Last week, Britain’s Home Office denied an Iranian Christian’s application for asylum, claiming the man’s conversion was based on a lie and his faith was “half-hearted.” Specifically, the office said the asylum-seeker’s claim that he converted to Christianity because it is a peaceful religion in contrast to Islam is false, and that because Christianity is violent, the Home Office questioned the legitimacy of his conversion.
In its denial letter, the Home Office cited verses from Leviticus, Exodus, Matthew, and Revelation, which supposedly endorse violence. “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 stated.
Specifically, the UK government cited Leviticus 26, in which God promises victory over Israel’s enemies; Exodus 34, where God warns Israel not to make treaties with the pagan nations they will conquer in the Promised Land; Matthew 10, where Jesus says He came to bring “a sword”; and Revelation, which “is filled with imagery of revenge, destruction, death, and violence.”
Immigration case worker Nathan Stevens shared the letter on Twitter, adding that he “was genuinely shocked to read this unbelievably offensive diatribe being used to justify a refusal of asylum.”
“The Home Office is notorious for coming up with any reason they can to refuse asylum and this looks like a particularly creative example, but not necessarily a systemic outbreak of anti-Christian sentiment in the department,” legal expert Conor James McKinney told The Independent.
Bishop of Durham Paul Butler slammed the decision on behalf of the Church of England, Christianity Today reported.
“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.”
The Home Office later agreed to revisit the case. “This letter is not in accordance with our policy approach to claims based on religious persecution, including conversions to a particular faith,” a Home Office spokesperson said after the denial made headline news.
Speaking with PJ Media, Nathan Stevens insisted that this egregious error did not reveal an anti-Christian bias at the Home Office but rather an example of poor decision-making.
“It’s definitely a disgraceful decision, but it’s symptomatic of poor decision-making rather than any particular bias against Christianity,” Stevens told PJ Media. “The Home Office are particularly bad at making assessments on faith-based cases, but generally the quality of their decision making is low.”
He decried a “lack of religious literacy” at the Home Office and a “lack of understanding of the reasons that people might have for abandoning one faith and choosing another.” The government office seems “to have little awareness of the difficulties people have practising their faith in their own countries.”
Another Iranian refugee seeking asylum was denied, in part, because she called Jesus her “savior” but admitted that Jesus did not save her from the Iranian regime.
“You state that Jesus is your Saviour, yet you say that he could not save you from the Iranian regime. Your faith is therefore considered to be half-hearted,” the Home Office wrote. Stevens told PJ Media that her case was “refused on appeal even though members of her church and her other family members came to support her claim to have converted.”
Stevens said these egregious episodes illustrate the Home Office’s misunderstanding of religious persecution across the globe. They “expect Christian converts to have a good knowledge of the Bible, failing to realise that Bibles are often banned or dangerous to have in other countries. They do ‘Bible quizzes’ to test people’s faith rather than more ‘experience based’ assessments,” he said.
This misunderstanding is not just a problem for Christians, the caseworker insisted.
“The same is true for those of no faith — they seem to expect people to be ‘card-carrying’ atheists and/or to have joined humanist / secular organisations instead of sensitively questioning their beliefs and motivations,” Stevens explained.
He acknowledged that the Home Office does need to verify the faith of asylum seekers, but encouraged them to be smarter about it.
“I agree that it’s a very sensitive and difficult area for the home office to assess claims. There is hopefully some training which is being rolled out to try and move away from a quiz-based, often inappropriate and aggressive assessment to a more open, exploratory approach,” Stevens said.
While Stevens insisted the Home Office is disorganized and blind to the real struggles, I cannot help but wonder if there is some Christianophobia in this department of the British government.
The New Atheists argue that religion is dangerous — more dangerous than atheism — because it encourages people to kill one another. They emphasize the evils of the Crusades and the Inquisition — which had been exaggerated by Protestant English historians — to suggest that Christianity is uniquely violent.
Fear and animus against Christians is often based in a rejection of Western heritage as homophobic, racist, sexist, and just darn oppressive. Ironically, the very principles of universal human dignity these activists champion come from the Western tradition, which always struggled to convince kings and politicians to uphold its lofty values. The principles of science, free markets, and international law trace back to medieval universities.
Yet animus against Christians is spreading on both sides of the Atlantic. Liberal organizations have demonized Christian organizations as “hate groups” for holding to traditional Christian doctrine. In the book So Many Christians, So Few Lions: Is There Christianophobia in the United States? sociology professors George Yancey and David Williamson painstakingly document the presence of bias against conservative Christians, proving that it is as real as animus against Muslims and Jews.
Whether or not it was the major problem at the Home Office, Christianophobia is a serious and documented issue. Claims that Christianity is violent play into this animus.
In contrast to the Home Office’s claims, Christianity is not violent. Jesus consistently taught His disciples to love their enemies and to leave vengeance for God. As for the verse in Matthew 10, Jesus was referring to the divisive nature of His message — He came to save individual people from their sins, and this message would divide families.
After Jesus says he has come not to bring peace but a sword, he adds, “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:35-37).
Jesus demands a full commitment from disciples, but He did not come to bring war, as the Home Office suggested.
In fact, the Home Office could have picked much more violent verses to cherry-pick. In the Old Testament, God commands Israel to wipe out pagan nations and to take their land. As for Christianity, the New Testament is clear that Christians are not to do any such thing. While God gave the Promised Land to Israel through war, He does not command Christians to go to war. Jesus was not a military leader, although He will come to rule the world at the end of days.
By contrast, Islam began as a violent state religion and spread through war across the Middle East and North Africa. Not all current versions of Islam support warfare to spread the religion, and many Muslims are patriotic Americans who support the separation of mosque and state.
However, Islam and its founder, Mohammed, are fundamentally different from Christianity and its founder, Jesus. The Crusades and the Inquisition were violations of Christian teaching, while the violent spread of Islam fit the character of its founder.
Christianity in history and in doctrine is indeed more peaceful than Islam, especially more peaceful than the Shia Islam practiced by the oppressive government of Iran.
The Home Office’s response wasn’t just a misunderstanding — it was a horrendous denial of basic religious facts.