Home Office to review Christian asylum seeker's rejection after outcry over letter quoting Bible

Wikimedia Commons/CanleyThe Home Office said the letter was "not in accordance with our policy approach to claims based on religious persecution, including conversions to a particular faith"

The Home Office has said it will review an Iranian Christian's request for asylum after a rejection letter quoting the Bible caused an uproar. 

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev Paul Butler, was among those to have condemned the Home Office after excerpts of the rejection letter went viral. 

The excerpts were shared to Twitter by Nathan Stevens, who said he was working with the claimant on his asylum case. 

The letter included Bible passages to challenge the asylum seeker's claim that he had converted because "in Islam there is violence and revenge" while in Christianity, he had found "peace, forgiveness and kindness". 

The Bible verses quoted in the letter included Matthew 10:34 in which Jesus says, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword."

The letter continued by citing Revelation ch 2: 22-23 and ch 9:3-6: "Similarly, the book of Revelation is filled with imagery of revenge, destruction, death and violence." 

It added: "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 contents of the rejection letter were so astonishing that many people commenting on the Twitter post initially questioned whether it was genuine. 

Bishop Butler said it reflected "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," he said. 

The Home Office later issued a statement saying it was working closely with faith partners to improve its handling of asylum claims involving religious conversion. 

"This letter is not in accordance with our policy approach to claims based on religious persecution, including conversions to a particular faith," the statement read. 

"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."

After the backlash on social media, Mr Stevens said in a new update on Friday that the Home Office has now agreed to reconsider the asylum seeker's application. 

"Important news on the Iranian Christian conversion case I have been working on: the Home Office have agreed to withdraw their refusal and to reconsider our client's asylum application, offering us a chance to submit further representations. A good start, but more change is needed," he said. 

Bishop Paul Butler said the nature of the letter suggested the issue ran deeper than a lack of religious literacy at the Home Office. 

"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 said.

Archbishop Angaelos, Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London, raised similar concerns, saying that the letter was "based on, at best a complete and utter misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Christian Scripture, and at worst an intentional manipulation of the text to justify the rejection of this vulnerable individual". 

"This particular incident needs thorough investigation because while it has been accepted by a spokesperson from the Home Office as 'not in accordance with our policy', it must be determined whether this is merely out of misunderstanding or a proactive attempt to adversely affect the application of someone whose life may very literally be at risk," he said.

"It must also be ascertained as to whether religious discrimination is at work, as there is no place for partiality within a Government that seeks to promote equality, and abides by Article 18 of the Declaration of Human Rights among other agreements."