CofE bishop slams Home Office over extraordinary letter to Christian asylum seeker

The Bishop of Durham has slammed the Home Office over an extraordinary letter rejecting an Iranian Christian's request for asylum.

WikipediaThe headquarters of the Home Office, whose officials issued an extraordinary rejection letter to an Iranian asylum seeker.

The letter was posted on Twitter by Nathan Stevens, who describes himself as an Immigration Caseworker specialising in immigration and asylum applications and appeals.

The claimant says: 'In Islam there is violence and revenge. In Christianity in the contrary it is talking about peace, forgiveness and kindness.'

The reply quotes a number of Bible verses including Matthew 10:34 where Jesus says 'Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword.' It says, 'Similarly, the book of Revelation is filled with imagery of revenge, destruction, death and violence', citing chapter 2 verses 22-23 and chapter 9 verses 3-6.

It says: '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 letter was met by outrage on social media, with comments expressing astonishment that it could form part of an official response to a request for asylum. 

Rt Rev Paul Butler said: '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.'

A Home Office statement 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 [All Party Parliamentary Group] 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.'

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