Freed American pastor fears difficult times ahead for Turkey's Christians

Andrew Brunson speaks at a U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom hearing on religious freedom issues in Turkey at the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. on June 27, 2019.The Christian Post

Andrew Brunson, an American pastor who spent two years in a Turkish prison on trumped up terrorism and espionage charges, has spoken of his fears for the Christian community there. 

Addressing the US Commission on International Religious Freedom on Capitol Hill, Rev Brunson said that while Christians in Turkey still enjoy a "high degree of freedom" compared to their fellow believers in other Muslim-majority countries, he is concerned that "all the signs point to this changing soon". 

Rev Brunson had been a pastor in Turkey for two decades before being arrested in 2016.  He was eventually freed last October after the US put considerable pressure on Turkey and has since moved back to the US. 

His arrest followed a failed coup against President Tayyip Erdogan. There has since been a crackdown on the presence of foreign Christian missionaries and pastors in the country.

Rev Brunson told the Commission that as many as 50 foreign Christian families, among them many church leaders, have been deported from Turkey in the last few years. 

The Erdogan government sees them as a "threat to national security", while the wider media is "coupling together" churches and terrorist organisations "without any evidence", he said. 

In Izmir, where Rev Brunson was a church pastor at the time of his arrest, he said nearly half of all churches had lost their senior leaders.

He also accused the Turkish government of continuing to spread lies about him in Turkey, one of them being that he and others had supposedly ordered the New Zealand mosque shootings in March, in which 50 people died. 

"The foreign minister still refers to me in public as a spy and calls me 'Agent Brunson,'" he said, adding, "I know that the Turkish government, especially at the highest levels, knew all along that I was innocent."

He said that the crackdown following the failed coup was actually affecting other Turks more than Christians, but said that with the number of foreign Christians being expelled from the country, believers there were "very concerned about what is going to happen to them". 

"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," he said. 


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