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Protestantism in Central Highlands and current issues

(LLCT) - Protestantism was presented to the Central Highlands in the late ‘20s of the 20th century. At present, Protestantism has an important position in the religious life in this area and meets the religious and belief needs of the ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands. However, the activities of Protestantism in the Central Highlands are also raising issues that need to be addressed, such as the lack of religious places and activities that take advantage of Protestantism of the bad forces. Identifying these problems will help our Party and State make appropriate decisions.

Keyword: Protestantism, Central Highlands.

Protestantism was officially introduced to Vietnam in 1911. Missionary work was carried out by the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA), an organization from North America. Shortly after that, the missionaries of CMA began their mission in the ethnic minority areas living in the Central Highlands. Protestantism partly meets the religious and belief needs, contributes to eliminating obsolete customs, and leads to moral and lifestyle advances, but also brings about some complications.

1. The situation of Protestantism in the Central Highlands today

After the Vietnam Evangelical Church (the South) was recognized by the State in 2001, especially after the Prime Minister’s Directive No. 01/2005/CT-TTg from February 4, 2005 on a number of works on Protestantism was issued, Protestantism in the Central Highlands evolved in a positive direction; the number of religious people increased gradually and did not create social hotspots. By 2015, there were 440,149 Protestants(1) distributed as in the table (next page).

By 2018, the Central Highlands had 600,000 Protestant followers (450,000 ethnic minority believers), 1,665 meeting points (1,300 registered meeting points), 300 branches, and 120 churches and chapels(2). Followers belonged 18 different ethnic minorities: Ede (133,593 people), Gia Rai (82,604), Bah Nar (35,309), K’Ho (74,864), M’Nong (23,284), Xe Dang (6,473 ), Van Kieu, Ma, H’Mong, H’Lang, Gie Trieng, Dao, Nung, Tay, San Chi, Cham, S’Tieng, and Thai. Currently, more than 30 Protestant denominations and organizations coexist in this area.

Organizations and sects that have been recognized by the State that have the most followers can be named as: Vietnam Evangelical Church (the South), accounting for 87% of the total number of believers, and Vietnam Christian Missionary Association, accounting for 4.1%.

After implementing the Prime Minister’s Directive on a number of tasks for Protestantism in 2005, the situation of Protestantism in the Central Highlands has gradually stabilized, complied with law, and met the religious needs. More than 90% of the believers are allowed to practice free religious activities in group meeting points. Many churches and chapels have been restored, repaired or newly built, and many pastors and missionaries have been ordained.

However, Protestantism activities in the Central Highlands still have some issues to solve:

There is a lack of churches and chapels to meet the religious needs of the people

The Central Highlands now has a large number of Protestant believers, especially ethnic minorities, with 600,000 people, 1,665 meeting points, and 300 branches, but there are only 120 churches(3). Many Protestant denominations and organizations must organize activities in places outside places of worship, such as in public places, hotels, and even private houses, thereby posing difficulties for local authorities in social management(4). Therefore, the expansion and construction of new churches and chapels, as well as the purchase, sale, and transfer of land to build religious facilities has been taking place without permission from the government. At the same time, the support for the construction of religious places still faces many difficulties due to the capacity of Protestant organizations as well as difficulties in the localities(5).

The situation in Protestantism itself is complicated.

Because there are many organizations and Protestant denominations that operate very differently, there are complications in the religious situation. There are groups that operate stably, obey the law, respect the management and leadership of the State, and contribute to the community. Meanwhile, some activity groups are unstable and lack legal knowledge, leading to violations. A number of organizations and sections scramble to influence and attack each other to increase their number of followers, expanding their mission areas and causing instabilities in the community, especially in ethnic minority areas.

Many organizations and denominations have not been recognized. As many as 20 organizations and denominations, with more than 18,000 believers have not been recognized(6), which means that they are currently “out of management” of the government, potentially causing social disorders, as was the case of the “Church of God the Mother” in 2018.

Activities taking advantage of Protestantism

Bad forces often find ways to take advantage of religious issues, including Protestantism, to disrupt society and fight the revolution of our country. In the context of globalization, openness towards viewpoints and policies around Protestantism by the Party and State has become increasingly strong and sophisticated, particularly when looking at the abuse of Protestantism in the Central Highlands.

The two political riots that occurred in the Central Highlands provinces in February 2001 and April 2004 are typical examples of conspiracies and acts of abusing Protestantism by reactionary forces. Following the agitation and instigation of reactionary elements abroad with the conspiracy to establish the “independent De-ga” state and “De-ga Protestantism”(7) in the Central Highlands headed by Ksor Kok, thousands of ethnic minority people from remote villages, by rudimentary means like small farm trucks, caused riots in the cities and towns of Gia Lai and Dak Lak provinces, causing disorder and social insecurity.

In the following years, complicated cases involving religion and ethnicity continued to occur. In the first six months of 2006, about 70 cases occurred: in Gia Lai there were 33 cases (accounting for 47%); in Dak Lak there were 15 cases (21%); Lam Dong had 11 cases (15.7%); Kon Tum had 6 cases (8.5%); and in Dak Nong there were 3 cases (4.3%)(8).

Recently, FULRO and “De-ga Protestantism” have been showing signs of resuming operations. In Gia Lai province, the “De-ga Protestant” leaders  are leading and propagating evil religions, such as the evil Ha Mon religion, Thanh Hai Supreme Master, and Bokhap Brau, which complicates the situation and poses potential risks, causing protests and political riots.

2. Some recommendations

In order to improve the effectiveness of the religious work and the Protestant work – especially the effective implementation of the Law on Beliefs and Religions in the Central Highlands – in the coming time we need to focus on the following tasks:

Firstly, it is necessary to continue to propagate and grasp the guidelines and religious policies of the Party and the State among cadres, party members and people.

Since the implementation of the country’s renovation policy, the Party and the State have had innovative views and policies on religion and belief which have come to life, meeting the people’s religious and belief needs and contributing to the overall development of the country. The Resolution of the 7th Plenum of the Party Central Committee of the 9th Congress on the work with religion clearly states: “Beliefs and religions are the spiritual needs of a part of the people, and have coexisted with the people in the course of building socialism in our country”(9).

The Law on Beliefs and Religions issued by the State in 2016 confirms: “1. Everyone has the right to freedom of belief and religion, [to follow or not follow] a religion. 2. Each person has the right to express faith, religion, and belief, practice religious rituals, join the festivals, and study and practice religious doctrines and laws”(10).

For Protestantism, the Party and State’s renovation policies and guidelines are expressed through Directive No. 01/2005/CT-TTg, dated February 4, 2005, on a number of tasks for Protestantism by the Prime Minister. Accordingly, we normalize the activities of Protestantism in our country step by step, especially in ethnic minority areas in the Central Highlands and Northwest. It is necessary to continue to propagandize thoroughly to raise awareness about religion and Protestantism for cadres and party members, especially cadres engaged in religious affairs, dignitaries, religious followers, and people.

Secondly, it is essential to pay attention to the building of a force of religious officials

In many parts of the Central Highlands today, the number of religious personnel is small and most personnel have not received basic training in religious affairs, limiting the competence regarding religious affairs and Protestantism-related issues. In fact, most officials do not want to do religious work because this task is difficult and complicated. Therefore, strengthening, consolidating and building a contingent of religious personnel is an urgent requirement. The Party, State and localities in the region should continue to take care of building a contingent of religious personnel through training and retraining cadres in practice; at the same time, they should pay attention to remuneration policies including rewards. The goal is to have a force of workers on religions with good working capacity, a firm grasp on the law, and a good knowledge of religion. This is a prerequisite to ensure the bringing of the Party and State’s reform policies and laws on religion into life throughout the country, including in the Central Highlands.

Thirdly, it is essential to promote the Protestant’s contribution to the development of ethnic minority areas.

Protestantism is a reforming modern religion, with great interests and positive contributions to society, which is evident in countries with many Protestant followers such as the United States, Germany, South Korea, and even China in the previous period.

In our country, before 1975, Protestantism made positive contributions to education, healthcare, and humanitarian activities via many schools and hospitals. In the Central Highlands, the Vietnamese Evangelical Church (the South) established a Leprosy Hospital in 1951 in Buon Me Thuot, the Protestant Hospital of Da Lat in 1959, and in 1960 a general hospital was built in Pleiku. By 1975, the Vietnam Evangelical Church had 5 hospitals and clinics. Other Protestant organizations – such as the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Christian Missionary Association, and the Baptist Church – also had practical social activities.

At present, Protestant organizations actively participate in social, charitable and humanitarian activities that contribute to the implementation of social security, such as education, health care, poverty reduction, and emergency relief. They have also provided wheelchairs to people with disabilities. However, these results are not commensurate with their contribution competence.

One of the new guidelines of the Party and State is to promote religious resources to contribute to society, so promoting the contribution of Protestantism to the development of the Central Highlands, where there are many ethnic minorities, is necessary.

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Endnotes:

(1) This data is from provincial statistical reports. This number of believers is less than in reality, because there is a significant part of the believers belonging to unrecognized Protestant organizations, but the provinces have not yet been able to list them. The current number of Protestants in the Central Highlands is around 600,000.

(2) Information from the Government Committee for Religious Affairs.

(3) The number of Protestant followers in the area has now increased by nearly 10 times, while the number of churches has decreased by nearly a quarter due to historical factors.

(4) See: Nguyen Khac Duc: Some issues of Protestantism in Vietnam, Political Theory Publishing House, Hanoi, 2018, p.93.

(5) See Vu Thi Thu Ha (Chief Editor): The values and functions of Protestantism in the area of ethnic minorities in Vietnam today, Social Sciences Publishing House, Hanoi, 2018, p.173.

(6) Throughout the country, there are currently more than 70 unrecognized Protestant organizations, denominations, or groups of about 200,000 followers.

(7) The so-called “Protestant Protestantism” is a reactionary political organization propagandized in the Central Highlands in 1999.

(8) See: Doan Trieu Long: Protestantism in the Central Highlands, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2013, p.205.

(9) CPV: Document of the 7th Plenum of the 9th Central Committee of the Communist Party, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2003, p.488.

 

(10) Government Committee for Religious Affairs: Introductory Documents on the Law on Beliefs and Religions, Religion Publishing House, Hanoi, 2017, p.10.

Dr. Nguyen Khac Duc

Institute of Religion and Belief

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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