WASHINGTON — Andrew Brunson, an American missionary to Turkey who had spent two years in prison after being falsely accused of using “Christianization” to overthrow the government, testified before the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on Thursday. He explained his belief that his case was used to cause the general population to think negatively and suspiciously of Christians.
“My experience in Turkey illustrates and, in some ways, epitomizes how the Turkish government views Christians,” Brunson said. “The Erdogan regime has stoked an already deep-seated suspicion and animus toward Christians. And one of the ways they did it was through my case.”
He explained how Turkey has increased its deportation of Christian missionaries.
“The most pressing hardship the Turkish church has faced in the last couple of years is the expulsion of foreigners closely involved with the Turkish Church,” he explained, noting that the government does not allow local Christians to establish training centers for church leaders, so those from other countries have sought to be of help.
“Over 50 Protestant families have had to leave the country in recent years, including several friends of mine,” Brunson outlined, citing the examples of David Byle, Patrick Jensen and Ryan Keating. “So, I want to emphasize that those being targeted for deportation are for the most part church leaders and pastors. They’re not dentists and engineers. So, this is a faith issue.”
“Many churches have been negatively affected, and in Izmir where I served, five churches have lost their senior leaders,” he continued. “To put this in perspective, this is close to half the churches in that city of four million people.”
Brunson then listed the names of numerous faith-based workers who were deported just this year and noted that the people of Turkey wonder how they will be treated once the foreign Christians are all gone.
“I think the acceleration of church leaders is a sign of very dark times to come,” he lamented, noting that foreign Christians are often viewed as a threat to national security.
The pastor outlined how he himself was accused of “Christianization” in Turkey, but with the slant that he was using Christianity and “psychological warfare … under the guise of an evangelical church pastor” to undermine the government.
“So, basically the indictment was associating Christianization with terrorism and presented Christianity as a danger to Turkey’s unity,” he noted. “The senior judge explicitly said I was not on trial for missionary activity, but much of the supposed evidence presented against me as proof as supporting terrorism was my ministry activities.”
As previously reported, Brunson was found guilty of supporting terrorism at the end of the trial and sentenced to prison, but marked his case as “time served” due to good behavior.
“I am an innocent man. I love Jesus. I love Turkey,” Brunson told the court in Aliaga last October, expressing bewilderment at the charges that were being brought against him.
Brunson noted that Turkey’s foreign minister still considers him a spy and refers to him as “Agent Brunson.” He said that the Turkish media was also slanted against him, referring to him in reports as “terrorist priest, “spy priest,” “dark priest” and “Rambo priest.” Brunson said that some articles also accused him of being behind the New Zealand attack against the Christchurch mosque.
“They used me to paint a public image of Christians as traitors, as terrorists and enemies of Turkey, when nothing could be further of the truth,” he lamented. “So this deliberate propaganda campaign was intended to reinforce and heighten a negative image of Christians in the general population. The result has been a significant rise in hate speech against Christians.”
Brunson expressed concern that “the conditions have been created so that when the Church is persecuted — and I think it will be, when there is violence against Christians, most Turks will now say, ‘Yes, they deserve it.'”
Brunson had pastored Resurrection Church in Izmir for 20 years. He says that he loves the people and will like to return to the country to serve the Lord there.
However, he also notes that President Recep Erdoğan has said that “[t]o be a Turk is to be a Muslim,” and that those who leave Islam might be considered traitors to the nation, even though Christians are loving, law-abiding and non-threatening people.