Representatives from Glasgow Presbytery received a warm welcome when they visited a twinned congregation in Hyderabad. Pictured at front with hosts from Hyderabad are (from left): Rev Fiona Gardner, minister at Temple Anniesland Church; Bill Gray, Presbytery world mission convener; Rev Tom Pollock, Presbytery moderator 2015-16; and Very Rev Bill Hewitt, Presbytery clerk.
I am writing to you about the gravely concerning issue of the Home Office refusal to allow two Pakistani Christian church delegates into the UK on
a dialogue and twinning programme with the Church of Scotland.
The Church of Scotland has a long standing programme of engagement with churches from developing nations, where churches and church leaders are often
persecuted and impoverished. In all that time they have sponsored and guaranteed all the costs of visiting delegates, and the Church of Scotland has
publicly stated that not a single one has failed to return home as per the visa regulations, despite in many cases being both impoverished and sometimes
in situations of persecution.
I realize that there are rules that have to be followed, but I am particular concerned that it appears leave to have the decision reviewed has been
denied from the start, and also because the decision appears to be based on a rejection of bank evidence provided by these church pastors and leaders,
thus clearly implying dishonesty on the part of these leaders who already have enough difficulty, given that they live and conduct their ministry in
a nation that has been independently rated as being on a par with ISIS-plagued Syria in its level of persecution of Christians. I have been informed
by the British Pakistani Christian Association that they have over the years received several complaints from Pakistani church leaders that it is difficult
for them to get to safety in the UK, but it seems easy for even specifically Muslims who persecute Christians to get into and remain in the UK.
Additional concerns about the decision relate to the seeming hypocrisy and self-defeating nature of the decision when compared to the Home Office’s
recent allowing of some Pakistani Islamic clerics with a well-documented record of stirring up hatred against Christians and other objectionable behaviour
and statements for an extensive speaking tour, including meetings with prominent UK individuals. Why is it that such people are allowed in, but a peaceful
exchange programme by well-established churches is being hobbled by such seeming petty-fogging decisions? These decisions hardly seem to reflect a
policy of upholding so-called British values.
I should point out that Lord Alton has issued a very relevant and stinging statement on this issue which is worth considering. He said:
“Officials in the Home Office appear to live in their own Upside Down World where invited visitors to the UK, promoting links between Christians in Pakistan and Scotland, are refused permission to come here, while Jihadist radicals can settle here, get in a car, and drive to Scotland to murder someone because he is the “wrong kind of Muslim.” They say they have a “Prevent” strategy” but the only thing they are preventing in their world of upside down values is an outbreak of common sense.’
Therefore we are asking you to raise the issue with the government, and ask why such peaceful and beneficial exchange programmes are being hobbled,
especially given the excellent track record the Church of Scotland has on such matters, and point out that there appears to be double standards that
might even amount to religious discrimination.
Please task our Home Secretary Amber Rudd MP to review this decision which flies in the face of common sense.