by Charles A. Collins, Jr.
If he has not been released by July 1 the Rev'd Dr. Andrew C. Brunson, a missionary of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Turkey, will have been imprisoned in that country for 632 days. Dr. Brunson, who grew up as the son of an Associate Reformed Presbyterian missionary family that served in Mexico, Pakistan, and Russia and whose father also taught at Montreat College in North Carolina, is a graduate of Wheaton College who received the Master of Arts from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, the Master of Divinity from Erskine Theological Seminary, and later competed the Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Aberdeen and has served as a missionary in Turkey since 1993, first under the auspices of World Witness, the Foreign Missions Board of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and later with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. He and his wife Norine, who was originally arrested with him but was released after thirteen days, raised their three children there and at the time of his arrest had applied for permanent resident status; he was serving as the Pastor of the Izmir Resurrection Church, a small congregation in Turkey's third-largest city. He has also been involved with theological education in that country.
So what gives? Why has the missionary pastor of a small congregation been detained for so long by the Turkish government in a country that, while overwhelmingly Muslim, is officially secularized and is a longstanding member of NATO? His detention is part of a much larger purge following an attempted July 2106 failed coup d'état in which an estimated 160,000 Turkish military personnel, civil servants, and private citizens have been detained. Specifically he has been accused of being related to the Gülen movement, which has been alleged to have played a role in the coup.
For his part, Dr. Brunson has denied any connection to to movement, stating “I am not a member of an Islamic movement. I have never seen any member of FETO (the Gülen movement) in my life.” In April he had a court appearance that was attended by Ambassador Sam Brownback, the United States' Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, and Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) (Dr. Brunson's hometown is Black Mountain, North Carolina) in which he stated in Turkish that “I have been praying for Turkey for 25 years. I wouldn't do anything against Turkey.” If convicted, he faces the possibility of a sentence ranging anywhere from 35 years to life. Both the Ambassador and the Senator expressed their belief (in Ambassador Brownback's case shared by the Trump Administration) in Dr. Brunson's innocence. The charges against him are based on accusations from two unnamed sources and evidence reportedly procured from his telephone.
The Turkish government has repeatedly offered to free Dr. Brunson in exchange for the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, for whom the movement is named, who current resides in Pennsylvania and has lived in the United States since 1999. That offer raises serious doubts about whether there is any validity in the charges or if the missionary is being used by the Turkish government as a political pawn.
Andrew Brunson's next scheduled court appearance is on July 18. What can readers do to assist him?
–First and foremost, lift him and his family up the the Lord in prayer.
– If one is led, contact your Senators and Congressmen and ask them to support Dr. ```````` Brunson's release.
– The American Center for Law andJustice has been active in working for his release
and has prepared a petiton to that end. It may be accessed and signed at:
-- Finally, readers can keep apprised of the latest developments in the case by following the online resource developed by his mission board at:
Hopefully, by God's grace, Andrew Brunson will soon be reunited with his family and a free man.
The Rev'd Charles A. Collins, Jr. is an Anglican priest currently serving as a hospice chaplain in the Charleston area. He may be contacted at drew.collins [at] gmail.com