Washington, D.C. According to its 2006 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Vietnamese government to promote greater religious freedom in Vietnam, the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE) and an accompanying delegation recently visited Vietnam’s capitol, Hanoi, and the Northwest province of Lao Cai, from 2-9 November. The delegation – comprised of businesspeople, development experts, and mega-church pastors – met with government, academic, and religious leaders. Their visit included several highlights:

    The second-ever “Religion and Rule of Law” conference in Southeast Asia. This conference was co-sponsored by IGE, the Vietnam-USA Society, the Vietnamese Academy of Social Sciences, and the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University (all of which co-sponsored last year’s ground-breaking conference). The conference – kicked off by a reception at the home of U.S. Ambassador Michalak– brought together international scholars and lawyers from Vietnam and twelve other countries to discuss religious freedom and its implications for a state’s religion, culture, legal development, and national security. This key forum helps provide the necessary scholarship for Southeast Asian leaders to continue the dialogue about how their governments might transparently and consistently address religion in each of their countries.

    The signing of a “protocol” for implementing Article 4 of the MOU. This 4 November 2007 protocol promotes community-to-community relations between America and Vietnam. The protocol provides guidance for further implementing the socio-economic development model of Glocal Ventures– a development NGO of Northwood Church in Dallas, Texas, that has been operating in Lao Cai for over ten years. (Glocal Ventures was recently visited in Texas by the Vietnamese authority governing NGO activities in Vietnam).

    The deepening of dialogue on religious freedom through meetings in Hanoi with members of Vietnam’s National Assembly, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Public Security, and Committee on Religious Affairs; and through meetings in Lao Cai with registered and unregistered church leaders; and with government leaders at the commune, district, and provincial levels.

    A personal meeting with President Triet. This marks IGE’s second meeting this year with Vietnam’s president. On 8 November he told the delegation: “IGE and Viet Nam offices and organizations should exchange more religious delegations visits, so that American politicians and people could correctly understand religions in Viet Nam, helping to boost co-operation between the two countries.”

The delegation also learned of Hanoi’s ongoing program to educate governmental and religious leaders together at the local level about the various ordinances, decrees, and guidelines related to religious freedom, and what IGE might do to assist this program. This government program is particularly significant for religious freedom’s growth in Vietnam due to its capacity to both promote societal stability and accelerate church registration, a remaining concern of many international advocates for religious freedom.

In each of their meetings with government officials and local community members, from Hanoi to Lao Cai province, the IGE delegation sought to better understand the religious freedom climate in Vietnam by listening and gathering information. The delegation continually emphasized its willingness to help facilitate more socio-economic development projects through Glocal Ventures, as well as more theological training for local pastors throughout Vietnam.