News Analysis

The big story: Immigration official claims Christianity is violent


What happened?

The British Government has distanced itself from an official letter which claimed that Christianity is a violent religion.

The letter was sent to an Iranian asylum seeker who said he had converted partly because Islam is violent, whereas Christianity preaches “forgiveness and kindness”.

A Home Office official rejected his application, arguing that the Bible contains violent passages. The department is now reconsidering the case, and says the letter did not reflect its policy.

What the media are saying

There was widespread bafflement and anger at the decision. The papers quoted the asylum seeker’s lawyer, Nathan Stevens, who described it as an “outrageous” decision. The Anglican Bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev Paul Butler, said he was “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.”

Even the head of the National Secular Society remarked that it was “wholly inappropriate for the Home Office to use theological justifications for refusing asylum applications”.

It is not the first time that the Home Office has been criticised for a lack of religious literacy. 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.

The asylum expert James McKinney argued that the letter exemplified the Home Office’s general approach of trying to find any possible reason to refuse asylum. “The Home Office is notorious for coming up with any reason they can to refuse asylum,” he observed, “and this looks like a particularly creative example, but not necessarily a systemic outbreak of anti-Christian sentiment in the department.”