Elias is waiting for a German official to evaluate his Christianity.

He converted from Islam in Iran secretly. He was afraid because he knew that other converts had been arrested and beaten, some even killed. He had also heard of converts finding asylum in Germany. He dreamed of going there and being baptized in public. He could worship in the open, start a new life, and join a church, free from the fear of reprisals for his newfound faith.

And so he fled to Germany. When he got there, he applied for asylum. Now, Elias (a pseudonym) waits for the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) to rule on his case. He is far from alone.

Between 20,000 and 40,000 refugees are seeking asylum in Germany on the grounds of religious persecution because of their conversion to Christianity, according to a 2019 Open Doors report. Amid sharp national debates about anti-refugee sentiment, religious literacy, and religious freedom, a number of evangelical leaders have called for changes to the process of officially evaluating refugee conversion.

Currently, the BAMF judges the sincerity of conversion and the severity of potential threats to asylum seekers’ lives. There is, however, a lack of explicit standards, clear criteria, or legal precedent for these examinations, and the BAMF grants asylum at significantly different rates in different parts of the country.

“It’s like a lottery,” said Gottfried Martens, pastor of a Lutheran church associated with the Missouri Synod in the Steglitz neighborhood of Berlin. Martens cares for more than 1,000 baptized Iranian, Afghan, and Pakistani Christians in his church and is currently instructing hundreds more in preparation for baptism.

“If you’re in Potsdam, you ...

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