Vietnam and Laos

Vietnam and Laos have been Communist states since the mid-1970s. While their governments have moved away from Marxist-Leninist doctrine in the realm of economics, they continue to regard religion in general, and Christianity in particular, as a threat to the social order. Christians are 10 percent of Vietnam’s population of 93 million, with Catholics vastly outnumbering Protestants. Christians are less than 3 percent of Laos’s population of 7 million and are divided roughly equally between Protestants and Catholics. 

Over the course of its rule, the government of Vietnam has campaigned to eradicate Christianity through forced recantations, imprisonment, torture, and labor camps, targeting both Catholics and Protestants, but most heavily evangelical Protestants among the Montagnard ethnic minority in the Central Highlands. Since a 2004 ordinance on religion, the government has shifted from a policy of “eradication” to one of “containment,” but it continues to inflict heavy repression and harsh discrimination, including denying permits to churches and the identification cards required for a wide range of services to individuals. 

Laos saw less persecution after the Communist takeover because Christian leaders fled the country, but when the Lao Evangelical Church rose again in the 1990s, the government arrested leaders, closed churches, and required Christians to sign an oath renouncing their faith or face prosecution. Since 2000, the situation has improved, but Christians still face detentions, fines, and the closing of churches. 

The predominant response to the persecution of Christians in Vietnam and Laos is one of survival and endurance, accepting persecution as a central dimension of the Christian life and persisting in worship and evangelization. While the Catholic Church developed through its bishops a pattern of engaging the government, evangelical churches remained underground and separated. 

Hmong evangelicals fled in response to a crackdown on house churches in the 1990s, as did evangelicals in the wake of the suppression of Montagnard uprisings in the early 2000s. 

Some Christians in both countries recanted their faith under duress, though some of these later reconverted.

Shortly after the Communist takeover, some Christians in both countries fled. 

Finally, Christians have undertaken various forms of advocacy and resistance. They appeal quietly to the country’s constitution and laws, engage in negotiations with authorities, stage large demonstrations, publicly shame officials who have committed gross injustices, and gain support from churches and other organizations overseas. For example, in the 1980s, activists obtained access to government documents revealing plans to suppress Christianity in Vietnam. The activists then formed alliances with supporters abroad, eliciting a stream of petitions against the government from both inside and outside the country. Generally, though, advocacy and protest have borne limited results.