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Cablegate: One Year After National Registration, United World Mission

VZCZCXRO7500
PP RUEHDT RUEHPB
DE RUEHHM #0811 2130135
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P R 010135Z AUG 07
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2945
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI 2076
RUCNARF/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 3147

UNCLAS HO CHI MINH CITY 000811

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM SOCI PREL PGOV KIRF VM
SUBJECT: ONE YEAR AFTER NATIONAL REGISTRATION, UNITED WORLD MISSION
CHURCH LARGELY SATISFIED

REF: A. HANOI 1340, B. 05 HANOI 580, C. 05 HCMC 238

1. Summary: On July 24, 2007, the Consul General met with Pastor
Nguyen Toi, Chairman of the United World Mission Church of
Vietnam (UWMC), one of Vietnam's larger Protestant
denominations with approximately 22,000 adherents, largely from
ethnic minority areas. Toi was generally upbeat about his
church's current relationship with the GVN. Toi said that the
situation for his church has been consistently improving for a
number of years, particularly since Vietnam's new legal
framework on religion went into effect in 2004 and 2005(reftels)
and since the church received its national registration license
in September 2006. Noting some ongoing issues, Toi's major
complaint was the competition his church is receiving from other
Protestant groups under Vietnam's religious freedom policy. End
summary.

2. (SBU) Since the United World Mission Church's (UWMC) national
registration, Pastor Toi said the typical application turnaround
time for the majority of new UWMC-affiliated congregations is
one week, but noted that there were problems in a handful of
rural areas, particularly in the Northwest. Looking back over
the past year, Toi also said that in the beginning registering
was very difficult and slow but that by working with both local
and national authorities -- and by lots of in-house learning on
how to do the required paperwork -- the situation has improved
dramatically for his UWMC congregations.

3. (SBU) Pastor Toi said the most common reason for delays is
that when authorities check registration documents they find
that some of the UWMC-affiliated church members have already
switched to another church. In a classic example of be careful
of what you wish for, Pastor Toi complained that because of
religious freedom reforms, there are (in his view) too many
Protestant denominations operating in the Central Highlands
today and that some churches are quite aggressive in recruiting
members from other churches, even going so far as giving people
money to join. After complaining somewhat bitterly, he
back-tracked a bit and said that the actual number of
church-jumping believers is fairly small, but he upheld his
contention that there are just too many denominations as a
result of Vietnam's new policy of religious freedom.

4. (SBU) Pastor Toi said that his current focus as chairman of
UWMC is on the denomination's efforts to train approximately
fifty new pastors and religious workers, which UWMC has been
done clandestinely since 1975. The UWMC's current training
session is the first time that the training has occurred openly
under the church's national license and with the support of the
GVN. GVN's 'support' for training clergy also includes the
teaching of two government-mandated courses by
government-supplied instructors--History of Vietnam and
Vietnamese Laws and Regulations. Toi stated that he hopes to
expand the training to 150 pastors over the next two years.
Several UWMC pastors have been sent abroad to attend religious
conferences and seminars, but Toi himself has not participated
in any overseas seminars.

5. (SBU) Pastor Toi said that the UWMC is also in the process of
obtaining 'legal person' status, a form of incorporation which
will allow the church to expand its educational and social
activities. Toi also said that once the church obtained legal
person status, they would be able to enter into negotiations
with the government to obtain additional land for use as offices
and training centers for religious workers. Toi said that the
church lost all its land after the fall of the Republic of
Vietnam in 1975.

6. (SBU) Comment: Pastor Toi's complaints about other
denominations 'poaching' a congregation's members before
registration occurred appear to us to be a backhanded compliment
of the GVN's new policy on religious freedom. That said, the
GVN's support of UWMC's training classes for religious workers
on the condition that the courses include what amounts to
propaganda for the GVN is a good example of the continued
suspicion with which the GVN regards religious activities. END
COMMENT.

7. This cable was coordinated with Embassy Hanoi.

FAIRFAX

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