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Clerical error

Clergy should be in the business of saving souls, not stamping passports

Artillery Row

Matthew’s gospel tells us that when Jesus was sending out his twelve disciples to preach the good news to the lost sheep of Israel, he told them to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves”. This command seems to have been broken on both counts by some of the gullible vicars who have been helping asylum seekers to stay inside the UK by validating their bogus conversions to Christianity.

The Times reported recently that a reverend from Liverpool cathedral said his Iranian barber convinced him of his conversion whilst the man cut his hair, and an Iranian woman who claimed asylum on arrival at Manchester airport convinced a church to baptise her, but on being questioned, a judge ruled she wasn’t genuine after failing a series of basic questions about Christianity, such as thinking Lent was a “celebration four weeks before Christmas when you light a candle”.

They also found that an Iranian convicted to four years in jail for drug offences had his deportation order overturned, despite thinking that “Good Friday” was called “Black Friday” and getting the denomination of his church wrong.

A poor grasp of English, or an uncertain immigration status, are no bar to the kingdom of heaven

Abdul Ezedi, the twice-refused asylum seeker who is suspected of carrying out the chemical attack in Clapham, successfully claimed asylum in Britain with the backing of a priest, who vouched for his new faith, arguing that Ezedi was “wholly committed” to Christianity, a fact which would put his life in danger if he was returned home. The Church of England said it wasn’t aware of any links Ezedi had with its churches but that “It is the role of the Home Office, and not the Church, to vet asylum seekers and judge the merits of their individual cases.”

But if this is true, then why do church leaders regularly make representations to that effect? If these testimonies are not helping the Home Office to “judge the merits [of] an individual case”, then what’s the point of them?

Former Home Secretary Suella Braverman wrote recently that whilst she was in office, she became aware of churches “facilitating industrial-scale bogus asylum claims” which are “well-known within the migrant communities … as a one-stop shop to bolster their asylum case”:

Attend Mass once a week for a few months, befriend the vicar, get your baptism date in the diary and, bingo, you’ll be signed off by a member of the clergy that you’re now a God-fearing Christian who will face certain persecution if removed to your Islamic country of origin.

But perhaps we can forgive a degree of naïve optimism amongst the clergy. Despite the absurd 46 per cent of us in the last census who claimed to be a follower of Jesus, publicly admitting your Christian faith has not exactly been a ticket to self-advancement in recent years. Unless you take a scalpel to your Bible to remove the bits that modern society doesn’t like, Christian faith is certainly seen as a drawback — a lesson former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, and the SNP’s Kate Forbes were taught very publicly. So maybe it’s only natural that a local vicar, depressed by holding another Sunday morning service to rows of empty pews, might be reluctant to ask too many questions when a group of Iranians turn up eager to learn more about the eucharist.

I know of a London Vicar who I imagine did ask lots of searching questions of a group of Farsi-speaking, (and asylum seeking) church members who turned up one day. But after lots of Bible studies in broken English, he agreed to their request to be baptised. He couldn’t be sure they were genuine converts, but what else was he supposed to do? A poor grasp of English, or an uncertain immigration status, are no bar to the kingdom of heaven.

Perhaps a wise solution for vicars is for them to refuse to make any representations to the Home Office on behalf of asylum-seekers. “You believe in Jesus Christ? — Hallelujah! You want to be baptised? Praise the Lord! But, just so you know, I’m not going to help you to stay in the UK.” A difficult conversation to have, but if Christians believe anything, it’s surely that the soul is more important than the body. After such a discussion they might find that the zeal of the convert quickly melts away, or, God-willing, the stipulation makes little difference.

The Christian value we seem to have lost the most is that of discernment

It is, of course, ironic that the government department that celebrates “Hijab day” is so reluctant to send people back to a Muslim land. And — despite the fact that a label of “Christian” is almost a badge of shame in British society — when it has an impact on immigration status, the old faith suddenly resumes its exalted status, as if the Home Office, as well as trying to secure the border, is also working on a long-term plan to retake Constantinople.

On that point, does the Home Office — which is evangelical in its support of LGBT+ values to the point where it literally flies the flag — even know what Christians believe? Not what they imagine Christians “should” believe (presumably the religion of Diversity and Inclusion but with a few more candles and hot cross buns at Easter). The passages in the Bible that speak about homosexuality do not exactly conform to the “British Values” espoused on the UK citizenship test, and many do actually believe that every word of the Bible comes from God.

The Christian value we seem to have lost the most is that of discernment, something that I’d like to rebrand for the modern era as “positive discrimination” — because I’m discriminating and I don’t feel bad about it. The Times reported the case of an Iranian whose deportation after a prison sentence for assault in the UK was blocked because he had tattoos on his arms “dominated by Christian imagery”. Even though the Judge concluded he was not a Christian convert, he was judged to be a risk from the Iranian authorities who would believe he had converted. I’m not one for hand-outs but perhaps the UK taxpayer could have stretched to providing a tattoo-removal service for the unfortunate man? Or a plane ticket to the majority-Christian Rwanda?

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