Turkey (MNN) – On Friday, October 12, the world watched American Pastor Andrew Brunson’s release from the Turkish courts. His charges of terrorism and espionage in Turkey were dropped in a major victory for Brunson and his family.
Brunson’s sentence was supposed to be for three years, one month, and 15 days. The New York Times reports the sentence was reduced to the two years already served. The reasoning: good behavior.
The travel ban on Brunson was also lifted, giving him the freedom to return to the United States. Within 24 hours, Brunson’s feet were back on U.S. soil.
Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for over 20 years, was arrested under false charges on October 7, 2016. These included “support of a terrorist organization” and “political or military espionage.” The sentence for these charges could potentially have put Brunson in prison for life. But even fake witnesses could not keep their stories straight in court. Brunson spent two years in prison until July 25, 2018, when he was placed on house arrest.
He may have been released, but that is still two years of his life Brunson will never get back.
“In return, they then said you served enough time and we’re going to let you go. You can fly back to the United States. So, apparently, a deal had been cut that found a way to get him out of the country. We’re very grateful that he’s been released,” Open Doors USA’s Dr. David Curry says.
Curry believes the economic pressures the United States put on Turkey were a tremendous factor in warranting the pastor’s release. The U.S. sanctions and tariffs had a massive effect on the Turkish currency.
With that said, it has been apparent since the beginning that Brunson’s arrest was a series of political moves. It’s more than likely that his release was, too.
“I give…a great deal of credit to the administration for leveraging pressure around religious freedom. So often, that’s not the case that people see this as a fundamental right. The president saw that a fundamental human right had been taken away from an American citizen in Turkey, and he put the appropriate pressure on,” Curry says.
Upon Brunson’s return to the U.S., the world watched a man who could have been turned bitter by the unjust imprisonment instead appear genuinely determined to continue living out his faith. Brunson met with President Trump upon his arrival in the United States. During their televised meet, Brunson offered a prayer for President Trump. Brunson knelt on one knee with a hand on the president and prayed.
Attack on Faith
Brunson was arrested and accused of being a Christian and sharing his faith, but also of cooperating with a liberal Muslim to overthrow the Turkish president. In other words, Brunson’s arrest has a muddled element of attack on the Christian faith to it.
“Turkey has been in the middle of a couple of cultures for a long time. My fear is they may be shifting towards an extremist agenda. It certainly seems that way. They’re 31st on the World Watch List*. [It] could be that they’re going to rise [on the list],” Curry explains.
Curry is interested in how Turkey will move forward regarding religious freedoms. Will Turkey allow more freedom for its Christian community? Or will the country continue in a direction which alienates Turkish Christians?
“I think what we in the West often forget is people are not free, generally speaking, to worship around the world. They don’t have our freedoms to pick the church they want to go to [and] to assume when they go to church on a Sunday morning that they won’t be attacked,” Curry says.
Remember the Persecuted
Open Doors estimates that at least 215 million Christians live under extreme persecution. Brunson’s case is only a small taste of Christian persecution across the globe. However, American and other Western Christians have great freedom in their faith. Let us not take that freedom for granted. Continue to remember the command in Hebrews 13:3 to lift up and pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters as if we were there with them.
Now that Brunson is freed and in the U.S., what’s next? Sources say spending time with his wife, their children, and finding a new normal in North Carolina will be his focus for now.
“I think [Brunson]’s going to have a tremendous ministry moving forward. I think he has an opportunity to help awaken the American Church to what’s happening and the persecution that’s going on around the world. We wish him the very best,” Curry says.
Open Doors has mobilized many people to pray for Brunson over the past couple of years. Join in on the celebrations by commenting on Open Doors’ praise wall.
Want to know more about the World Watch List? Find it here!
(Header photo courtesy of Open Doors USA)
*Open Doors USA’s World Watch List is a ranking for the top 50 countries with Christian persecution is most severe.