Delegates and observers at the southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam (ECVN) general conference held February 7-9 described the outcome as miraculous and an answer to prayer.

"They defied the attempts at manipulation of the Bureau of Religious Affairs (BRA) and of a small number of pastors deemed either pro-government or naive who had cooperated with the authorities," an observer said.

The BRA was granted permission by the prime minister on January 19 to authorize the first general conference of the southern ECVN since 1976. The conference was postponed twice in December because of BRA interference deemed unacceptable by the church.

Nevertheless, Vietnam's Protestants were allowed more freedom than expected during the conference.

Government manipulation?
The BRA's plan to "gain control" over the southern ECVN was spelled out in a secret document called "Document 184A" which was leaked in June 2000 by an official believed to be a Christian. Crucial to the BRA's plan was the co-opting of "good" Christian leaders—meaning pro-government, pliable leaders—and the requirement to draft a new "patriotic" church constitution.

The BRA's crude attempt to manipulate these areas quickly became known and was widely publicized.

The conference convened at the Saigon Church in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) on the evening of February 7. The three-day conference was attended by 482 church pastors and delegates and 278 guests, including high-ranking officials of the BRA and the Fatherland Front, according to a Reuters news agency report.

A BRA official told Reuters that it would grant the church official recognition after the church approved a constitution "conforming to Vietnam's constitution and laws."

Nhan Dan (Peoples Daily) reported ...

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