Church attacks Home Office for saying Christianity 'not peaceful' to reject asylum seeker

Gabriella Swerling
The Home Office even quoted Jesus in the refusal letter. - www.Alamy.com

The Church of Englandhas attacked the Home Office for using Bible quotes to argue that Christianity is not a peaceful religion in a bid to reject an asylum seeker.

The Iranian national, who has not been identified, claimed asylum in 2016 but his application was rejected after government officials said his conversion from Islam was “inconsistent” with his claim that Christianity is a peaceful religion.

In order to reiterate the point, the Home Office wrote a lengthy and “unbelievably offensive” refusal letter referencing six Bible passages and claiming that the book of Revelation is filled with “images of revenge, destruction, death and violence”.

The Home Office rejection, below the quoted verses concludes: “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 Home Office has been criticised by the Church of England for quoting Bible passages to reject an asylum seeker's application Credit:  Yui Mok/PA

Nathan Stevens, the immigration caseworker at Fadiga & Co Solicitors dealing with the Iranian man’s case, posted excerpts of the Home Office letter on Twitter earlier this week saying he was “genuinely shocked” to read such an “unbelievably offensive diatribe”. It has since been shared hundreds of times.

Mr Stevens, from London, added: “Whatever your views on faith, how can a government official arbitrarily pick bits out of a holy book and then use them to trash someone's heartfelt reason for coming to a personal decision to follow another faith.”

He said that his client will be appealing the decision and he will be complaining to the Home Office.

However, the Church of England has since waded into the debate after the government even allegedly misquoted Jesus.

The Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, who leads for the Bishops in the House of Lords on matters relating to immigration, asylum and refugees, likened the refusal letter to a government report on climate change advocating global warming.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

He added that the department needs a “radical” change in its understanding of all religious beliefs.

Referencing Matthew, Chapter 10, the Home Office said that Jesus states: "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send [or bring] peace, but a sword."

However the late esteemed New Testament scholar, R.T. France famously explained that the sword which Jesus is referring to in the controversial passage is not to bring is not military conflict, but a “sharp social division which severs the closest family ties [...] Jesus speaks here, as in the preceding and following verses, more of a division in men’s personal response to him.”

Officials appear to have lifted passages from the Bible Gateway website, an online searchable Bible which is one of the world’s most popular Christian websites. The refusal letter also quotes parts of The Book of Leviticus from the old testament.

However it was not just religious and legal organisations expressing condemnation of the letter.

­Stephen Evans, CEO of the National Secular Society, said: “It is wholly inappropriate for the Home Office to use theological justifications for refusing asylum applications.

“Decisions on the merits of an asylum appeal should be based on an assessment of the facts at hand – and not on the state’s interpretation of any given religion. It’s not the role of the Home Office to play theologian.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “This letter is not in accordance with our policy approach to claims based on religious persecution, including conversions to a particular faith.

“We continue to work closely with key partners, including the APPG on International Freedom of Religion and a range of faith groups, to improve our policy guidance and training provided to asylum decision-makers so that we approach claims involving religious conversion in the appropriate way.”