Don’t Deny Asylum Because of the Bible

Britain’s Home Office just rejected the asylum application of a man who converted from Islam to Christianity. We do not know the formal basis of the asylum claim or even the identity of the petitioner, which are not public. But we do know the grounds for the refusal since Nathan Stevens, the petitioner’s legal representative, shared the Home Office’s refusal letter on social media. It’s because according to the Bible Christianity is a violent religion. You can read news coverage from the New York Times and The Independent.

As proof, the Home Office quoted various verses from the Bible. One is Leviticus 26, which is one of the Torah’s sections of blessings and curses. They quoted verses 7-8, which state, ‘You shall chase your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you. And five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword.’ They also quoted Exodus 34:12-13, which reads, ‘Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest they be for a snare in the midst of thee. But you shall break down their altars, and dash in pieces their pillars, and you shall cut down their Asherim.’

Based on this the Home Office concluded, “These examples are inconsistent with your claim that you converted to Christianity after discovering it is a ‘peaceful’ religion.”

Religious leaders were furious. For example, Coptic Orthodox Bishop Angaelos issued a statement calling this “A complete and utter misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Christian Scripture, and at worst an intentional manipulation of the text to justify the rejection of this vulnerable individual.”

Home Office Clearly Wrong

Obviously, the Home Office’s conclusion is bizarrely far sweeping. This view would seem to be that all adherents of Bible based religions are violent and therefore not welcome in Britain!

And I think most of us realize that at least the vast majority of Christians (along with Muslims and Jews) are not stirred to religious violence by the Bible. But where did the Home Office go wrong? The Bible quotes are certainly accurate. And the truth is, they just picked a smattering of what’s available. There are numerous additional verses that call for violence and intolerance too.

Of course, the Bible is also replete with admonitions to act charitably, show kindness, and seek peace. But that doesn’t eliminate the huge number of graphic and specific calls to violence the Bible does contain. Why shouldn’t we fear that someone who follows the Bible will be inspired by it to carry out acts of religious violence at least some of the time?

If adherents of Bible based religions truly took their moral compasses directly from the bible, likely they would. But fortunately, even Judaism, Christianity, and Islam don’t do that. The proof is that the world is not completely aflame with religious warfare!

The Bible is Not the Source of Our Morality

What happens instead is that we all begin with our own innate sense of right and wrong. We realize that the Bible’s instruction to love our neighbor is better advice than burning all foreign temples to the ground. We know that the world will be better if we devote ourselves to helping the poor rather than ferreting out sinners to stone. So those are the verses we follow. Religious leaders preach that we should obey the benevolent verses strictly and reinterpret the difficult ones so they aren’t readily applicable in our times.

So it’s foolish to evaluate a religion based on the Bible’s contents. Religion has to be understood based on its current teachings- what is being taught today in its schools and preached in its houses of worship.

And so too when we assess this asylum seeker, or any individual. We can’t look at what’s written in their Bible, or for that matter their religion’s history or what’s written in their prayerbook. We can’t judge them based on what others who adhere to their religion have said or done. A person’s morals are his or her own. We have to look at their own personal beliefs, and of course also their own actions.

The Essence of Human Rights

In a sense, this is the message of the human rights movement. Human Rights means that we have to respect everyone as an individual. Even if a certain country is committing a crime against humanity, that doesn’t mean that the offending country’s inhabitants can be punished willy nilly. Each citizen has to be judged based on their own actions, not on their nationality. When taking military action, even in self-defense, enemy civilians cannot be used to send a message or as pawns in the execution of a broader plan. Every civilian has his or her own rights that must be respected, regardless of the larger context.

In this instance, the British Home Office quickly backed down, rescinded its denial, and agreed to examine this applicant’s case again. That’s good. But the bigger issue is educating against the mindset that produced this in the first place, and that’s a far larger challenge.

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