American pastors in Turkey are being arrested hand over fist.
American Pastor Andrew Brunson, of the Resurrection Protestant Church, was arrested in Izmir (Smyrna)on October 7 alongside his wife, Norine Lyn Brunson, for "threatening the national security of Turkey." Brunson is expected to be deported in 15 days. The couple is still being held in detention.
Turkish authorities also seized the residence permit of Ryan D. Keating, an American student pursuing a PhD in the philosophy of religion at Ankara University. Keating is a Christian who heads the Ankara Refugee Ministry for the Kurtulus Church. While he was leaving Turkey for work purposes, he was told at the airport that his residence permit in Turkey had been cancelled in September for "national security", meaning that he will not be able to reenter the country. His wife and children are still in Ankara.
Yet another American Protestant pastor, Patrick Jansen, was not allowed to reenter Gaziantep, where he served. And still another American Protestant was ordered to leave Turkey upon landing at the airport.
They are not the first. In the last four years, more than 100 Christian pastors and other religious officials have been deported from Turkey -- the visas of some of them were not renewed or were completely cancelled. They have been banned from reentering.
Pastor Brunson had also been exposed to an armed attack in front of the church in 2011, by a Turkish Muslim from the city of Manisa who shouted: "Al-Qaeda will bring you to account", called members of the congregation "traitors" and threatened them with "bombing the church in Manisa."
In the meantime, the Protestant Life Bridge Church, in the southern city of Antakya (Antioch), has been closed and sealed upon a complaint of the National Education Directorate and the order of the governor's office for "giving education illegally." The church, officials of which are also American citizens, was giving Bible lessons to its members.
The congregation has started looking for a new place to hold their Sunday services, the Turkish Christian news channel SAT-7 TURK reported on October 8.
The Protestant community in Turkey has been exposed to discrimination and persecution for a long time.
According to a global report by the organization Open Doors,
"Persecution of Christians is more than just physical violence. It is a complex, multifaceted phenomenon that involves many aspects such as various forms of cultural marginalization, government discrimination, hindrances on conversion, interferences on participation in public affairs and restrictions on church life."
According to the 2015 Human Rights Violations Report by the Association of Protestant Churches, Protestants in Turkey are continually exposed to hate crimes, and physical and verbal assaults.
For example, on September 10, 2015, a man went to the Ankara Batıkent Bereket Church, shouted profanities and insults, and struck the church leader. Security forces arrived and took the man to the local police station, where he was released with no action taken.
The man threatened the church leader again, demanding he shut down the church. When the police were notified again, no one came. And when the pastor closed the church and went to the precinct to explain, again no official action was taken.
The Protestant community in Turkey is not recognized as a legal entity, and hence, has no legal right to organize in officially-recognized churches.
The Association of Protestant Churches reported:
The Protestant community has generally tried to solve this issue to setting up associations or becoming a representative of an already existing association. As of 2015, members of the Protestant community have 1 foundation, 35 church associations and 18 representative offices connected to these associations. This association forming process continues. Associations are not accepted as a "church" or a "place of worship." The problem of a religious congregation becoming a legal entity has not been completely solved. The present legal path does not allow for a congregation to obtain a legal personality as a "congregation." ... Thus, small congregations continue to be helpless...
The Protestant Community does not have the right to share its religion freely or to train religious leaders.
Another source of discrimination against Christians in Turkey is the obligatory declaration of faith: "The section for religious affiliation on the identity cards forces people to declare their faith and increases the risk of facing discrimination in every arena of life," according to the Association of Protestant Churches.
There are also problems in education and the compulsory "Religious Culture and Moral Knowledge" class, textbooks of which are dominated by the tenets of Islam and Islamic practices.
Currently, all school children in primary and secondary schools in Turkey must attend the class.
According to the 2015 report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, on the compulsory religious education in Turkey in textbooks, "The characterizations of both Jewish and Christian beliefs, sacred texts, and prophets are done through Islamic beliefs rather than through what Jews and Christians believe themselves."
Teaching the Bible is considered "illegal" by the Turkish authorities, so what are Turkish children are taught about Christianity at school? A brief section in a Turkish textbook describes Christianity as follows:
"When Jesus reached 30 years of age, Allah gave him the duty of being a prophet. He then began inviting people to believe in Allah. At the start, only 12 people believed in his call. They are called the 'disciples.' The holy book of Christianity is Incil [the Gospels]. The four Incils written by and known with the names of their writers as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the most famous... Christians accept prophethood of other prophets besides Prophet Muhammad... Christians believe all human beings are born sinners, thus all children are washed with holy water to cleanse from their sins. This is called baptism."
As the report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom stresses, according to Christian theology, this description is completely false:
The view of Jesus as a prophet is not what Christians believe, but what Muslims believe. Similarly, the holy book of Christians is not only Incil, but the Kutsal Kitap or Kitabı Mukaddes, the Holy Bible, with the Old and New Testaments as the two main parts. Students are not told where the four Gospels, which are part of the New Testament, fit into the Christian Bible. The expression "the most famous" is also confusing, as they are the only ones in the canon of the New Testament; it most likely alludes to the idea that there were Gospels which prophesied Prophet Muhammad but were changed or destroyed by Christians. Similarly, it is not clear what the text means in describing Christians as believing in other prophets besides Muhammad. Also, there is no unanimity in Christianity on the baptism of children, or its meaning regarding salvation from sins.
"In principle, students can be exempted by a simple written request by their guardians to the school authorities, however, in practice this is not always adhered to," added the report.
Religious minorities have reported that some schools refuse exemptions on the premise that there is no other class students can take, and they offer no similar alternative electives specific to the traditions of such children. Instead, religious minority students are faced with the option of taking the class or sitting alone somewhere else on the school premises during the classes, thus separating them from their peers and singling out their religious differences.
For school-age children, such experiences can be traumatic. Thus, many parents of religious minority children continue to let their children take compulsory religious education rather than putting them through such an ordeal at a young age.
(Image source: United States Commission on International Religious Freedom)
The sources of Christian persecution in Turkey are "Islamic extremism and religious nationalism," reported Open Doors. "Islam has become a key feature of Turkish nationalism. Pressure on believers from Muslim backgrounds is especially acute due to the Islamic social environment."
According to the Istanbul Protestant Church Foundation, which primarily consists of Turkish converts to Christianity:
"Christians still face many difficulties as they attempt to be accepted in their own society even though Turkey boasts as being the most pluralistic culture in the Middle East.
"The land of Asia Minor is the historical setting of the first expressions of the Christian faith, widely recorded throughout the New Testament. Today, this land continues to host some of the most ancient churches. However, the Christian presence has shrunk dramatically in the last century due to many adverse circumstances.
Today, only less than 0.2% of Turkey's population is Christian. But even this tiny, dwindling minority is still routinely exposed to discrimination on many levels. The historical and current situation of Christians in Turkey and the wider region makes one wonder: Is there no end to Christian-hatred in the Muslim world?
Is there also no end to the Jew-hatred, Alevi-hatred, Yazidi-hatred, atheist-hatred and basically hatred of all non-Muslim groups? Is there no end to the bloodshed between the Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims? It seems that Islamic jihad and Islamic supremacism has created a deeply anti-humanitarian culture in the Muslim world, which has caused the extermination or repression of millions of people.
It also seems that it is high time that the activists of the global "human rights community" condemned or at least publicly discussed this "culture of hate" in Muslim communities -- and particularly the Christianophobia. But apparently because the victims are Christian, these "human rights activists" could not care less.
Whether the U.S. administration will speak out for the American Christians whose rights and religious liberty have been violated in Turkey remains to be seen.
Robert Jones, an expert on Turkey, is currently based in the UK.