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Radio Free Asia

Outlawed church group makes comeback in Vietnam

Police say it has 16 locations and about 500 followers in a northern province.

By RFA Vietnamese 2023.05.30 -- A church outlawed in Vietnam has reappeared in the country's northern Thanh Hoa province after many years with no presence or activities in the area, Vietnamese police said Tuesday.

The World Mission Society of Church of God, also known as Church of God the Mother, has made a comeback with 16 service locations, mostly in Thanh Hoa city, and around 500 followers, according information on the provincial police's website.

The group's members 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.

Freedom of religion is technically enshrined in Vietnam's constitution, but the charter also allows authorities to override rights, including religious freedom, for purposes of national security, social order, social morality and community well-being.

The Church of God was established in 1964 by Ahn Sahng-hong, a South Korean minister, whose followers believe to be the second coming of Jesus Christ. It has more than 3.3 million registered members in 175 countries, according to its website.

The group's teachings depart significantly from mainstream Christian theology, and it has been publicly criticized by former members and researchers for behaving like a cult by exercising control over its members.

RFA reported in March that police in the central Vietnamese province of Quang Nam ordered church members to stop following the religion.

Vietnam's Law on Belief and Religion requires religious groups to register their organizations and places of worship. Only organizations that have operated for at least five years can apply for registration. Once registered, the organizations are granted status as legal entities. Many groups refuse to register out of fear of persecution or concern for their independence, however.

The United States in December 2022 placed Vietnam on a watch list of countries to be monitored for severe violations of freedom of religion as the government continued to crack down on Christian churches and demolish Buddhist pagodas.

Translated by Anna Vu for RFA Vietnamese. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

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