What does an immigration judge and a Biblical scholar have in common? Nothing, at least according to The U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. A ruling by immigration judge Barbara Nelson, who denied asylum to a Chinese Christian refugee based on his lack of “biblical doctrinal knowledge” was overturned on Thursday, allowing the chance for a second hearing. For months, Chang Qaing Zhu was beaten and imprisoned for attending a church non-sanctioned by the Chinese government. Appearing before immigration judge Barbara Nelson in 2009, he sought U.S. asylum from religious persecution. His petition was denied after he “failed” her Bible quiz.
Asked to “prove” his Christianity to the judge, Chang Qaing Zhu allegedly recounted his conversations with Chinese authorities while in prison about the conversion of the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus. “Astute” judge Barbara Nelson wasn’t buying it. Nelson reportedly asked the immigrant to explain the story of Paul to her in court, including what year Paul’s conversion experience happened. How in the world did a judge, in her great wisdom, think that a Chinese refugee-without access to Bibles, Sunday School, or Christian teachings-could do so? Nelson ultimately ruled that Chang’s response was “evasive” and “hesitant,” and she decided not to grant him asylum, determining he was not credible in his claims of being a Christian.
According to The New York Daily News, The 2nd Circuit vacated Nelson’s decision and ordered a new review Thursday that opens the door for Zhu to stay in the United States. The U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals found the immigration judge was wrong to find Zhu not credible.
“While Zhu was able to explain that Paul was a disciple of Jesus Christ who persecuted Christians, and later converted to Christianity after being blinded on the road to Damascus, he struggled to answer more detailed questions such as . . . what year Paul converted to Christianity” a panel of three 2nd Circuit judges wrote. “By inquiring of Zhu and expecting him to provide this extensive detail,” Nelson wrongly relied on “doctrinal knowledge” to determine his credibility, the panel ruled.”
Chang’s lawyer, Wendy Tso, told the NY Daily News that her client could be a devout Christian without knowing every fact about the Bible or Christian-themed stories. “You don’t have to know every fact to be a devout Christian,” she told the newspaper. “You can be very devout and not know everything. And the Bible doesn’t mandate that you have to know everything.”
This was not the first time Nelson’s rulings have been vacated. In 2012, the 2nd Circuit vacated Nelson’s denial of asylum to a woman who claimed to have undergone two forced abortions in China. Like she did with Zhu, Nelson found Xiulian Li “not credible”. She said some of Li’s answers in court “went beyond the scope of the questions.” Whatever that means.
By the way, Paul’s Damascus experience occurred sometime between 33-36 A.D. according to some researchers, while others say between 31-36 A.D. You never know when you’ll be asked.