- The Washington Times
Monday, October 14, 2019

An American pastor released from a Turkish prison thanks to the Trump administration says that Christians, like himself, are a target amid Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on religious diversity.

Speaking from his home in North Carolina, the Rev. Andrew Brunson says he has watched as the Turkish government has striven to purge sects of Christians and Muslims after the failed 2016 coup attempt against Mr. Edrogan.

“Well, we cannot go back to Turkey, at this point, for obvious reasons,” Mr. Brunson, 51, told The Washington Times. “The Turkish government probably would not allow me back in the country, plus they’ve made me a target [for Islamists], so I wouldn’t last a week.”

Mr. Brunson was imprisoned for two years in a Turkish prison on espionage charges, which he says are false. As a missionary, he had started churches and tended to refugees in Turkey for more than 20 years when Turkish authorities took him into custody while he applied for permanent residency in October 2016.

He was released last October after the U.S. Treasury Department imposed economic sanctions on two Turkish authorities and following public pressure from President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

In his new memoir, “God’s Hostage,” Mr. Brunson recounts the Trump administration’s efforts to pry the release of an unknown Christian pastor.

“It may be a miracle that I was released, but I think it was an even greater miracle that so much was done to release me,” he writes. “I am still amazed at the unprecedented steps that my government took.”

Mr. Brunson says he has watched the escalation of violence in Turkey and northern Syria against religious minorities and notes that Turkey — a NATO ally — is abandoning its Western friendships.

“The population of Turkey is highly anti-American at this point,” he told The Times. “That has been stoked by political leaders for domestic reasons and because their world view is really moving away from the West.”

Mr. Brunson expends no words of friendship in “God’s Hostage” toward Mr. Edrogan, who has had thousands of citizens arrested after the coup attempt. But the pastor shies from critiquing Mr. Trump for displaying any warmth toward Mr. Erdgoan.

“I’d rather stay away from that subject,” he told The Times.

Reached for comment in the wake of the Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria, Mr. Brunson declined to offer opinions on the quickly developing events. But he pointed to a passage in his book detailing a dream he had in prison.

Turkey, Iran, and Russia were coming together to form an alliance so dark that I woke up swearing and gasping for breath,” Mr. Brunson writes.

Three days after his dream, he says, an off-duty Turkish police officer assassinated the Russian ambassador. Rather than driving Russian President Vladimir Putin and Mr. Edrogan apart, the news brought them “closer together,” he said.

While he acknowledges the hazards, Mr. Brunson said he plans to return oversees someday to continue his mission abroad and follow his unique calling.

“It’s not that being overseas is more important,” the pastor said. “That’s just what God has called us to do.”

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