The refugee crisis has become a worldwide problem with asylum seekers flocking in from all over. Sweden, which has grown weary of the migrant crisis, created a new way to screen applicants claiming religious persecution—a Bible test.
Applicants who claim to be Christian converts must answer a series of questions regarding their purported faith. However, the test has created controversy for a number of reasons.
First of all, the questions themselves reveal the Migrant Board’s ignorance of Christianity. Some questions include, how many “parts” are in the New Testament. (Do they mean books?). It also asks about the difference between the “Orthodox” (Catholic?) and Protestant churches, and “Can you tell us about the Letter to the Romans?”
The test has been criticized by both lawyers and church leaders.
It focuses on Sunday school Bible trivia knowledge rather than a person’s faith. Much of what they are asking are only things that would have been learned if they had approached Christianity in an academic setting. If they are Christian converts in a persecuted country, how much academic opportunity would have been made available?
For example, this author could name the number of books (not parts) in the New Testament off the cuff. (There are 27). But, only after being schooled in a Christian university which required an entire course in just the New Testament.
Further, most active American evangelicals don’t know enough about Catholicism to juxtapose their own belief system. Faced with the question, they would likely rely on school history lessons and pop culture stereotypes. That is if that’s what the outdated word, “Orthodox” means. Someone unfamiliar with scholarly Christianity would be stumped by just the term. How would a Syrian Christian, who had only learned of Christianity piecemeal under persecution, fare with that question?
In another terminology gaffe that could slip-up a new or lay Christian, “The Letter to the Romans,” is the full name of the book of Romans, but in practice, it is only referred to as “Romans.” In more than 7,000 words, Romans covers an entire breadth of topics as Jesus’ earliest followers struggled to set up their burgeoning new religion. Topics range from whether a non-Jewish convert should be circumcised; an entire debate on whether Christians should follow kosher laws; how a church leadership board should be determined and set up; as well as a meandering, philosophical chapter on the mental intricacies of a struggle to do what’s right. How would a nervous applicant, with their entire life riding on the line, answer such a nebulous question?
“I think it’s terrible. I have repeatedly had to interrupt administrators who ask these questions because they are not relevant and are far too complicated,” lawyer Serpil Güngör said.
The Migration Agency says, however, that the test is only part of the overall assessment of an applicant. They also take into account the explanation of how an applicant worships and their conversion experience. But, they do say that Christian converts should know these things.
“It is a reasonable demand that the asylum applicant should show some knowledge of the Bible – this should come naturally, and isn’t something you need to study,” Carl Bexelius, Deputy Legal Director at the Swedish Migration Agency, said.
He’s right– in a free country. A seasoned western Christian could answer such questions with a depth that could make the interviewer wish they had never asked. Having been myself flagged for further questioning while boarding a U.S. domestic flight, I once had to prove faith with a ridiculous similar line of questioning. Slightly offended, I took the time to bore the FAA agent to tears by unleashing a theological treatise. I felt it served him right.
But what would a persecuted Christian in an Islamic country, that likely came to faith hiding in a candlelit room, sharing a beat up paperback Bible brought in by American Bible smugglers, know about high theology? Probably not much. Some Swedish churches are printing up study guides for asylum seekers to prepare themselves. But Sweden is known for being a secular country. Should these things matter?
The test is designed to weed out terrorists or criminals lying to gain asylum, but how much do they know themselves? If they want to know about an applicant’s faith, perhaps they should get a clergy member in to have a “guided conversation” about it. That would be a more accurate assessment. It is easy for a seasoned Christian to gauge the faith of another, or at least if the person is of faith in general.
But, it’s all part of cracking down on immigration. Over 7,200 people have applied for asylum in Sweden in this year alone. After last month’s truck attack in Stockholm, however, the Scandinavian country seems to have learned its lesson about “welcoming.”
Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said, “Sweden will never go back to [mass migration] we had in autumn 2015, never. Everyone who has been denied a permit should return home. This makes me feel enormously frustrated. If you have been denied a visa you are supposed to leave the country.”
Maybe Trump’s immigration crackdown isn’t looking so cold hearted to those overseas anymore.