Andrew Brunson, an American pastor who’s been locked up in a Turkish jail for more than 500 days, could spend the rest of his life in prison. Until now, he’s been held without charges, but last week, a Turkish court approved a 62-page indictment against him. The charges include membership in an armed terrorist organization and military espionage. The American Centre for Law and Justice, which is helping Brunson’s Turkish attorney, says the charges effectively make sharing the gospel an act of terrorism. “Turkey has literally taken the position that Christianisation is terrorism,” ACLJ Senior Counsel Cece Heil said.
“They have no specific evidence that Pastor Brunson has committed any crime. The fact that he is a Christian, and specifically a Christian pastor, is what they are equating as terrorism” Heil said. “They use terms that he ‘acted as an agent of unconventional warfare while under the mask of being in an evangelical church pastor.’ Some of those activities that they claim are terrorist acts are humanitarian aid, education, and training,” Heil added. The attorney prosecuting Brunson is asking for a total of 35 years, which would effectively give the 50-year-old pastor a life sentence.
Brunson was one of many other Christians who was arrested or deported from the country following the 2016 failed coup that left at least 161 people dead. “President Erdogan basically had a purge getting rid of anyone he deemed was not on his side, which of course would include Christians when it’s an entirely Muslim country,” Heil explained. “Pastor Brunson was one of the Christians that was snatched up in this purge. Most of the Christian pastors had been deported and Pastor Brunson was not.” Heil also believes Brunson is being used as a political pawn.
“President Erdogan himself came out at the end of last year and demanded a swap between Pastor Brunson and the cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is living in Pennsylvania,” she said. Gulen is a Muslim Imam who President Erdogan believes was responsible for the latest coup. The Turkish president has repeatedly called on the United States to arrest and deport him back to Turkey. Meanwhile, the Trump Administration has been working aggressively to free Brunson. “The administration has taken a very engaged position with this case. President Trump has brought this situation up multiple times with President Erdogan directly and Foreign Minister Cavuslogu.
This is something that is really unprecedented in these types of cases that the president of the United States is bringing this situation up every time he speaks to the president of Turkey.” Heil asks that believers pray fervently for the pastor. “Pray first just for peace and comfort. He’s missed out on major life events with his family. He missed the wedding of his daughter. He’s missed graduations, birthdays, things he can never get back,” she said. She also encourages people to take action by signing an ACLJ petition, “Free Pastor Andrew,” which has more than 400,000 signatures so far.
WEDDING VENUE MAY HAVE SOLVED SAME SEX MARRIAGE DILEMMA
You may remember the case of a Christian couple from upstate New York who refused to host a gay marriage on their farm, which they often rented out as a wedding venue. When a lesbian couple sought to book the farm for their wedding back in September 2012, they were politely refused by owner Cynthia Gifford. At the time, that appeared to be the end of it. But nothing could have been further from the truth. The lesbian couple sued, and the owners were forced into a mammoth legal battle that lasted three and a half years. For that decision Liberty Ridge Farm was forced to pay dearly.
At the beginning of 2016, a Judge ordered Liberty Ridge’s owners, Cynthia and Robert Gifford, to shell out $13,000 in fines. “The Giffords are free to adhere to and profess their religious beliefs that same-sex couples should not marry, but they must permit same-sex couples to marry on the premises if they choose to allow opposite-sex couples to do so,” the judge wrote in her decision. Now the couple have come up with a way around the dilemma of having their beliefs clash with their chosen vocation to host weddings, they donate a percentage of their profits to organizations that seek to advocate for the strengthening of traditional marriage in America.
Displayed at the bottom of each page in the “Weddings” section of its website is a clearly marked disclaimer that reads: “At Liberty Ridge Farm, our deeply held religious belief is that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, and the Farm is operated with the purpose of strengthening and promoting marriage. In furtherance of this purpose and to honour and promote our moral and religious beliefs, we donate a portion of our business proceeds to organizations that promote strong marriages such as the Family Research Council.” The owners make it abundantly clear that they will not reject anyone from hosting a wedding on their premises.
Clearly, however, the potential customers will have to be comfortable with the fact that a portion of their money will be donated to organizations that actively campaign for the promotion of Biblical marriage between a man and a woman. “The patronage of all potential clients for all services offered is welcome regardless of race, creed, colour, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, disability or marital status,” the website notes. “All couples legally permitted to marry in the state of New York are welcome to hold their wedding at Liberty Ridge Farm. We serve everyone equally.”
SYRIAN CHRISTIANS FEAR PERSECUTION AFTER TURKISH TAKEOVER
A city in Northern Syria, once a refuge for those fleeing the fighting all around them, is now the scene of suffering and death. Afrin is a Kurdish city, but it has welcomed Christian and Yazidi refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war. “Afrin was untouched by the war going on around us,” Valentine Hanan, a resident of Afrin said. “We were a safe place in the middle of a war-torn nation.” That all changed January 20, 2018, when Turkey, backed by Syrian rebels, started moving troops towards the north-western Syrian Kurdish enclave. Now, Turkey controls the city and says it won’t leave. “I am very grieved about what is going on today,” Hanan said.
Hanan is a Syrian Kurdish Christian and fears Turkey’s invasion of Afrin is a huge blow to Syria’s Kurdish community, in particular those who converted from Islam to Christianity. “6 years ago when I started the church in Afrin, I didn’t know of any other Christian,” Hanan said. Now some 230 people attend his Church in Afrin. “Many of those who come to church are from Muslim background and they became Christians,” Hanan said. He says eight years of a grinding civil war drove residents to the church in search of peace. “Many people were coming to the church because they were interested in knowing more about Christ,” Hanan said.
Several families from the church fled the town just before the Turkish troops entered. Many of the other Christian families are still in Afrin and are now trying to get out.” Hanan has serious concerns whether the takeover will lead to the ethnic cleansing of Kurds from the region. Just before the invasion, Syrian rebels who led the assault on Afrin, reportedly posted a video online threatening to kill Kurds in Afrin unless they converted to Islam. “By Allah, if you repent and come back to Allah, then know that you are our brothers,” a soldier in the video said. “But if you refuse, then we see that your heads are ripe, and that it is time for us to pluck them.”
Such declarations have Hanan and other Syrian Christians extremely worried about their future in Afrin. “Now they are afraid that they could be persecuted for their faith. Many are terrified for their lives because Islamic groups are moving around the town.” The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 200,000 Afrinians were displaced to areas near the town. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, says his troops plan to expand military operations into other Kurdish-controlled territory in Syria. “The situation in our town is very hard,” said Hanan.
UK HAS AMONG THE FEWEST CHRISTIAN YOUNG ADULTS IN EUROPE
The proportion of young adults professing a Christian faith in the UK is among the lowest in Europe, a new study has found. Twenty-two per cent of those aged between 16 and 29 said they identified as Christian, while 70% described themselves as non-religious. Only four countries, Czech Republic (9%), Sweden (18%), Estonia (19%) and the Netherlands (19%), were found to have fewer Christians, as a proportion of the wider young adult population. Graham Nicholls, leader of the Affinity network of evangelical churches in the UK and Ireland said the figures represent the knock-on effect of a spiritual decline among preceding generations.
Nicholls said: “If there’s a decline in belief in Christianity and preaching of the Gospel, you get the next generation who don’t really believe it anymore but are practising. And, then you get the next generation who neither belief or practise it and are willing to say that.” In contrast, 83% and 74% of young adults in Poland and Lithuania respectively identified as Christian, as did 59% of those in Ireland and Slovenia. Author of the ‘Europe’s Young Adults and Religion’ report, Prof Stephen Bullivant from St Mary’s University in Twickenham described the differences in religiosity “genuinely remarkable”.
Prof Bullivant said: “There are genuine surprises in the data. For example, Ireland’s young adults are still remarkably religious, at least by the standards of other highly developed European nations. “Meanwhile, countries that had, until quite recently, traditionally strong religious cultures, Lithuania, Belgium, Netherlands, Austria, look to be in serious trouble, in terms of the coming generations.” The research analysed data recently gathered from 22 European nations via the European Social Survey. Academics concluded then 10% and 7% of young adults in the UK consider themselves Catholic and Anglican respectively, while 6% identify as Muslim.
The Pope has hit out at the Italian mafia, telling them that despite the fact many go to church and worship openly, they cannot call themselves Christians because they “carry death in their souls”. Pope Francis used his weekly general audience in St Peter’s square to criticise “fake Christians” who claim to be virtuous but “live a corrupt life”. Speaking to a crowd of thousands, he said: “These fake Christians will end up in a bad way. Let’s think about what happens right here at home (in Italy), let’s think about the so-called Christian Mafiosi (mafia).”
The Pope said “There is nothing Christian about them. They claim to be Christian, but they carry death in their souls.” Many mafia leaders invoke the names of saints in secret initiation ceremonies and members of organised crime groups in Italy, see themselves as religious. Pope Francis has on numerous occasions condemned the mafia, who he says practise “the adoration of evil”. In an interview with an Italian newspaper in 2014, he said: “Some priests tend to overlook the mafia phenomenon. But all this is changing and will change. “Our denunciation of the mafia will not happen just once, it will be constant.”
Two New York City churches that survived the 9/11 attack have become the latest tourist sites to embrace security measures. Metal detectors have been installed for the first time this month at Trinity Church and St Paul’s Chapel. The Rev Phillip Jackson said they will be there “the world becomes a safer place”. Trinity and St Paul’s are both part of the same Episcopal parish where Alexander Hamilton and George Washington worshipped after the American Revolution. Church officials said the decision to install the metal detectors was not a response to any specific threat, but a terrorist attack on a nearby bike path in the autumn was “a wake-up call”.