From being a country showing serious violations of religious freedom just a decade ago, Vietnam has emerged as a “model nation in Southeast Asia for dealing with issues of religious freedom and law,” according to the Templeton Report (Nov. 8) of the John Templeton Foundation.
While cases of religious infringement still occur in Vietnam, they have significantly decreased in frequency. In addition, while no churches were legally recognized and therefore protected by the government, by 2012, 95 percent of the churches were registered. From only two Christian denominations finding recognition in 2004, today there are 10. The government has also recently approved the formation of a Protestant seminary in the North, actively promoting the idea that educated religious leaders are best able to promote the common good and human flourishing.
The report sees much of the change brought about by the religious freedom activism of the American-based Institute for Global Engagement (IGE). The institute, which is partly funded by the John Templeton Foundation, uses a strategy that creates a “safe space” in which religious leaders, government officials, academics and lawyers can deliberate on matters of religious freedom and the law, often comparing the situation in Vietnam with those of other countries.
IGE also has a network effect as its program entails a certified training program that creates a cadre of alumni who can act as advisors on issues of national and local struggles dealing with the relation of majority and minority religions. IGE is the only American NGO that the Vietnamese government works with on these issues. Chris Seiiple, the president of the institute, says that the bottom-up model that is employed works because it does not impose an imported secular blueprint or legal construct but rather allows outsiders to provide comparative lessons that the Vietnamese can use, thereby equipping individuals to create ways of resolving religious tensions from the bottom-up.
(Templeton Report, http://www.templeton.org)