In the last week or so a story has been making the rounds of a Muslim convert to Christianity being refused asylum in the UK. The reason is because the Home Office has determined that Christianity is not more peaceful than Islam, which was a partial justification for the conversion, and therefore rejects the authenticity of the conversion in question. Below is an excerpt from the letter sent by the Home Office.

The most astounding thing about this is that it seems clear that whoever drafted the letter, on behalf of our government, has clearly just Googled terms looking for verses. As far as verses go these are positively mild compared to some I could think of but what the Home Office seems unable to determine is a differentiation between prescription and description. As the blogger Archbishop Cranmer writes…

There is no apparent awareness of each passage’s Sitz im Leben and no understanding at all of the different literary genres in the Bible and how these might inform expository study and affect interpretation. These texts are all taken literally, verbatim, at face value: the Home Office assesses asylum applications from Middle East Christians with the hermeneutic approach of a biblical fundamentalist.

Home Office refuses asylum to Iranian Christian convert – quoting violence in the Bible as evidence of bogus claim

The New York Times also quotes the Bishop of Durham responding to the news…

“I am extremely concerned that a government department could determine the future of another human being based on such a profound misunderstanding of the texts and practices of faith communities,” Bishop Paul Butler of Durham said in a statement.

“To use extracts from the Book of Revelation to argue that Christianity is a violent religion is like arguing that a government report on the impact of climate change is advocating drought and flooding,” he added.

Rejecting Asylum Claim, U.K. Quotes Bible to Say Christianity Is Not ‘Peaceful’

The most galling thing is that the writer of the letter has the nerve to then selectively quote the Quran to argue that Islam by contrast is peaceful and therefore the convert can’t be sincere. All without consideration to the lived reality of Christians in the Middle East whether Muslim converts or members of ancient communities. Archbishop Cranmer is right, this is an approach to theology reminiscent of the fundamentalist, Christian or otherwise.

The entire incident was flagged by the caseworker of the convert in question on Twitter…

The story has since apparently been picked up by numerous news outlets both in the UK and the US with a recent update from the caseworker, Nathan Steves, states that the refusal has been withdrawn without the granting of the request. Yet the Home Office’s backtracking on this seems not so much down to a change of heart but the exposure of their conduct to the public domain. This is evidence by a quote the caseworker in question provided of another claim he handled.

I can’t believe that my country, one I love, speaks in such ways to people who share the same faith as the established church of the nation. A nation that has apparently pledged to support the plight of persecuted Christians around the world. Can one really believe that is the case? Especially since it ducked requests to give asylum to Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi for fear of offending and angering Muslims in the UK and Pakistan. This is despite the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt admitting “the evidence is that 80 per cent of all the people who are suffering religious persecution are Christian” in a recent talk on the subject. The most extreme forms of said persecution coming from countries where Islam is in the majority according the watchlist of Open Doors.

Jeremy Hunt or whoever can make all the noises he wants but others have made the link between the Home Office and its desire to bend over backwards for Arabist diplomats (here and here) and these actions point to a worrying trend in our government. This was further stressed by Hunt’s desire to uphold “freedom of worship” rather than “freedom of religion” as one commentator explains…

Freedom of worship is NOT the same as freedom of religion. This is not hairsplitting semantics or personal preferences.

It is a matter of life and death in some countries. Thus it is of grave concern that Obama, Clinton and Cameron seemingly prefer using freedom of worship.

Let me explain: Freedom of religion includes the right to have a faith, to manifest it and propagate for it, alone or together with others, also in the public arena. It also gives the right to change beliefs and religious affiliation. This is what democracies would adhere to.

Freedom of worship is a definition practiced in countries influenced by Islam. You may be allowed to be a Christian, but you mustn’t take it into the public arena or share your faith with others. If you are a Muslim you are free to be a Muslim and display it publically but you can’t leave Islam.

Freedom of worship, or of religion? by Mats Tunehag

This is why I do not have any confidence in the Foreign Office or the Home Office when someone like Jeremy Hunt (and before him David Cameron) says it is committed to “freedom of worship” whether it’s in asylum cases or the case of Christians abroad until things start to materially change. Its telling that even the definition of freedom of worship outlined by Tunehag, particularly “you may be allowed to be a Christian, but you mustn’t take it into the public arena or share your faith with others” is increasingly a line we see used by secularist commentators for religion in general, even in the UK.

Standing up for religious freedom is messy, especially because those who actively deny it are often, in part, motivated by religious reasons themselves. To do it requires determination and a willingness to endure cost that the government doesn’t seem sympathetic towards, let alone willing to embrace. Yet the wilful blindness by the government when it comes to the plight of Christians I genuinely believe is a sin against Christ’s church.

Persecution of Christians is a lived reality in the Islamic world, I’ve met long-time Christians and recent converts from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Albania, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Afghanistan and more. All of them talk of the persecution they’ve experienced and still live in fear of it for themselves and any family back home. By way of example I know someone who photographed the wedding of an Afghan convert and had to hand over the memory card even before they could do any work on the images. This was because the convert didn’t want to take the risk of the images somehow getting back to his family or their community for fear of consequences of people knowing he had converted, married a Christian, in a Christian ceremony. Even in the UK one should know the story of Nissar Hussain and his family and the risks they live with years after their conversion.

This government seems to have imbibed the worst of Conservative party’s Hostile Environment Policy to reducing immigration numbers and still seems to be living with its legacy as asylum applications year on year are in decline. Yet with so many of these refusals when challenged lead to the Home Office managing to lose 75% of all appeals against their decisions.

One can legitimately argue this isn’t something unique to Christians but the rejections these Christians are experiencing are being made in explicitly theological terms which borders on prejudice as evidenced by the selective reading of scriptural passages and done in ignorance of the lived reality of Christians around the world. Given this is in a context in which this government seems in no hurry to root out returning Jihadis from amongst us this seems particularly pointed, they are letting sheep be slaughtered and tending the wolves instead. If it’s a lack of housing, skills, or language, let these Christians stay with Christians, I can guarantee they will be treated better than the government treats them.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.

Edit: Here is the link to the full statement from the Bishop of Durham on the case mentioned in the New York Times Article.

“I am extremely concerned that a Government department could determine the future of another human being based on such a profound misunderstanding of the texts and practices of faith communities. To use extracts from the Book of Revelation to argue that Christianity is a violent religion is like arguing that a Government report on the impact of Climate Change is advocating drought and flooding.
“It is good that the Home Office has recognised that this decision is inconsistent with its policies and that its staff need better training. But the fact that these comments were made at all suggests that the problem goes deeper than a lack of religious literacy among individual civil servants and indicates that the management structures and ethos of the Home Office, when dealing with cases with a religious dimension, need serious overhaul.  
“I look forward to hearing what changes in training and practice follow from this worrying example.
“The Church of England has regularly raised the issue of the religious literacy of staff at all levels within the Home Office. This fresh case shows just how radically the Home Office needs to change in its understanding of all religious beliefs.”

Response to Home Office letter regarding Iranian asylum seeker

Let us hope the Church of England, and all Christians, continue to advocate for the case of this individual and those like them in, or wishing to come, to the UK.

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