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British Home Office shocking Bible interpretations: Rejected Iranian Christian asylum seeker

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(image British Home Office, courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Image result for British clipart public domainLiving in a country of the British Commonwealth, Australia, it shocked me to hear that the UK Home Office (HO) refused to grant asylum to an Iranian convert from Islam to Christ. The reason given was that the asylum seeker claimed in 2016 that Christianity is a peaceful religion and it is not.

According to The Telegraph (UK), 21 March 2019, the HO rejected the application because

government officials said his conversion from Islam was “inconsistent” with his claim that Christianity is a peaceful religion.

In order to reiterate the point, the Home Office wrote a lengthy and “unbelievably offensive” refusal letter referencing six Bible passages and claiming that the book of Revelation is filled with “images of revenge, destruction, death and violence”.

The Home Office rejection, below the quoted verses concludes: “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.”

I strongly object to the HO’s process and final judgment for these reasons:

1folder The rejection for asylum included verses from the books of Leviticus, Exodus, and Revelation that the HO claimed demonstrated Christianity was not a peaceful faith but one of violence and revenge. Faulty biblical interpretation of these verses was only one of the deficiencies in the decision.

2folder The HO quoted Matthew 10:34 to try to demonstrate Christianity was not a peaceful religion: ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword’ (NRSV). In context, what does that mean?

Messiah would be the Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6-7) but the people will violently reject Him and His reign (hence the crucifixion and resurrection). Jesus taught His disciples, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you’ (John 14:27).

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. - John 14:27

(image courtesy Pinterest)

Before the consummation of all things (Jesus’ second coming), there will be peace in the midst of a hostile world where there will be violence. With Jesus’ first coming, he warned his disciples that they would experience His peace but it would be mixed with violence (the sword), not from His followers, but by others.

Don’t you see the irony of this asylum rejection? This person has experienced the violence in Iran (the sword – not from Christianity) and is fleeing from that to a country of relative peace, the UK. However, the HO does not want to grant him peace but wants to send him back to persecution in Iran?

You don’t realise it, but you have helped this person experience Matt 10:34 (when properly interpreted).

It’s time for the HO staff to take a basic course in biblical hermeneutics (interpretation).

3folder Profound biblical misunderstanding by the HO leads me to support Bishop Butler of Durham who said of the HO, ‘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‘.

a. Leviticus not for Christians

One of the HO verses given for rejection was the line from Leviticus 26:7, ‘You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you’.

To whom was this verse directed? It was addressed to the Israelites (Lev 25:54-55) and all of Leviticus 26 deals with what will happen for obedience or disobedience by THE ISRAELITES.

Lev 26:7 does NOT deal with laws for Christians.

The HO staff has fallen into the hole of misrepresentation and eisegesis. A course in basic hermeneutics is needed by those staff who made the final decision.

b. Christianity and peace

Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’ (Matt 5:9). This does not contradict Leviticus 26:7 (What is the context? Who will fall by the sword?) Jesus did not teach, ‘Blessed are the violence pertrators’.

The almighty God whom Christians worship has one attribute in which he is the God of peace (Phil 4:6-9 NLT). However, he’s also the God of wrath (see John 3:36), which demonstrates the judgment of God.

c. The apocalyptic Book of Revelation

It’s a shocker what the HO has done with the interpretation of the Book of Revelation in rejecting this visa application.

I join with Bishop Paul Buttler in condemnation of the HO’s actions: ‘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’.

Your HO staff don’t seem to know how to interpret apocalyptic literature.

Of the three points above, why has the HO engaged in biblical interpretation at all? If they want biblical interpreters, there are many in the Church of England who have done much better jobs than that demonstrated in the rejection letter.

4folder I understand that a Home Office spokesperson said:

“This letter (of asylum rejection) 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, including the APPG (All-party parliamentary group) on International Freedom of Religion and a range of faith groups, to improve our policy guidance and training provided to asylum decision-makers so that we approach claims involving religious conversion in the appropriate way” (Premier, 21 March 2019).

I sent the basic content of this article to: (a) The British High Commissioner, Canberra, ACT Australia, email: australia.enquiries@fco.gov.uk; and (b)  The United Kingdom Home Office, London UK, email: public.enquiries@homeoffice.gov.uk. When and if responses come, I’ll add to this topic.

Conclusion

The British Home Office (HO) entered the voyage of biblical interpretation in its rejection of a visa for an Iranian asylum seeker who converted from Islam to Christianity because the latter is a ‘peaceful religion’.

The Iranian claimed that Christianity was a peaceful religion. The HO said in its letter of rejection that it wasn’t and quoted passages from the books of Leviticus, Deuteronomy and the Book of Revelation. The HO claimed the Book of Revelation was filled with “images of revenge, destruction, death and violence”.

It cited Matt 10:34 to try to confirm Christianity’s violent intent. To ram home the point of Christianity’s violence, it used Leviticus 26:10.

I tried to show that the HO engaged in eisegesis – imposing its own meaning on the text – instead of obtaining the meaning from the text, when taken in context. The books of Exodus and Leviticus were written to the Israelites and demonstrated what God would do to that nation if it obeyed or disobeyed God’s commands.

The HO officials who wrote this letter of rejection to the asylum seeker should hand hermeneutics (interpretation) over to the theologians and exegetes. The rejection letter contained pathetic biblical interpretation that a Hermeneutics 101 student would be failed for.

Anger after asylum seekers given just 80p a week extra in Home Office ruling

(photo courtesy The Independent: ‘Anger after asylum seekers given just 80p a week extra in Home Office ruling’)

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date:01 April 2019.

Orizzontale vignette senza soluzione di continuità con fiori illustrazione vettoriale Archivio Fotografico - 20960704

Advantages & disadvantages of distance education – a personal perspective

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(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

I pursued a PhD in New Testament (British model of dissertation only) through distance education. These are some of the advantages and disadvantages, as I see them, of pursuing distance education:

A. Advantages

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  1. A GREAT advantage is that I can pursue all of the education from home, as long as I have computer and Internet access.
  2. This means that costs are much less as I didn’t have to move house locations with my wife or use public transport.
  3. Based on my previous academic qualifications, the options for study were increased substantially, as long as online degrees were available through the college, seminary or university.
  4. As a general rule, I didn’t go to other libraries as most articles (a few exceptions) were available through EBSCO and Google Scholar, if the University subscribed to most journals needed for the research.
  5. On personal issues with my progress, I could Skype my supervisor.
  6. I benefitted from Skype connection for my verbal defence of the thesis. I received the positive decision of successful defence within minutes of completing the interview.

B. Disadvantages

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1. Since I pursued my BA and MA in a classroom environment, I miss the interaction with people of different perspectives. The dynamic of the classroom is absent – Big Time!!

2. Being able to ask (and get answers) from professors in an immediate context is missing. At the beginning of the academic year, I sent material through to my supervisor but it could take him 3 weeks to get to it as he is also teaching in the classroom. Getting immediate feedback is an issue.

3. Accessing library resources is a challenge as many journals are available online but many other academic resources are not. Most resources in my technical area are not available at or through my local library. I have to travel many km (or miles) to access books that I need. When a journal article is not available, I had access to a librarian assistant who has been very helpful in tracking down most articles. However, there is the occasional article that was not found as the University did not subscribe to that journal.

4. How can this issue of distance education be solved?

5. Webcam and Skype could be used more effectively in interacting with other students and supervisor. More online interaction with other students could be promoted, but busy students don’t always have an interest in the small focus of my dissertation. I’m also seeking interaction at a local theological college to see if there are students and faculty interested in my topic. But that also involves considerable travel to the location of the College.

6. Loneliness was the BIG issue for me. Doing it all alone takes a lot of discipline when I try to work 6-7 hours a day on the dissertation.

7. For continuing study after the degree is completed the databases of EBSCO and Google Scholar are not available from my home computer. I have to make an arrangement with a theological library in Australia that has access to all of the journals I require.

8. I completed my dissertation in April 2015 and graduated in September 2015 after 5 years of research with the University of Pretoria, South Africa.

C. Conclusion

If I were to pursue doctoral study again, I would choose the distance education mode, but with these changes:

  1. Find a theological discussion group in my city of Brisbane, which had a population of 2.27 million at the 2016 census. If living in a regional part of this large country of Australia, meeting with other theological students for discussion would have to be via Skype. Then one has to deal with the availability of Skype transmission in remote areas.
  2. Meet with those at higher levels of study who are engaged in advanced degrees of study.
  3. My pastor and the laity in my church were not able to discuss these issues with understanding.
  4. I completed my PhD at age 69 in 2015.

My completed dissertation is available at: Gear, Spencer D, Crossan and the resurrection of Jesus : rethinking presuppositions, methods and models.

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(image courtesy Liturgy (NZ))

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 05March 2019.

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