charter
will replace a previous version written in 1963, and is "90
percent" modeled on the charter of the Southern Evangelical
Church of Vietnam (SECV), which shares the same doctrine as
the ECVN and differs only in structure. (Note: Both are
affiliated with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. End
note.) The new charter specifically states that unification
of the two Churches is an objective of the ECVN. Vinh said
that there has not yet been any attempt to unify, but
acknowledged that GVN opposition to having the more affluent
and active southern branch of the Church expand into
northern Vietnam was "part of the problem." Another major
component of the new charter is that it will allow the
ordination of new pastors, no matter where they have
studied. This is important to the ECVN because, in the
absence of a seminary, many of its younger clergymen have
studied abroad.

5. (SBU) Pastor Vinh noted that the ECVN has now issued
certificates of affiliation to 934 "groups," encompassing
112,000 faithful from four different ethnic groups in twelve
of the mountainous provinces of northern and northwestern
Vietnam. "Our big duty is getting the Government to
recognize these faithful are believers," said Vinh. He
acknowledged the huge number of ethnic minority believers is
daunting for the ECVN, which has only fourteen officially
recognized churches, and noted that there is some truth to
GVN claims that the minority house church leaders have
little training and sometimes a limited understanding of
doctrine. However, unless the GVN recognizes them as
believers first, the Church could not provide the ethnic
minorities any training, Vinh stressed,

6. (SBU) Turning to other goals for the new leadership,
establishing a Bible school is an "important mission," but
the ECVN has not yet applied to the GVN to open one, Vinh
said. The board also plans to undertake the renovation of a
number of existing churches; to petition Nghe An Province
for the return of seized ECVN land and to build a new church
on this land; and to seek permission from Thanh Hoa Province
to rebuild its dilapidated church there and assign a pastor
to that congregation. During the Congress, the Church also
established a social affairs committee that will draw up
plans for carrying out charitable activities. On the
subject of future ECVN expansion, Vinh said that there are
groups of believers in a number of locations in northern
Vietnam; however, their ability to meet varies depending on
local authorities. As in the Northwest Highlands, the ECVN
plans to encourage these groups to get permission to gather
from the authorities. This would be a first step towards
creating an official congregation. That said, the Church is
waiting to see how the new Ordinance on Religion will be
enacted -- and what the Ordinance's overdue implementation
regulations contain -- before beginning this process.

7. (SBU) Comment: The holding of the long-awaited Congress
is welcome news, and it should inject a needed dose of
vitality into the Church. Furthermore, Pastor Vinh seemed
to believe that the ECVN's relationship with the national
authorities is now functional, if not warm, and that
remaining issues related to the new charter could soon be
worked out. Even with this, however, one cannot expect too
much too soon from the ECVN. It remains a small
organization with very limited resources. Seeing to the
renovations of its current churches will likely be the
ECVN's most quickly achievable goal, followed perhaps by the
creation of a Bible school (the church already runs some
unofficial study sessions). The active expansion into the
Northwest Highlands that it plans will be an enormous
challenge, although we will follow it closely and make sure
the GVN is aware of our interest. End Comment.

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