Conversion is needed now more than ever

(Photo: Getty/iStock)

As historian Tom Holland has shown more clearly than anyone else, so many of the essentially good things in our culture derive from Christian vision. Asylum is one of those things.

In the First Covenant or Old Testament, unlike the practices of the surrounding cultures, the essential humanity of people was recognised and protected. The Babylonians, Assyrians and Egyptians favoured the concept and practice of slavery - 'might was right'.

Cultures that worshipped different gods saw people as expendable commodities; very much like both communism and fascism have done in our context. The God of Israel created a different anthropology. All human beings were made in his image. It provided the foundation for Christendom.

So refugees were indeed welcomed in Israel. Jewish culture under the First Covenant provided some extraordinary touches of compassion that reflected the dignity and worth of humans at their most vulnerable. Not only were refugees not to be enslaved or abused, but there were cities of refuge for people fleeing the consequences of accidental manslaughter. And there was the year of the jubilee to save families from perpetual debt stretching without end down the generations.

But all this was conditional. It was conditional on the keeping of the law and covenant. Only the whole covenant kept this vision from being abused or diluted.

Fast track to today.

Still, gratifyingly and surprisingly, our culture holds to this Judaeo-Christian vision that people are not expendable commodities, or meaningless components in the marketplace, but only just – we may be the last generation.

None of the competing philosophies share this view. Islam prioritises submission to Allah, reinforces group identity over the individual conscience, and punishes apostasy ruthlessly. Wokery, or as it is becoming 'woke-alitarianism', sees only the collective into which the individual is subsumed; it dis-allows forgiveness. The nationalistic right has long been swept off the board, but before it did, it also subjugated individuals to the collective of nationhood in its extreme iterations.

It is entirely right and good that refugees have their humanity recognised by a Christian culture and be given a chance to find protection.

But the whole process is not automatic and not value-free. For this to work there must be conditions that are observed. And in our own day, far from being observed they are being abused.

What we face at the moment is the gap opening up between beliefs and values. The secular society of the late twentieth century liked the values of Christianity, but refused the beliefs from which they originated.

The first and most obvious problem with asylum is that the form that ancient Israel practised required those being given state hospitality to conform to the religion and values of the host state. One can see why. If the nature and beliefs of the state are altered by the sheer number of incomers, the very concept of asylum is threatened by alternative value systems.

The same thing applies today. Migration Watch has estimated that if net migration continues at the present record level of 606,000 a year, Britain's population will rise to between 83 and 87 million by 2046. This would represent an increase of more than 15 million in Britain's population – equivalent to fifteen new cities the size of Birmingham. And very few of this 15 million will share either the beliefs or the values of modern Britain.

Already the pressures of migration have changed the way we exercise freedom and the rights of the individual in this country. We are faced with the paradox that the culture of the very people for whom immigration has allowed entry to this country (as either political or economic refugees - our state makes no practical distinction) denies the same freedom to people like the teacher in Batley who was forced into hiding and given a new identity after showing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad in class. Or the Jewish MP for Finchley, Mike Freer, who is being forced out of Parliament and into a form of hiding from public life after repeated threats.

We might ask who is going to ensure or provide 'asylum' in their own community and culture for either the Batley teacher or the Finchley MP?

If our society had retained its belief in Christianity, and prioritised Christian ethics and values over progressive multi-culturalism, this contradiction might have been mitigated.

Already we find that in practice certain kinds of asylum seekers are prioritised over others. During the Syrian refugee crisis the Home Office discriminated against Christian asylum seekers, allowing in only 2 per cent of Christians. This presumably means that the majority of the 98 per cent given asylum were Muslim. The implications of Islamic immigration are too obvious to need comment.

One obvious consequence that will follow the current trajectory of government immigration, refugee and asylum practice is that the demographic balance of this country is going to be permanently and increasingly altered. This is likely to make the provision of human rights in our own society - rights that already elude the Batley teacher and Finchley MP - even more problematic. And this represents one more element consequent on the growing gap between values and belief that the repudiation or diminishment of Christianity in our society has created.

While the outrage that followed the horrific attack by Abdul Shokoor Ezedi in Clapham was understandable, there is no agreement on who should be to blame for the situation (beyond Ezedi himself). Except that instead of examining the deeper cause of the values or belief gap, commentators have instead been looking for scapegoats and they seem to have found them in the Christian churches.

The attempt to evangelise immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers is of course exactly the way to address the diminishment of Christian faith.

We might also identify three types of Christian or ecclesial community who are reaching out to asylum seekers - Catholic, Baptist and Anglican. Both the Catholics and the Baptists (who tell us that they are engaging with over forty of the refugees on the Bibi Stockholm) take membership of the Church very seriously.

Inevitably the culture of an established church where the fluidity of membership is a characteristic of the Church is going to make it much more difficult to oversee the post-conversion commitment. Additionally the interest in refuges in the liberal churches is often more politically motivated than spiritually.

Perhaps all that can be concluded at this point is that political motivation will do nothing to help change or ameliorate the growing gap between Christian belief and values.

The real failure demonstrated by the 'bogus conversion phenomenon' is that of the secular authorities. They are the ones who introduced the category of religion as a basis for seeking refuge with no idea of how to evaluate it. It is almost beyond belief that the asylum tribunal ignored Ezidi's conviction for two sexual assaults in Newcastle, and chose to grant his application on the basis of what turns out to be a fake conversion.

It should not need saying that if Ezidi had really encountered the love of Christ, the woman and children he took revenge on would have been permanently protected from his rage and revenge.

Perhaps the churches in this country might be able to find the confidence not just to defend themselves against the charges of naivety in their dealing with asylum seekers, but also to remind the rest of our society that if you want a community characterised by good neighbours, love of the stranger, the honouring of the rule of law, protection of conscience, the treasuring of the individual, and in this case particularly, the practice of forgiveness and reconciliation, it can be found through conversion to Christ.