The release of pastor should be top priority

A 50-year-old evangelical pastor from Black Mountain, Andrew Craig Brunson, is facing up to 35 years in prison in Turkey on obviously trumped-up charges of “committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member” and “espionage,” The Associated Press reported last week. We call on our leaders to work for his release.

Brunson has lived in Turkey for 23 years, serving as pastor of Izmir Resurrection Church, a small Protestant congregation in Izmir. In court last week, speaking in Turkish, he denied any wrongdoing.

“I did not engage in any illegal activity. I had no relations with anyone engaged in such activity,” Brunson said. “I am a Christian pastor. I did not join an Islamic movement. Their aims and mine are different.”

Fortunately, U.S. legislators have been working on his behalf.

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador-at-large for religious freedoms, observed the trial last week.

“The administration is deeply concerned about this case,” Brownback told reporters outside the courthouse. “We completely believe (that) Andrew Brunson is innocent. We are hopeful (that) the judicial system will find that.”

There’s little doubt that Brunson is being used as a pawn by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has urged the U.S. to extradite U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan blames for a failed coup attempt in 2016, in exchange for Brunson’s release.

Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, has denied involvement in the coup.

Turkey once had a reputation as a moderate Muslim nation with a government based on a secular constitution — a place where east and west literally met. But things have changed under Erdogan’s influence. Erdogan has jailed journalists and brutalized political opponents. Just a year ago, he used underhanded methods to win an election and pass a referendum that places almost all state power in his own hands.

President Trump congratulated Erdogan for that victory and received him at the White House, where he lavished praise on the autocratic leader. Trump has called him a friend.

Trump has also asked Erdogan to release Brunson. If Trump has any sway with Erdogan, this is when it should be put to use.

Cases like this are often resolved by quiet diplomacy behind the scenes, but it doesn’t hurt to keep a public eye on the proceedings. We hope the Trump administration will find the key to winning Brunson’s release.

Winston-Salem Journal

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Please pray that Pastor Andrew be strengthened and sustained in spirit and body by the presence of His Lord Jesus — the One sent to set captives free — until his release; and that that release may come soon.” (Unknown)