Turkey (MNN) — If there was any question about whether or not American Pastor Andrew Brunson is still being used as a political hostage in Turkey, there is no doubt about it now.
Brunson served as a pastor in Turkey for 23 years until he was arrested a year and a half ago on false charges of terrorism and espionage.
On April 21, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a live interview that if the United States government wants Brunson to be released, they must extradite Fethullah Gulen and hand him over to Turkey. Gulen is a Muslim cleric residing in the United States whom the Turkish government believes orchestrated the failed 2016 coup.
Erdogan declared, “The US is behind [Gulen]…. If you want Brunson, look at the steps you have taken in the past. Why don’t you deport this man in accordance with the extradition treaty?”
This isn’t the first time Erdogan has connected Brunson and Gulen. But the US is not interested in a hostage swap. And it seems Erdogan is not in any hurry to lose his Brunson bargaining chip.
Open Doors USA’s President and CEO David Curry says, “[Erdogan] is using this need to have revenge on a political rival as a reason to hold hostage Pastor Brunson in Turkey…. It’s really had a chilling effect on this case with Pastor Brunson because he is essentially an innocent person who has been arrested, we believe, for his faith. He’s obviously not a political actor in any way. So we’re at a bit of a stalemate if this is truly going to be [Erdogan’s] position.”
A question many people have asked in Brunson’s case is, why him?
Curry explains, “A lot of times when we see the rise of religious persecution through the lens of nationalism like we’re seeing here in Turkey, people will say any American who is a Christian is a foreign agent and they will use that as a leaping-off point to make whatever case they choose to make.
“I think people need to understand that Christianity is a spiritual movement. It’s not about Americanism, it’s not about the ideals of the West, it’s not a Western idea, as much as it may have popularity here in the States or the West.
“But people like Erdogan and others are trying to make that case. But [Brunson] is clearly not a political actor, a spy, any of these kinds of things. He is a pastor who has worked in Turkey for many, many years and clearly loves the people there.”
Brunson’s first court hearing was on April 16 and his next hearing is scheduled for May 7. Curry says these latest remarks from Erdogan could definitely affect Brunson’s trial.
“I think this has certainly been their sticking point the whole time they have tried to make this case. It is very, very thin. I think our government has done the right thing and is being very vocal in support of Pastor Brunson. And I think at this point the American people just need to continue to let their voice be heard, that we don’t want American citizens being held hostage for diplomatic reasons essentially, political reasons.”
Two-thirds of the US Senate has signed a petition to Erdogan asking that “justice would be done and Pastor Brunson would be reunited with his family”.
Curry shares, “We are so grateful at Open Doors to see some of the statements of many senators. In particular, Ambassador Brownback has been very on-point about this as has been Senator Lankford from Oklahoma. We need to let our voice be heard to more senators to make sure we are sending all the right political messages and diplomatic messages that the United States government is unified in supporting our citizen who has been unfairly arrested and detained in Turkey.”
But the most important thing you can do is pray to our God who is sovereign over the kings of this world.
“Turkey is a country that can go either way and clearly in the last year or two it has become more stringent, more virulent in its Islamic agenda, and more unpredictable, frankly, as we’re moving into dictatorship territory. I think the West has always looked to Turkey for some stabilizing influence, so I think we need to be prayerful about how that government is moving, for the Church there, for the believers there who have some very legitimate concerns.”
Please also be in continued prayer for Brunson and his family, that they would be spiritually encouraged and comforted at this time. Pray also for Brunson’s swift release.
(Header photo courtesy of World Witness)