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Leader comment: Questions raised about converts to Christianity

26 November 2021

THERE have been confused reactions to the news that the Liverpool suicide bomber, Emad al-Swealmeen, had converted to Christianity and was confirmed in the city’s Anglican cathedral. First, there was the assumption that, since he spent the preceding weeks assembling the bomb and then exploded it by accident in the back of a cab, he must have reverted to Islam. But the average Muslim would no more think of blowing themselves up than the average Christian. Until a religious motive has been shown, it would be wise to reserve judgement. Terrorism — even bomb-making — is not the preserve of one religion: it has been part of the modus operandi of various Christian groups up to the present day, after all.

Next, it caused critics of the Church to question the sincerity of all conversion by those seeking asylum in the UK. The narrative of the cynical migrant and the naïve cleric fits very neatly into a certain worldview, held by people who are perhaps looking for reasons not to feel any responsibility for the misfortune of others. The C of E, commendably, mounted a robust defence of its practices: enquirers had to attend courses, demonstrate a pattern of worship, show an understanding of basic tenets, engage with the Christian community. These are the same stipulations as for other candidates (not infants) for baptism, and, of course, those for confirmation.

This programme is by no means a fiction, and yet this approach misses an important point. Rather like expecting those who apply for UK citizenship to know far more than someone born and brought up here — when were the last Welsh rebellions defeated? — it gave the impression that a far greater degree of certainty and practice was expected of new converts from overseas than of native Anglicans.
The nature of Anglicanism and, we would argue, all enlightened forms of Christianity is that they hold in tension both the certainty of the welcome of baptism with the uncertainty that necessarily attaches to a lifelong journey of faith and exploration. Moreover — in contrast to the “I was bad until I was good” tales that new converts are sometimes encouraged to cultivate — it treats with respect the whole of a person’s history, honouring the benign forces that have created good aspects of character, holding out the prospect of healing and cleansing for what has been hurtful.

Setting aside al-Swealmeen, about whom too little is known, Anglicanism is confident enough to accept all enquirers, even when an ulterior motive is suspected, without placing impediments in their way. It is for the Visas and Immigration office to search into their eligibility to stay in the United Kingdom. It is for God to search into their eligibility for the Kingdom.

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