IN THE summer of 2018, the United States sanctioned its NATO ally Turkey over its continued imprisonment of Andrew Brunson, an Evangelical Presbyterian pastor from North Carolina. Brunson, who had lived for decades in Izmir, had then been held for almost two years, and President Donald Trump’s support for him, in particular when speaking to Christian audiences, led to sanctions that had a significant impact on Turkey. Brunson was sentenced and released the following October.
Brunson’s account is mainly about his emotional and spiritual struggle in those years of detention, a confinement often in squalid conditions, sometimes cooped up with hostile inmates, usually with other victims of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s neurotic oppression of real or imaginary groups. It is clear that none of the (often changed) charges by various state actors were true, and no serious evidence was ever presented. In Brunson, then, we have a passionate evangelist, politically naïve, who becomes the victim of a paranoid populist state.
Brunson’s naïve Southern Evangelical religiosity sees God as fully interventionist in everything that happens to him. His theology is a source of profound anguish. He talks about God’s toughening him up, and his and his friends’ prayers are expected to work like magic spells, but in the end it is neither the Bible nor his prayer that helps, but the psychiatrist’s prescription. His faith and his sanity depend on mundane medicine. Also significant in his ultimate liberty is the closeness of his denomination with significant political actors, particularly Mike Pence and President Trump, who is one of the heroes of the book.PAAndrew Brunson prays with President Trump in the Oval Office, October 2018
For many years, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom has been reporting on the oppression of Christians, inter alia, in Turkey. Brunson was completely unaware of this. His own very narrow world is reflected by his narrative. A simple man finds himself the tool of President Erdoğan’s bullying populism, and he is rescued by the very similar President Trump.
This book is well worth reading. It would be an excellent one to discuss when asking questions about the intervention of God in daily life, but also the ascription to God of wrong actions by the powerful; for Brunson, despite the book’s title, was President Erdoğan’s prisoner, not God’s. He has a theology deep in the world of the Old Testament. It is powerful from a human-rights perspective, too, as it reveals the cruelty of the Turkish government.
The Revd Stephen Griffith is a retired Anglican priest. He specialises in Syria and the Syriac community in Turabdin.
God’s Hostage: A true story of persecution, imprisonment, and perseverance
Andrew Brunson with Craig Borlase
Authentic Media £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9