Evangelical missionary Andrew Brunson says 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.
Brunson said there has also been “a significant increase in public hate speech designed to incite public hatred of Protestants.” 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.
“I think there are a number of people in the Turkish church, seeing a lot of the foreign Christians being expelled from the country, who are very concerned about what is going to happen to them,” he added. Brunson said that his indictment provides an example of how the Erdogan government views Christians. “My crime was ‘Christianization,’” he stressed. “Basically, the indictment was associating Christianization with terrorism and presented Christianity as a danger to Turkey’s unit,” he continued. “The senior judge said I was not on trial for missionary activity. But much of the supposed evidence against me as proof of supporting terrorism was our ministry activities.”
Brunson added that Erdogan once said while speaking in the context of his case that “To be a Turk is to be a Muslim.” We expect Christians to be good citizens, to pay their taxes, to obey the law. They tend to be very generous and loving people. But if someone has that mentality that to be a Turk is to be a Muslim, then if one leaves Islam and becomes a Christian, then they will be seen as traitors.” Despite the increasing social tensions, Brunson said he has heard from leaders inside Turkey that curious Muslims in Turkey are coming to Christian churches in search of spiritual answers at a greater rate than before.
There are a lot of people who before wouldn’t have spiritual questions,” he continued. “But because of the difficulties they are experiencing and the things they have taken for granted or trusted and given security have been kind of removed, now they are beginning to think about things they wouldn’t have before.” Many of those who are coming to churches to “seek,” he said, are wanting either a copy of the New Testament or just want to meet a Christian and learn about Jesus. “We see people dropping in at churches,” he said. “There are many more people coming and asking for information than in the past.”
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