Evangelical missionary Andrew Brunson said Thursday that the authoritarian crackdown and struggling economy in Turkey are causing more Muslim Turks to show interest in the Bible at a time in which the “storm clouds” of Christian persecution seem to be forming.
Brunson, a North Carolina native who spent two decades planting churches in Turkey before spending two years in prison on trumped-up terrorism charges, expressed deep concern about the future of Turkey’s small Protestant population during a hearing hosted by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on Capitol Hill.
“There is still a high degree of freedom for Christians relative to other Muslim countries in the region, but I am concerned that all the signs point to this changing soon,” said Brunson, who was released from prison last October after months of pressure from the U.S. government.
In the midst of a massive government crackdown in the wake of the 2016 failed coup attempt against the Erdogan government, Brunson explained that the regime has accelerated the expulsion and deportation of foreign Christian leaders.
According to Brunson, as many as 50 foreign Christian families have recently been deported from Turkey.
The 51-year-old read off a list of Protestant Christians in Turkey who have been deported after being accused of being a “threat to national security.” Most of them were leaders within their respective churches, he said.
He added that the Turkish church relies on foreign leadership because the Turkish government does not allow Christians to set up training programs in order to develop leaders in the country.
In the city in which he served for many years, Izmir, Bruson said that nearly half of all churches there have lost their senior leaders.
Citing a 2018 report from the Turkish Association of Protestant Churches, Brunson said there has also been “a significant increase in public hate speech designed to incite public hatred of Protestants.”
He said even more concerning was the “coupling together of churches and terror organizations in news reports without any evidence of substantiation.”
He blamed the Erdogan government for sewing a deep hatred of Christians in the hearts of Muslim Turks by spreading lies about him and Christians. He said government-fed propaganda has created a tense atmosphere for Christians in Turkey.
Even after his release, Brunson said that lies are still being spread about him in Turkey. He was accused of being a spy and even working on behalf of the CIA in an effort to overthrow the Turkish government.
“The foreign minister still refers to me in public as a spy and calls me ‘Agent Brunson,’” he said. “After the State Department report on religious freedom was published recently, the spokesman insisted that ‘Pastor Brunson was convicted because of his affiliation with terrorism not because of his faith.’ This is simply not true. I know that the Turkish government, especially at the highest levels, knew all along that I was innocent.”
He added that there were accusations in Turkish media that he was the one who gave orders for the New Zealand mosque shootings in March that took the lives of 50 people. Brunson said he was disgusted with such an accusation.
“The government is using the after-coup, the conditions to crackdown on a lot of people. So far, it hasn’t included Christians that much,” Brunson said in response to a question from USCIRF Vice Chair Gayle Manchin. “Like I said, there is a high degree of freedom compared to other places in the Middle East. However, the signs are negative and the storm clouds are gathering.”
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith