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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Church under fire in wake of Liverpool suicide bombing for helping asylum seekers to ‘game’ system

A spokesman for the Church of England said: “Churches welcome all people and celebrate with those who choose to make a commitment to Christ, but of course there is also a need for discernment.

“Just as Jesus advised his disciples to be ‘wise as serpents and innocent as doves’, clergy must be confident that those seeking baptism fully understand what it signifies, as an unrepeatable sacramental act of initiation which ushers an individual into the Church.

“However, it is not the role of clergy to establish the legitimacy of asylum claims and to assess security implications.

“We are not aware of any evidence to suggest a widespread correlation between conversion to Christianity, or any other faith, and abuse of the asylum system.”

A spokesman for Liverpool Cathedral added: “Liverpool Cathedral has developed robust processes for discerning whether someone might be expressing a genuine commitment to faith.

“These include requirements for regular attendance, alongside taking part in a recognised Christian basics course. 

“We would expect someone to be closely connected with the community for at least two years before we would consider supporting an application.”

Attack prompts concern over ‘authenticity’ over refugees converting to Christianity

Offering help to strangers in need is a central tenet of Christianity. But following the suspected terror attack in Liverpool by a bomber who had converted to Christianity, concerns have been raised that the support given by the Church of England to asylum seekers is helping to “game the system”.

A public document issued by the Church of England and entitled Supporting Asylum Seekers – Guidance for Church of England Clergy, reveals just how extensive the assistance can be.

Vicars are offered advice on everything from how they can help people with letters of support, attend court appearances and find suitable legal advice for individuals, as well as what to do if asylum seekers’s claims are accepted or refused.

The document also addresses questions of “authenticity” of faith and urges clergy to be confident that those seeking baptism “fully understand what it signifies”. Vicars are urged to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves”.

But while it admits there are flaws in the system, it suggests questions about whether the faith of converts is genuine may be motivated by “anti-immigration rhetoric”.

It states: “There has been particular attention in the media to the baptism of asylum seekers both in the UK and in Europe, with questions being asked about the authenticity of the faith these individuals hold.

“Noting that baptism can often form part of an asylum claim, how should clergy navigate requests for baptism and assess the veracity of apparent conversions?

“Some journalists have suggested that asylum seekers are only claiming to have become Christians in order to be baptised and use this to secure leave to remain in Europe. 

“In responding to these claims, the anti-immigration rhetoric of a number of media outlets must be acknowledged.”

Canon law requires clergy to ensure that people are prepared for baptism in two ways – understanding the central tenets of Christianity and via private spiritual preparation. However, the Church does not specify how this must be done.

As a result – and in absence of any strict rules – the guidance suggests that it would be up to each individual church to come up with their own policy on this, “not because it is the Church’s job to police immigration issues, but as a basis upon which clergy can make decisions about how to wisely welcome people into the life of the Church”.

At Liverpool Cathedral alone, it has been estimated that nearly 200 asylum seekers were converted in the four years to 2016. At the time, the Rev Pete Wilcox, Dean of Liverpool, admitted: “Mixed motives are not unheard of.”

There, conversion to Christianity can take place through an Alpha course lasting just five weeks, but people are expected to attend church services first.

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