With the mounting negative reports concerning activities from the controversial religious movement “World Mission Society Church of God” in the north of Vietnam, the Government’s religion authority has called for alertness and advised not to equate the movement with other legitimate Protestant groups with similar names in the country.
A gathering of members of “World Mission Society Church of God” in Lâm Động Commune, Thuỷ Nguyên District of the northeastern port city Hải Phòng. Female members, no matter the age, are required to wear white veil during worship. — Photo by VOV
Vũ Chiến Thắng, head of the Government Committee for Religious Affairs, said that the committee “is aware of and is keeping tabs on the Church of God’s movement.”
The new religious phenomenon that has drawn wide public attention in the recent weeks takes it root years ago with limited presence in the northern provinces of Hải Phòng, Quảng Ninh, and Thái Nguyên, but seems to have picked up speed in spreading to other localities in the country. Allegations of its cult-like conducts – including deceptive recruitment, questionable and manipulative indoctrination, preaching of doomsday sermons and that salvation from a higher being is only possible by following the group, donating cash, and abandoning own families – cropped up with increasing frequency on several media outlets and gained high view counts.
These allegations, however, need to be carefully investigated and verified, to determine “whether these activities are an organisational directive or just aberrant behaviours from certain individuals with ill intentions,” Thắng told Vietnam News Agency.
With that being said, head of the religious affairs committee affirmed that any illegal actions that violate religious freedom and faith, public ethics, order and safety, or pose risks to individual’s properties, health and life, as well as their honour and dignity, would be strictly punished in line with the law.
“The Vietnamese Government always respects and protects the right to freedom of religion and beliefs of all citizens, but does not allow abuse of those freedoms or exploitation of a belief or religion to violate the law,” reiterated Thắng.
When the reports on suspicious activities of the Church of God’s movement emerged, the committee already requested all provinces and cities involved to keep track of the situation and increase awareness amongst its population. The committee will also work closely with local governments to manage the situation.
According to Thắng, several religious leaders in the country have already been vocal in their condemnation of the dubious tactics of the so-called Church of God’s society.
“Despite being individual voices from religious leaders, it helps the public understand that the reported activities of this movement are in fact anti-religious. We welcome such statements; however, when voicing protests, we insist that religious leaders and religious groups maintain civility and avoid discrimination and defamation against legitimate religious groups,” Thắng said.
Previously, the education ministry and Youth Union have asked schools and educational institutions to deploy “information measures in various channels” to their students to resist the movement’s recruitment and immediately report suspicious activities to the schools’ managers.
Vietnamese law does not allow the use of the names of already existing and legal religious organisations to conduct evangelism, however, many people in recent times were led to falsely believe that the “World Mission Society Church of God” movement is by the Government-approved Protestant groups.
Protestantism, amongst the late arrival in Vietnam, currently boasts a six-fold increase in the number of followers since the country’s reunification in 1975, with 1 million people from all walks of life participating in over 50 different denominations, the Voice of Vietnam reported.
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