In the early 21st the worldwide migration situation has produced Church-related anomalies in Europe, including the UK.
One of these has been the marriage of convenience, as a Workpermit.com post from 2006 describes. In 2005, a set of rules was introduced in the UK to put an end to this practice designed:
to get around immigration controls and require immigrants to obtain a special certificate of approval, or COA before they can wed in the UK.
However, Mr Justice Silber overturned these laws in 2006 because they violated the European Convention on Human Rights. Consequently:
The overturning of the marriage laws due to unfair discrimination against immigrants on religious grounds leaves the door open for hundreds of people from overseas getting married in the UK.
The test case involved in overturning by Mr Justice Silber, involved a foreign national from Algeria and an EEA national who was legally living in the UK. Once Mahmaud Baiai and Izabella Trzanska from Poland were refused permission to marry, they launched the challenge.
Mr Justice Silber said the case raised issues under Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to marry and found a family.
“The rules were incompatible because they discriminated against immigrants rights subject to immigration control on grounds of religion and nationality,” he declared.
Oddly, the rules overturned did not apply to Church of England members:
even if they are illegally in the UK.
This meant that the Anglican Church could conduct marriages of convenience. By 2008, as The Telegraph reported (emphases mine):
the number of bogus weddings performed by Anglican priests has risen by as much as 400 per cent in some dioceses over the last four years.
Foreign nationals have turned to the Church because it is exempt from rules that require all foreign nationals from outside the European Union to obtain a Home Office certificate of approval to marry in a register office.
That year, Church of England bishops warned their clergy to be vigilant when evaluating immigrants wishing to marry in an Anglican ceremony:
the Rt Rev Tom Butler, Bishop of Southwark, urged priests to be wary of migrants looking to get married who have obtained a common licence – a preliminary for church weddings involving foreign nationls.
“The new regime does not apply to marriages by banns, common licence or special licence, which probably explains the substantial increase in demand for bishops’ common licenses,” he writes.
“It is hard to avoid the conclusion that there is significant abuse of the availability of Church of England marriage in order to try to gain some immigration advantage.”
The Rt Rev Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, has also written to churches in his diocese with guidance on how to tighten measures.
The diocese of Southwark, which covers Greater London south of the Thames, has seen the number of applications for common licences rise from 90 in 2004 to 493 last year.
In 2013 the Coalition government (Conservative/Liberal Democrat) produced new rules to end marriages of convenience. From page 4 of the PDF:
Notices of marriage following civil preliminaries or civil partnership in England and Wales involving a non-EEA national who could benefit from it in immigration terms will be referred to the Home Office for a decision as to whether to investigate whether the marriage or civil partnership is a sham. Non-EEA nationals will only be able to marry in the Church of England or the Church in Wales following civil preliminaries, except in limited circumstances.
Perhaps something similar should be done in the case of conversions by refugees to Christianity.
On June 5, The Guardian reported that the Catholic bishops in Austria are suspicious of the number of sudden converts to Christianity among refugees from war-torn countries. The paper reported in 2014 that the same phenomenon is going on in the Lutheran Church in Germany.
Clergy with a rosy view of the world will say that this is a tremendous opportunity to revive the Church in Europe.
The Austrian bishops view the situation differently. In 2015:
the Austrian bishops’ conference published new guidelines for priests, warning that some refugees may seek baptism in the hope of improving their chances of obtaining asylum.
“Admitting persons for baptism who are during the official procedure classified as ‘not credible’ leads to a loss in the church’s credibility across the whole of Austria,” the new guidelines say.
A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Vienna explained:
There has to be a noticeable interest in the faith that extends beyond merely the wish to obtain a piece of paper.
Austrian priests now informally evaluate potential refugee converts during their one-year ‘preparation period’. The Archdiocese of Vienna has recorded that 5% to 10% of potential converts drop out of the process prior to baptism.
In England, however, Anglican clergy are eager to not only ask no questions but to combine the conversion process with helping to ease the refugee application process.
The Guardian interviewed the Revd Mohammad Eghtedarian, an Iranian refugee and convert who was later ordained. He is a curate at Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral. Eghtedarian says that refugee status and religious affiliation are intertwined.
Liverpool Cathedral has a process which involves registering refugee attendance, which helps their asylum applications. A candidate for Baptism must attend the five preparatory classes. A baptised refugee seeking Confirmation must attend a dozen courses.
Hmm. It sounds very minimal.
The Guardian asked Eghtedarian about the sincerity of those candidates. Even he acknowledged that ‘plenty of people’ were converting for convenience!
In large part, only a cursory examination exists. The Cathedral will also provide a ‘letter of attendance’ to immigration authorities, if requested.
The article said that the Church of England does not record conversions, regardless of background, because it could be a ‘sensitive’ issue.
It seems the Austrian Catholic bishops have approached the conversions of convenience issue more sensibly than the German Lutherans, who resent that immigration court judges ask refugees to discuss their newly-found beliefs in detail in order to assess their sincerity.
It is the responsibility of clergy to do a thorough examination of heart and mind during the conversion process rather than let false converts through the doors for Baptism and Confirmation.
Church of England clergy should pray for divine guidance on the matter rather than deceive fellow Christians, other citizens of our country and our government.
Admittedly, some of these converts are sincere. However, if ‘plenty of people’ are not, then the whole thing is a sham.
If marriages of convenience rightly rang Anglican bishops’ alarm bells, then conversions of convenience should, too.