The National:

THE UK Home Secretary is at it again. The inexhaustible game of finding scapegoats is one which the advent of Christianity put an end to. No more would there be live sacrifices made to appease the angry authorities and make them feel better. Instead, the command is to love your neighbour and pray for those who persecute you. Fast forward to 2021.

This time, ironically and predictably, the scapegoat is the church. The church is accused in an article in today’s Telegraph by the Home Secretary of “helping asylum seekers to ‘game’ the system” which, under the proposals in the New Plan for Immigration or Border Bill, will allow the turning back of asylum seekers arriving by irregular routes including the English Channel. Other recent scapegoats include proposing to criminalise the RNLI; attacking lawyers who defend the right of people to claim asylum and then attempting to offer immunity from prosecution for border force employees who might be at risk of manslaughter charges for turning back boats, when – not if – someone drowns as a result. The list of scapegoats is endless and includes academics like myself who have published widely and submitted a great deal of tax-payer funded research showing the absolutely incontrovertible evidence that scapegoating is bad for everyone in society and there is no such thing as deterrent when it comes to trying to stay alive or keep your family alive.

READ MORE: Can’t we use the skills of refugees while their asylum claims are processed?

The church now stands accused by Patel of "gaming the system" by offering the right to worship, in a congregation, to those who seek asylum. The interfaith work of churches is a target because sometimes it leads to some churches finding that those of no religion or those of a different religion might choose – as is the right of anyone in society, without coercion – to take up a different religion.

It’s true that the UK Government and Scottish Government encourage and support people to make changes to their lives and lifestyles when beginning to integrate into another country after seeking asylum. New arrivals are encouraged, for instance, to learn the language which will most help with functioning day to day; to register with a GP. Eventually, when status is granted to seek a job, people may begin to experiment with different ideas, take part in society, join a sports club or a faith group, not always the same as that which was available "back home". This can lead to conversion. Some decide for safety’s sake to "deny their religion" or change. Many of those who are second or third generation children of Jewish Holocaust survivors only found out much later in life that they had Jewish faith practice in their ancestry. When millions have been gassed to death for their faith and ethnicity it’s also not surprising some choose to worship in new ways, in a new country.

According the Church of Scotland’s own official publication on working with refugees and asylum seekers: “Some people seek asylum in the UK because their religion makes it impossible to live in their country of origin. For others, it might be a case of seeking asylum for non-religious reasons but when in the UK they convert to a different religion, which could make it much harder for them to return to their country of origin. Such cases are often treated with scepticism or labelled ‘conversions of convenience’ in order to support an asylum claim. From time to time ministers of religion are called on to provide expert advice on the truthfulness of someone’s religious experiences. If you are in this situation, please contact Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees for further information”.

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The church, just like society, is full of hypocrites, broken problematic, awkward, hard to love people, practising trying to love. For a religion with forgiveness at its heart its often a comfort to know that there is no pure place to stand. Sometimes there are those in our midst who have committed or do commit terrible crimes. The reasons for this often escape reason and test the limits of love, but it is still true that those visiting prisoners, or caring for those seeking sanctuary, are predominantly those with a credal understanding of love in action; of humble love.

For Christians the command to love your neighbour, to offer refuge to the widow, the orphan, the stranger at your gate, are central and life giving. The authority of church, scripture and tradition combined make a potent force and stand, at certain times in history – like this very moment - in contradistinction to some of the actions of the state. And so it is that faith groups have been instrumental in offering practical support and love and relationship to those who have come as strangers to their communities, who have said sometimes softly, sometimes loud and clear, that refugees are welcome here.