Activities of the Catholic and Evangelical churches in southern Vietnam have been greatly reduced in scope following the 1975 Communist takeover of the country, according to a Mennonite official who visited Vietnam in July.
"Church leaders reported that they now have to get governmental permission to conduct regular services," said James K. Stauffer, a member of the five-member Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) delegation that visited Vietnam. He was a missionary to Vietnam during 1957-75.
He noted that before 1975, Tin Lanh (Evangelical) Church life in Vietnam was geared to public evangelism. The Catholics relied on their institutional programs for growth and outreach, he said.
"The war's end brought a quick end to those channels of activity for both churches," said Stauffer, now with the Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities staff in the Philippines.
He said, "Tin Lanh's public and mass evangelism is no longer permitted. Former Catholic social, medical and educational institutions are now fully controlled and operated by the state. The practice of organized religion is generally limited to worship."
Stauffer said that as a member of the Mennonite delegation he was able to meet with 13 persons associated with the Evangelical churches and six Catholics during the July visit. He had private conversations with church pastors and other leaders.
"Permission for anything special, such as an annual conference, requires a tremendous amount of time and red tape," Stauffer said. "Pastors must be careful what they say in their sermons. One was arrested because he mentioned in a sermon on the Second Coming that 'Russia will be destroyed.'"
Stauffer said Vietnam churches under the old regime had considered themselves politically neutral - but had cooperated with the government in such things as providing chaplains, and also invited military officials to open annual conferences as an accepted practice.
The Communist government views such actions as churches' involvement in politics - condoning the status quo and by neglecting to raise their voices against the injustices of the old regime - the MCC official reported.
Stauffer said the Evangelical churches were also known to be anti-Vietcong and pro-American.
In an effort to prove their innocence, many pastors have joined local govrnment committees, Stauffer said.
"Very conservative moral standards have accompanied the socialist revolutions," Stauffer said. "Some new government officials are puritanical in nature. For example, pornographic materials, trashy western novels, and decadent capitalist books were collected and burned in the streets after April 1975."
The MCC official said most of the prostitutes and drug addicts have reportedly been cured and stealing has been greatly reduced. "These claims by the government tend to weaken faith in supernatural cures for the sins of humanity. We sensed this especially among Catholics," Stauffer said.
"One priest mentioned that while the Catholics only comprised 10 percent of the population, 25 percent of the prostitutes claimed Catholic membership. He went on to praise the government for doing a job that the churches had obviously failed to do."