American pastor Andrew Brunson is headed home after two years of detention over what his family and the U.S. government say are trumped up charges of espionage and terrorism.
And a leading organization assisting persecuted Christians is applauding the Trump administration for its handling of the Brunson case while warning that religious freedom is eroding in Turkey.
Brunson was actually convicted in a Turkish court Friday and sentenced to three years and one and a half months of prison. However, the judge released him because the years in detention amounted to “time served.”
A tearful Brunson thanked the court. Earlier he made an emotional plea for release.
“I am an innocent man. I love Jesus. I love Turkey,” said Brunson.
Open Doors USA President and CEO Dr. David Curry says these were bogus charges from the start, trying to tie Brunson to the failed coup against Turkish President Recep Erdogan.
“(Brunson) has been a part of Turkey for over 20 years. He been a faithful pastor there, great part of the community, good citizen. This was a political issue. They tried to use him as a pawn in a larger political game that did not work. We’re grateful that the administration really held the line on this and was able to get him released,” said Curry.
Curry says the prosecution of Brunson was over politics and the pastor’s Christian faith, and the obvious mistreatment allowed for many different nations and groups to pressure Turkey for Brunson’s release.
He also says the Trump administration’s refusal to hand over another figure allegedly tied to the failed coup attempt is a major win.
“We can’t send a signal that hostage diplomacy is going to work. It was a very good move not to give into that,” said Curry.
Since the failed coup in 2016, Erdogan has shown far less tolerance for Christianity.
“The increased raids on churches and these kinds of things that are happening in Turkey are sending signals that the environment is changing there,” said Curry.
However, Curry is most gratified that Brunson remains firm in his faith after this difficult ordeal.
“I think we take encouragement in that. I think it is also a signal to us to really take the lessons of people who go through harder things than we do when we face discouragement or opposition or even some sort of resistance or persecution. Stand in Jesus. It is the solution. It’s the medicine we need for a broken heart. I think Pastor Brunson is an example of that quite well.
Listen to the full podcast to hear more of Dr. Curry’s analysis of the Brunson case, the reality for believers in Turkey and more.