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Cablegate: New Life Fellowship Church Status - Update

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS HO CHI MINH CITY 001212

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV KIRF SOCI CASC VM HUMANR RELFREE
SUBJECT: NEW LIFE FELLOWSHIP CHURCH STATUS - UPDATE

REF: HCMC 1024 AND PREVIOUS

1. (SBU) New Life Fellowship church (NLF) pastor-in-charge Eric
Dooley and responsible local and central-level officials have
held a series of meetings on the impasse over the operations of
the church (ref A). Dooley told us that, in mid-October, at the
recommendation of the HCMC Committee for Religious Affairs
(CRA), he met with Nguyen Van Thong, the Central-level CRA
official responsible for Protestant affairs. Reportedly, Thong
asked the NLF to abandon discussions with the GVN-recognized
Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam (SECV). Instead,
following the NLF's submission of a series of documents, the NLF
would be "investigated as a possible risk to national security
and national stability." If the CRA was satisfied after its
review, the GVN would make a decision on legalization of the
NLF. Thong reportedly told Dooley, that, while the GVN was
considering his case, the NLF could continue its present level
of operations. (Per reftels, following its "ban" at HCMC's
Windsor Plaza Hotel, the NLF is conducting services for
expatriates in 20 private homes in HCMC.) Thong emphasized that
the NLF's services should be for expatriates only.

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2. (SBU) On November 16, Dooley informed us that he is
scheduling a follow up meeting with Thong for later in November.
He has engaged a local HCMC lawyer to accompany him to the
meeting.

3. (SBU) On November 3, PolOffs raised the impasse over the NLF
with Tran Ngoc Bao, Vice Chairman in charge of Protestant and
Catholic Issues of the HCMC Committee for Religious Affairs.
Bao had last met with Dooley in late October. Bao said he
encouraged Dooley to reconsider his refusal to partner with a
local Vietnamese church, but Dooley stuck to his position that
the NLF did not want to be dependant on other organizations and
would continue to demand the right to conduct services in a
five-star hotel. Bao said that he emphasized that "Vietnamese
custom and law" dictated that regular worship services should be
conducted in a designated place of worship. He asked why the
Japanese, Korean, and French Protestants and Catholic
expatriates could share church facilities with local partners
"without any problems," but the NLF could not.

4.(SBU) We asked Bao about the apparent disconnect between the
HCMC CRA's advice to the NLF to partner with the SECV and the
Central-level CRA's admonition to Dooley not to deal with the
group. Bao explained that the approach depended on what legal
status the NLF and Dooley sought in Vietnam. The HCMC CRA had
the authority to approve a church-sharing arrangement between
the NLF and the SECV (in effect the SECV would become the parent
church of the NLF). If Dooley and the NLF wish to operate as an
independent, registered foreign church in Vietnam, the church --
and Dooley -- must apply for legal status with the GVN under
separate legal provisions governing foreign religious groups.
According to Bao, even now, the NLF can use of a hotel for
"social" gatherings, but religious services, Sunday school and
baptisms would have to be conducted in a church. The NLF's
rental of a room or hall in a hotel is a pure business
transaction between the NLF and the hotel management, Bao
asserted. The CRA does not have any role in administering or
monitoring such a business transaction, Bao added. (Even if
granted independent legal status, it is unclear whether the NLF
would have the right to hold religious services anywhere other
than a designated church.)

5. (SBU) Comment: The NLF's discussions with HCMC and
central-level authorities is a positive development, although
the two sides still are far apart on substance. It may signal
that church's leadership is beginning to realize that dialogue
is preferable to the more confrontational posture it first
adopted. And, whatever CRA officials may think of Dooley, they
seem to understand that the NLF's expatriate membership, which
includes representatives from major multinationals based in
HCMC, is an important constituency and that an outright ban of
the NLF could be a costly decision.
WINNICK

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