Will Trump’s Sanctions Hurt Turkish Christians Just as Much as They May Help Andrew Brunson?

An Istanbul street the week US sanctions sent Turkey’s lira plummeting.
Image: Chris McGrath / Getty Images

Governments are supposed to take care of their citizens. For Andrew Brunson, an American detained in Turkey for almost two years, it may be his best hope.

Charged with threatening national security because of alleged ties to terrorist groups, the pastor for two decades of an evangelical church in Izmir (biblical Symrna) faces 35 years in prison.

“If Turkey does not take immediate action to free this innocent man of faith and send him home to America, the United States will impose significant sanctions on Turkey until pastor Andrew Brunson is free,” said Vice President Mike Pence last month at the US State Department’s first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom.

The day before, Turkey had moved the pastor from prison to house arrest shortly after Brunson’s daughter recounted his plight before the ministerial’s global audience. But his return to his Izmir home wasn’t enough.

Less than a week later, on August 1 the US Treasury Department froze the assets of the Turkish ministers of interior and justice.

“Pastor Brunson’s unjust detention and continued prosecution by Turkish officials is simply unacceptable,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “President Trump has made it abundantly clear that the United States expects Turkey to release him immediately.”

Turkey responded by sanctioning the corresponding American cabinet members.

Then dramatically on August 10, Trump announced the doubling of tariffs on Turkish aluminum and steel.

The Turkish lira—already falling since May when President Recep Erdoğan announced de facto control over monetary policy—immediately plummeted another 16 percent against the dollar, hitting record lows.

And while Turkey will now receive the support of Qatar (to the tune of $15 billion), the Trump administration threatened more sanctions during its Cabinet meeting today after a Turkish court rejected Brunson’s appeal of his house arrest.

“We have more that we are planning to do if they don’t release [Brunson] quickly,” said Mnuchin during the Thursday gathering of Trump’s top officials, reported Reuters.

“They want to hold our wonderful pastor,” said Trump of the NATO ally. “Not fair, not right.”

On Thursday evening, the President tweeted, “They are now holding our wonderful Christian Pastor, who I must now ask to represent our Country as a great patriot hostage. We will pay nothing for the release of an innocent man, but we are cutting back on Turkey!”

But some analysts say high-level pressure may do more harm than good, for both Brunson and Turkey (and Europe). And Americans who serve the gospel overseas often have dual sympathies, pained by the resultant suffering of the local citizens they serve.

“I would love to have US advocacy for my release,” an American who previously worked in Turkey told CT, “even though as a Christian I could stay [in jail] as long as I needed to.”

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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Jayson Casper