Bishop Challenges the Home Office

Bishop Paul Butler | Diocese of Durham

It’s just about unprecedented for the United Kingdom’s National Secular Society and the Church of England to agree, but it occurred when the government refused to grant asylum to an Iranian national who converted to Christianity.

The applicant said he converted to Christianity because it is a peaceful religion. But the Home Office disagreed, citing passages from Exodus, Leviticus, Matthew, and Revelation to argue that Christianity is violent.

The letter refusing the asylum application said the passages cited are “filled with imagery of revenge, destruction, death, and violence. These examples are inconsistent with your claim that you converted to Christianity after discovering it is a ‘peaceful’ religion.”

Bishop Paul Butler of Durham, who speaks on immigration matters in the House of Lords, said the Home Office must radically change its understanding of religious beliefs.

“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,” Butler said.

The case came to light when caseworker Nathan Stevens took to Twitter to draw attention to the case while representing the asylum-seeker.

Stevens, who said his client is appealing against the decision, wrote: “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.”

Stephen Evans, chief executive of the National Secular Society, said it was “wholly inappropriate” for the Home Office to use theological justifications for refusing asylum: “Decisions on the merits of an asylum appeal should be based on an assessment of the facts at hand — and not on the state’s interpretation of any given religion. It’s not the role of the Home Office to play theologian.”

It appears that the Home Office has listened to the criticism and will reopen the case. A Home Office statement conceded the need for better staff training.

John Martin


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