Vietnam’s government has ordered Peoples’ Committees nationwide to root out a church group already outlawed in the country, seeking to eliminate the controversial group which has increasingly been organizing recruitment activities.
The World Mission Society of Church of God, also known as Church of God the Mother, whose doctrine departs significantly from that of mainstream Christian theology, has been expanding rapidly in Vietnam.
Its adherents believe that its deceased leader Ahn Sahng-hong was the second coming of Jesus Christ and deifies evangelist Jang Gil-ja by calling her God the Mother. Traditional Christian churches regard it as a cult.
Vietnam’s Ministry of Home Affairs issued an official dispatch to the People’s Committees in all cities and provinces nationwide, telling them to take resolute measures to eliminate the organization, Vietnamese state media said on Sept. 17.
People's Committees are administrative agencies that operate under the management of provincial People's Councils and carry out government policies and directives at the local level.
The committees now must dissolve and revoke the permits of groups practicing the religion and prevent them from creating new groups, Vietnamese media said. They are not allowed to approve church requests to register nonprofit organizations, companies, representative offices, shops, clubs or extracurricular programs.
RFA called the church’s headquarters in Seoul for comment but got no response.
The World Mission Society Church of God originated in South Korea’s Kyunggi province and was founded by Ahn Sahng-hong in 1964. It has more than 3.3 million registered members in 175 countries, according to its website.
Vietnam’s constitution technically enshrines freedom of religion, but it also allows authorities to override rights, including religious freedom, for purposes of national security, social order, social morality and community well-being.
The church has made a comeback with 16 service locations, mostly in Thanh Hoa city, and around 500 followers, Radio Free Asia reported in May, citing information from the Thanh Hoa provincial police website.
In late May, Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security said that church adherents had resumed their recruitment activities, targeting college students in the capital city of Hanoi. Also that month, authorities said the church had returned to several other localities, including the city of Hue and Vinh Phuc province.
The Ministry of Public Security believes the church penetrated Vietnam with the entry of Korean people and later via blood donation events held by the WeLoveU Foundation, an international NGO started in South Korea in the 1990s.
RFA reported in March that police in the central Vietnamese province of Quang Nam ordered church members to stop following the group.
The group’s members typically range in age from 18 to 50 years old, and most are students and housewives, authorities said. They often promote their religion by approaching people at coffee shops, parks and business workshops, especially events about multilevel marketing models.
In April 2018, the Vietnamese government’s Committee for Religious Affairs requested responsible agencies from central to local levels to pay attention to the church’s activities in the country.
Translated by Anna Vu for RFA Vietnamese. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By RFA Vietnamese and Taejun Kang for RFA.