THE Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, has severely criticised the Home Office after it rejected an asylum application based on clumsy biblical exegesis.
Bishop Butler accuses Home Office staff of religious illiteracy, and says that the department needs to “radically” change its understanding of all religious beliefs.
Bishop Butler’s comments came after it was revealed that an Iranian Christian was denied asylum in the UK by the Home Office. The person, who has not been named, was told that his or her claim to have converted from Islam to Christianity because it was a “peaceful” faith was “inconsistent” with passages of the Bible.
The letter from the Home Office quotes the Book of Revelation, among passage the Bible, which, it says, are “filled with imagery of revenge, destruction, death and violence”. The letter argues: “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.”
Nathan Stevens, the asylum-seeker’s caseworker, tweeted: “I’ve seen a lot over the years, but even I was genuinely shocked to read this unbelievably offensive diatribe being used to justify a refusal of asylum.
“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 on Wednesday that his client would be appealing against the Home Office decision.
Bishop Butler said on Thursday: “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.”
He concluded: “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 spokesperson said on Thursday: “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.”
Satbir Singh, the chief executive of JCWI, said: “This shows, yet again, that pursuing a political obsession with ‘getting numbers down,’ while gutting the Home Office’s budget, forces staff to find the most spurious of reasons to reject applications. It’s horrifying that the British government is now manufacturing theology rather than investing in an asylum system that works for everyone.”