THERE is a considerable stir regarding the Church’s role in asylum claims of conversion to Christianity following the chemical attack, allegedly by Afghan asylum seeker Abdul Ezedi, on a mother and her two children. Ezedi was twice denied asylum in the UK before being allowed to stay after claiming he had ‘converted’ to Christianity.
The authenticity of his conversion has been brought into question on a number of grounds, not least on account of his friends in Newcastle testifying to what a ‘good Muslim’ he was, years after his apparent defection to the Christian faith. Ezedi continued to purchase halal meat, and had even said he was planning to return to Afghanistan to get married – hardly a country a Muslim convert-to-Christ would be in a hurry to settle in, given Islam’s (and especially the Taliban’s) notorious aversion to apostasy.
A reference from a Baptist chapel in north-east England was said to have been crucial in persuading an immigration tribunal that he had converted from Islam to Christianity. A church leader said that Ezedi was ‘wholly committed’ to his new religion. Claims that there was additional backing from the Catholic church have been denied by the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, where Ezedi lived.
The Church of England has also vigorously denied that Ezedi was converted to the faith via its denomination. Indeed, a spokesman insisted it is not its job to vet asylum seekers. C of E vicar and writer Giles Fraser was quick to wash the Church’s hands of the whole affair, insisting the problem was the sole responsibility of the government.
Yet there is no doubt that, alongside other denominations, the Church of England plays a highly significant role in the approvals process in asylum claims of conversion to Christianity (which role is now likely to become considerably restricted). Official Church of England guidance on supporting asylum seekers in a document called ‘Supporting Asylum Seekers – Guidance for Church of England Clergy’ suggests this is an institutional problem.
On the question of sham conversions, there is just one phrase in the guidance – a short Bible quote – that encourages clergy to be discerning. Mostly it denies there is any problem at all. The C of E’s guidance even provides a list of excuses as to why new converts might suddenly stop turning up to church services after they’ve had their all-important baptism. Instead, the guidance says that priests should be wary of the ‘anti-immigration rhetoric’ in newspaper reports on fake converts.
Former Church of England vicar Matthew Firth said that when he took up his post at St Cuthbert’s, Darlington in 2018, ‘lots of adult baptisms were already booked in . . . The vast majority, if not all of them, were asylum seekers who had already failed in their initial application for asylum.’ Firth quickly realised it was ‘a conveyor belt, a veritable industry of asylum baptisms’. It was a blatant transaction, he said, that sometimes even involved money changing hands – people‘slipping money to the middleman who is bringing loads of (asylum seekers) into the church’. The C of E described his claims as nonsense.
The Church has been heavily criticised for aiding in the faking of migrants’ conversions, being blasted by MPs of all political persuasions. Tory MP Tim Loughton cynically pointed out that Christianity in the UK was ‘on the wane, unless, apparently, you are from a Muslim country in the middle of an asylum claim’.He added that taxpayers were effectively being ‘scammed’ by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Suella Braverman denounced the fact that ‘churches around the country [are] facilitating industrial-scale bogus asylum claims’, and insisted it ‘must stop’.But the former Home Secretary conveniently ignores the fact that, ultimately, it’s only her party’s government that can stop it, asylum decisions being the responsibility of the Home Office.
The media has been at the forefront of the staunch criticism, the likes of which have not been seen in our nation for years. TCW berated the‘smug morons’ and ‘veritable army of do-gooders’ who assist in allowing the likes of Ezedi to remain on our shores. The Church of England was called ‘stupid and craven’ by Daily Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson. Writing in the Spectator, Patrick O’Flynn said: ‘Christian clergy have proved spectacularly and suspiciously easy to fool.’ O’Flynn mocked the Church’s belief ‘that these conversions amount to a joyful triumph in their efforts to spread the word of Jesus Christ’.
It’s not as if red flags weren’t in full view. Of 200 apparent recent conversions from Islam to Christianity at Liverpool Cathedral, not one involved someone who already had the right to live in Britain. All were migrants, awaiting approval of their asylum claims. Indeed, the former Dean of Liverpool Cathedral claimed that he couldn’t think of a single example of someone who already had British citizenship converting from Islam to Christianity. (The Liverpool suicide bomber, Emal Al Swealmeen, was said to have converted to Christianity at Liverpool Cathedral).
The false asylum seekers conversion saga continues. A Baptist minister in South Wales has revealed that he baptised up to 500 asylum seekers in the sea, well over half of whom disappeared after their Christian conversion. Sky News reported that last weekend 20 asylum seekers were baptised near RAF Wethersfield in Essex. Meanwhile, as many as 40 refugees on the Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland, Dorset, have reportedly started attending local churches. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme, church elder David Rees, who works closely with asylum seekers, said he was confident that all 40 conversions were genuine. ‘Obviously we need to make sure that they believe in the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit and repent of their sins, and also [that] they want to start a new life in the church,’ he stated.
It’s important that Britain remains open and welcoming of genuine refugees to its shores if persecution or danger is likely to await them in their home country. Clearly, also, some accounts of Muslims turning to Christ, both in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, have proved to be genuine. We rejoice in every such instance. As believers, we have an onus – and hopefully a passion – to share the love of Christ in word and deed with anyone we come into contact with who is seeking to make their home in our land.
But we are not called to be naïve.
Jesus exhorts us to be ‘as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves’ (Matt 10:16). We are to use godly wisdom and discernment in all situations (James 1:5; 1 Cor 12:10). In regard to Christian conversion, we look for long-term fruit – consistency of changed behaviour over time – not just a testimony that can be fabricated at baptism. We also need to be aware of the Islamic tradition of taqiyya, which allows and even encourages Muslims to tell lies to achieve their goals.
It’s not always easy to distinguish the ‘wheat from the tares’. That’s where we need the wisdom of the Spirit. For, as Jesus said, ‘Ye shall know them by their fruits . . . A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit; neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Therefore, by their fruits you will know them’ (Matt 7:16-20).
The Church should already be using spiritual discernment, as well as a strong dose of common sense, in the important matter of conversion from Islam, and it’s tragic that some don’t appear to be. We need to pray for godly wisdom – for ourselves, for our church leaders, and for the leaders of our nation.