The Home Office refused asylum to an Iranian who converted from Islam to Christianity because it said that Christianity was not a peaceful religion.
Immigration officials wrote to the man citing violent passages from the Bible to prove their point. They said that the Book of Revelation was “filled with imagery of revenge, destruction, death and violence”.
The Church of England condemned the “lack of religious literacy” shown by the immigration officials, after the man warned he might now face persecution in Iran for his faith.
The official letter cites a passage from Leviticus in the Old Testament, which states: “You will pursue your enemies and they will fall by the sword before you.”
It also cites chapter 10 of Matthew’s gospel, where Jesus states: “I came not to send peace, but a sword.”
The letter, sent on Home Office headed paper and entitled “Decision to refuse a protection and human rights claim”, concluded: “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, a Christian immigration caseworker helping the asylum seeker, said: “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?”
The Bishop of Durham, the Right Rev Paul Butler, said: “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.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “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 . . . to improve our policy guidance and training provided to asylum decision-makers so that we approach claims involving religious conversion in the appropriate way.”
Bishop Butler said: “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.
“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.”
Stephen Evans, head of the National Secular Society, said that the letter was “wholly inappropriate”. He added: “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.”