The Government has distanced itself from an official letter which claimed that Christianity is a violent religion.
The letter was sent to an Iranian convert to Christianity who had claimed asylum. Iranian converts can face heavy legal penalties. The asylum seeker said he had converted partly because Islam was violent, whereas “In Christianity there is peace, forgiveness and kindness”.
A Home Office official rejected his application, arguing that the Bible contains many violent passages, such as the verses about warfare in the Old Testament and Christ’s statement that “I came not to send peace, but a sword”.
The official concluded: “These examples are inconsistent with your claim that you converted to Christianity after discovering it is a ‘peaceful religion, as opposed to Islam which contains violence, rage and revenge’.”
The asylum seeker is appealing against the decision. After his lawyer, Nathan Stevens, posted extracts from the letter on Twitter, an outcry followed. Sarah Teather, director of the Jesuit Refugee Service UK, described the caseworker’s verdict as “unbelievable – shocking”.
The Home Office said in a statement that the letter was “not in accordance with our policy approach to claims based on religious persecution, including conversions to a particular faith”.
It is not the first time that the Home Office has been criticised for mishandling religious claims. Another convert was rejected because he said that Christ “did not have an earthly father”. The Home Office caseworker said this was incorrect, as Christ’s father was Joseph.
In recent years the Home Office has also refused visas to three Syriac Orthodox archbishops from Iraq and Syria; to an Iraqi nun who wanted to visit her sick sister; and to the staff of a training institute for priests and nuns. In the case of the institute, one nun was rejected because she had no personal bank account.
Nathan Stevens said he had also seen an applicant refused with a letter which said: “You affirmed in your AIR [interview] that Jesus is your saviour, but then claimed that He would not be able to save you from the Iranian regime. It is therefore considered that you have no conviction in your faith and your belief in Jesus is half-hearted.”
The Home Office statement said that the department is working with “a range of faith groups”, as well as the All-Party Parliamentary Group on international religious freedom, to improve its guidance. It is also giving training to “asylum decision-makers” on an “appropriate response to asylum claims involving religious conversion.
A statement from the Church of England said there was a long way to go. “I look forward to hearing what changes in training and practice follow from this worrying example,” wrote the Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler.
“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.”
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