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Bishop concerned over asylum official’s “profound misunderstanding” of the Bible

Posted on: March 22, 2019 5:01 PM
An extract from the letter sent by a British Home Office official to an Iranian asylum seeker
Photo Credit: Nathan Stephens via Twitter

A “reasons for refusal” letter sent by an official in Britain’s Home Office to an asylum seeker showed a “profound misunderstanding” of biblical texts, the Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler said. Bishop Paul made his comments after parts of the letter, sent to an un-named Iranian convert to Christianity, were shared on social media. In it, a Home Office official quotes passages from the Bible, including from Revelation, before describing them as “filled with imagery of revenge, destruction, death and violence”. The letter went on to say that “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.”

Responding to the letter, Bishop Paul, the lead Church of England Bishop in the House of Lords on immigration, asylum and refugees, said that he was “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.

“I look forward to hearing what changes in training and practice follow from this worrying example.”

He added: “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.”

This afternoon (Friday), the un-named asylum seeker’s caseworker, Nathan Stephens, said that the Home Office had now rescinded its decision to reject the asylum claim and would reconsider. In a Tweet, Mr Stephens said that the Home Office had invited the asylum seeker to make further representations. It was “a good start, but more change is needed”, Mr Stephens said.