Paradigm Shift: Pastor Brunson must tell President Trump and others not to politicize him and his work

Turkish relations with the U.S. are at a low point over the detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson, who, amazingly, Turkey has accused of being involved in an attempted coup in 2016. Further, President Erdogan has called the ongoing currency crisis an aggressive action against the Turkish economy, which he described as an attack on the Turkish flag and on the Islamic call to prayer.

To him, the purpose of the pastor’s arrest and of the financial crisis is not different. It aims to bring Turkey and the Turkish people to their knees. In this declaration, Erdogan indirectly mentions President’ Donald Trump’s warnings of more sanctions if the U.S. pastor is not released soon. For the U.S. administration, Turkey’s imprisonment of Brunson has been a problem for a long time. According to Trump in his August 17th statement, “We are not going to take it sitting down,” openly threatening Turkey with more sanctions for the continued detention of the pastor. The Treasure Secretary Steven Munchin supported Trump’s declaration by assuring that Washington had further sanctions ready to implement if Brunson were not released. “We have more that we are planning to do if they don’t release him quickly,” said Munchin.
In the last month the Turkish lira has lost around 40 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar. In response to the threat of more repercussions, Turkey said it would retaliate against any U.S. sanctions imposed, blaming the Trump administration for using the Brunson case for its international political objective as the midterm congressional elections ensue. President Erdogan reminded the public that the Turkish people could avert all attacks against the country thanks to their ability to unite in difficult times, recalling the coup attempt in 2016. He underlined that those who think that they can make Turkey give up through the exchange rate will soon see they are mistaken. From the Turkish point of view, the detention of Andrew Brunson is just an excuse for the U.S. to punish Turkey.
The current crisis between Ankara and Washington is both political and economic. There has been a crisis in the Turkish-U.S relations for a while now. In addition to the Brunson case, Ankara and Washington disagree strongly over other issues, such as Turkey’s buying the Russian S-400 missile system, America’s support in Syria for the Kurdish militia that Turkey views as a terrorist group, as well as the continued U.S. residence of Fethullah Gulen, who Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan claims was behind the failed coup that attempted to oust him two years ago. Ankara and Washington disagree on the future of Jerusalem and of the Palestinians, and in general support opposite camps in the Middle East. In the last couple of years, President Erdogan has been maneuvering to make new friends and allies. Consequently, President Erdogan finds Russian President Vladamir Putin and Chinese Presiden Xi Jinping easier to deal with than their Americans and EU counterparts.
President Erdogan suggested that Turkey could free Brunson if the United States handed over Fethullah Gulen, who is living on American soil. When America demands, “Give us the pastor back,” Turkey responds, “You have one pastor (Gulen). Well, give him to us.” Erdogan rationalizes, “Then we will try him (Brunson) and give him to you.” “The pastor we have is on trial. Yours is not; he is living in Pennsylvania. You can return him easily.” Gulen has denied any role in the coup attempt that killed 250 people and injured a thousand. The U.S. officials claim that Turkey has yet to provide enough evidence for the U.S. Justice Department to act. The problem is that the U.S. government fails to appreciate the Turkish public ‘s position on the July coup attempt and on Gulen’s imbedded organization, FETO. Disheartened by Brunson arrest, the U.S policy makers do not seem to understand how deep anti-Gulen sentiments run in Turkey. The U.S. concerns about the imprisonment of Brunson go hand in hand with Turkey’s frustration over what it perceives to be the U.S.’s harboring of an enemy of the Turkish state.
Yet another reason leading to the crisis between Turkey and the United States is the looming punishment for the Turkish Halkbank, a state owned Turkish bank accused of helping Iran and of breaking the sanctions. While Turkey’s policies on Syria and Iran, its relations with Russia, and its approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict underpin Washington’s attitude toward Ankara, those outside the U.S. view the immediate reason as having more to do with American domestic politics and the upcoming mid-term elections.
President Trump’s style of negotiation keeps the world guessing with his unpredictability, threatening with outrageous outcomes, ratcheting up tensions, magnifying conflict with tweets and taunts, and then compromising by taking a fairly conventional middle ground. For example, initially he planned to withdraw from Syria, but later he ordered missile strikes in Syria. He stated that the U.S. would withdraw from Afghanistan, but then he acquiesced and aligned more or less with the previous administration. His rhetoric incited fear that war with North Korea was eminent, but tater he met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore having kimchi with him; he withdrew from the U.S–Korean trade deal; and later he negotiated with the South Koreans announcing a modest change in the agreements. He questioned the U.S. commitment to its NATO allies and withdrew from NAFTA; he incited a trade war with China threatening China with $100 billion in tariffs. Trump negotiated a very good business deal with Germany, but now he is threatening Iran and imposing sanctions on Iran, even trying to have an Arab NATO in the Middle East. His fickleness leaves the world guessing.
When Presidents Edogan and Trump met last month at the NATO summit, Trump thought he and President Erdogan had made a deal: President Trump would call Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and ask for the release of a Turkish woman held in Israel, and Turkey would release Brunson. Ebru Özkan was released immediately, but Brunson was moved to house arrest, not released. President Trump took personally Turkey’s reneging on its agreement, and now he is demanding Brunson’s unconditional release. Turkey will sooner or later find a way to release the Brunson while saving face, but the damage has been made between Turkey and USA as well as the future Christian status in Turkey. President Erdogan wanted to use Brunson as leverage to reduce the punishment on Halkbank and discourage further investigation of the bank by the U.S. Treasure Department. For sure, President Initially, Erdogan wanted to establish good relations with the Trump administration and did not want to have this conflict with him, but now he is looking at how he can resolve the crisis he faces.
The problem with the Turkish people, especially those in the region, is that if anything bad happens to them, they readily blame foreigners or foreign countries, most notably the long anticipated economic crisis, which President Erdogan is now blaming on the U.S sanctions, in spite of it largely being caused by his own economic policies. President Erdogan is a master at turning situations to his advantage and blaming America. President Erdogan will most likely find a way to release Brunson, but until then the relationship between the countries will be tense.
President Trump has responded by turning the Pastor Brunson issue into a showcase to win the millions of evangelical votes in the upcoming mid-term elections, putting a high level of pressure on Turkey, a strategy that has done more harm to Turkish Christians than good, putting them in danger. The Turkish citizenry take it as a reason to attack evangelicals who are willing to convert Turks, and perhaps the strategy has even led to a growing Christophobia in Turkey. Turkey will sooner or later release Brunson, and after twenty-two years of serving there, Brunson will leave Turkey, but other Christians will stay there so many will be affected after him. Brunson’s high profile has already left many Turks asking questions. “We are Muslims; what is Brunson doing in Turkey in first place? Why did we even allow Brunson to live in Turkey for 20 years?” it is good to have U.S. advocacy for its citizens’ release, but not good to exploit a case politically.
If the Turkish economy runs into more troubles, anti-American sentiments in Turkey would grow even stronger, compelling the government to take an even stiffer stance against the USA. If, on the other hand, Turkey is able to ward off a deepening crisis in its economy, then diplomacy between the two allies could resurface. President Trump threatens additional sanctions, particularly the exercise of a U.S. veto against extending credit or providing facilities to Turkey in international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Ultimately, however, the relationship all depends on the actions and decisions of the leaders of the two countries. The Turkish economy will not collapse, despite the deep problems it is facing. The fundamentals of the economy are strong enough to avoid a melt-down. In fact, Turkey has already taken a number of steps to shore up its economy.
A world-wide reaction against the U.S., both in the East and the West, is leading perhaps to alternative international arrangements to mitigate the effects of American behavior. Not just because it dislikes Trump’s policies, Europe has been supportive of Turkey because they understand that a failed Turkey would also have serious consequences on their economies. Turkish cooperation with Europe and with others will work to Turkey’s benefit. As an opponent of the U.S., Iran has also been very understanding toward Turkey, criticizing American policies. For the stability and prosperity of both countries as well as of the region, continuing cooperation and solidarity between Turkey and Iran is important.
Pastor Brunson’s return to his American home would be welcomed, but this escalation may hurt his cause rather than help it. Economically destabilizing Turkey is not in anyone’s interest. The singular focus on Brunson in the Turkish press among other media, voices the narrative that America only cares about the American Christians, and not all of its citizens because not only is Brunson a prisoner in Turkey, but also, greater damage may be done to others of his faith even if the advocacy for him succeeds,
Pastor Brunson must not let President Trump or any other policy maker use his case as a political scapegoat. If Brunson was called to share his faith with Muslims, then he should not let this commitment to Muslim people be used for any political reason. If Brunson is what he says he is, then he should not forget the Apostle Peter’s response to his persecutors, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” I am sure Brunson knows very well that being a pastor among the Muslim people is a dangerous business. This is nothing new. Most assuredly, he knows that it is a very life-threatening enterprise, especially in Muslim countries, to convert a Muslim to a Christian in an Islamic context, who often will be persecuted and may even be martyred. Brunson is aware that throughout history suffering has been part of his faith but witnessing vital to the growth of the Church, not just among Muslims. Is this the message from Brunson that Muslims and Turks want to hear, and if so, is he willing to lay down his life for his faith? He should not forget to count the cost. Finally, Brunson, who purports to be innocent of involvement in the coup, has a moral responsibility to respect the Turkish Justice System and to tell the U.S. government to stop exploiting his legal case for domestic, economical, and political gain. Most importantly, he must remember that he must exhibit an attitude that is constructive and Christ-like, which he has probably said in words, but in the application this is a opportunity for him to be faithful. Brunson should show the Turkish people he has a “crucified mind” instead of a “crusade mind.” Many Turks believe they are under threat from the United States. Pastor Andrew should live out his message, and Trump should desist from politicizing Brunson’s suffering.
Dr. Aland Mizell is President of the MCI and a regular contributor to Mindanao Times. You may e-mail the author

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