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Posted on Thu 28 March 2024

Clergy must not neglect their duty to the nation - The Telegraph - March 2024

Churches have a duty to welcome asylum seekers who want to convert. But they shouldn’t be naive
Churches and clergy are under scrutiny once again as it appears that the Clapham chemical attacker had been granted asylum on the basis of a spurious “conversion” to Christianity.
Let us be clear: churches and clergy are obliged to welcome people, whoever they are and whatever their circumstances, and to assist them in their needs. Asylum seekers often come into contact with churches when they access food banks or seek help with social services or other advice. However, clergy and church members cannot be naïve. As Jesus said, be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.
There are, of course, many genuine conversions among asylum seekers. But given the apparent abuse, clergy and other leaders will need to make much more careful inquiries about the immigration status of those who show interest in the Christian faith. And they must be wary if an asylum application has been rejected and is at the stage of appeal, particularly if a change in faith is being made a ground for that appeal.
It is time also to review the internal processes of churches. Is there a programme of sufficient length to prepare people for baptism (in the Catholic Church, for example, it can take many months to reach that stage)? Any attempt to “rush” the process should be resisted.
What about following-up on conversions, to make sure that the newly-baptised are maturing in their new-found faith? Monitoring of regular attendance at corporate worship, for instance, should be required. What is true of all new members merits special attention in the case of those asylum seekers who are known to have made conversion one of the grounds for appeal against rejection.
Churches and clergy should not, moreover, “second guess” the Home Office in these matters, for the simple reason that the Government may have information about an asylum seeker that the clergy do not possess. This might include a criminal record. There may have been involvement in extremism of one kind or another.
In the case of Home Office tests of knowledge for new converts regarding the Christian faith, there should be more dialogue between the churches and Government officials to set a realistic level. I am aware that there has been such dialogue between the Coptic Church in Britain and the Home Office regarding converts from the Middle East seeking asylum here. I am sure that this has benefited all parties and should be extended to all those denominations which are involved in ministry of any kind to asylum seekers.
Immigration tribunals are independent, of course. But if they have testimony from clergy about the authenticity of an applicant or an appellant’s faith, surely they should insist upon interviewing the clergy concerned to assess whether what is said on paper coheres with what is said face to face and with other depositions the tribunal possesses.
In light of Home Office warnings about the Clapham attacker and the tribunal’s acceptance of the “genuineness” of his conversion, the procedures of tribunals clearly need to be more robust.
It seems, then, that the churches have to get their own houses in order. The Home Office, for its part, needs to communicate with churches to ensure adequate testing of the knowledge of new converts (which has to be compared to that of “cradle” Christians).
Churches and clergy have a duty, under God, to welcome everyone and to assist them whenever they can do so. But they also have a duty to the law and to duly constituted authority (when it is not contrary to God’s commandments) in seeking the common good.
In wanting the best for the newly arrived, they cannot neglect the welfare of those already here, nor the flourishing of the services and infrastructure on which such welfare depends.

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