A “New Hitler,” an Old Prophecy and Andrew Brunson

A New HItler, An Ancient Prophecy, and Andrew Brunson

In Turkey, an emerging despot consolidates his power—and an American pastor is caught in the crossfire. Does Andrew Brunson look like an “armed terrorist” to you?

Updated 10/8/17. This is the seventh post in this “Stories of Reckless Faith” series.

Erdogan: A Despot of Biblical Proportions

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has served as President of Turkey since 2014. Joel Richardson, a Christian filmmaker and author focused on the Middle East, says he is becoming the most dangerous actor in a region noted for bad actors.

“If Erdogan is not stopped, history will recognize him as the closest thing to the Adolf Hitler of our generation.”

The Coup and the Crackdown

For most of his decades-long political career, Erdogan has assumed a moderate stance. But in July 2016, the Turkish military attempted a coup—which some believe Erdogan himself orchestrated. The coup was squashed at great cost: more than 300 killed and more than 2100 injured.

Erdogan has used the coup as justification to tighten his grip on the majority-Muslim nation of eighty million. (>95% are Muslim; <1% Christian.) According to CNN, in the coup’s aftermath Erdogan’s forces:

  • Detained 113,260 people
  • Arrested 47,155, including…
    • 10,732 police officers
    • 7,631 members of the military including 168 generals
    • 2,575 judges and prosecutors
    • 131 journalists
  • Caused 2,708 journalists to be dismissed or deported
  • Shut down 179 media outlets
Soldiers Suffer in Detention After the Coup

Soldiers arrested for participation in the coup suffer in detention. Did Erdogan himself orchestrate the coup?

Reports are particularly dire concerning treatment of those arrested on suspicion of involvement in the failed coup. Mosques all across Turkey—which enjoy the benefit of government funding—called on the Turkish people “to take to the streets and airports” in defense of Erdogan’s regime. Hardline vigilantes answered the call, hunting Turkish soldiers and beating, torturing, lynching them.

The brutality continued once surrendered soldiers reached police stations. Amnesty International reported that it “gathered credible evidence that up to 10,000 detainees in Turkey are being subjected to beatings and torture, including rape…. Turkish police in Ankara and Istanbul are holding detainees in stress positions for up to 48 hours, denying them food, water and medical treatment, and verbally abusing and threatening them. In the worst cases some have been subjected to severe beatings and torture, including rape.” (Yes, this is homosexual rape. Some Muslims believe homosexuality is only a sin for the effeminate partner.)

Erdogan’s Chilling New Powers

With dissent brutally and effectively silenced, Erdogan made a chilling move to consolidate his power base. In April 2017, his Justice and Development Party was able to persuade voters to approve a constitutional reform package, in essence voting to “trade democracy for a system of government that looks like authoritarian rule.” Erdogan gained frightening new powers, with authority over all branches of government.

Before and After Constitutional ReferendumTurkey’s constitutional referendum granted Erdogan
disturbing new powers (Source: CNN)

The issue? “…Electoral fraud,” Dr. Aykan Erdemir, a former member of Turkey’s parliament, told Christian World News. “There are hundreds of cases of ballot box stuffing. What’s even more scandalous is the Supreme Council of Election changed the rules of counting over an hour into the counting which is always an embarrassing smoking gun.”

The Cross and the Crescent

Erdogan is pushing the nation, a key NATO ally, sharply toward Sharia law. His recent speeches have been marked by a “belligerent clash of Islam versus Christianity. It’s the battle of the cross versus the crescent rhetoric,” Erdemir says. Such rhetoric “mobilizes people, it brings votes to Erdogan…

“He knows first-hand that the magic formula in a majority Muslim country is incitement. Religious incitement…. If Turkey goes forward with Erdogan’s proposal for a second referendum on death penalty we could see further reprisals against Turkey’s minority faith leaders.”

Istanbul's Hagia Sophia

Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, a dazzling example of Byzantine architecture, constructed in 527 A.D. The world’s largest cathedral for over 1000 years, Turkey now plans to repurpose it as a mosque. (Photo: Omar David Sandoval Sida – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Authorities have already used these new powers to seize at least fifty Christian churches. Included in the move are ancient and historic properties such as the Byzantine Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (which was once Christian Constantinople), and the fourth-century Mor Gabriel Monastery.

The Hagia Sophia was the world’s largest cathedral for over 1000 years. It was made over into a mosque in 1453, then into a museum–a fair acknowledgement of its multi-faith background–during Turkey’s moderate Islamic phase beginning in the 1930s. Now it will be repurposed into a mosque again.

Another Brick in the End-Times Prophecy Wall

Turkey’s turn to fundamentalist Islam comes as no surprise to students of Bible prophecy. Ezekiel 38 tells us that in the last days, a coalition will come against Israel–see my post about how we may be seeing that exact coalition form. While there is debate about the location of some of the nations listed in the prophecy, it’s clear that Turkey (Meshech, Tubal, Gomer, Beth Togarmah) and Iran (Persia) are included.

The Ezekiel 38 coalition will be led by a mysterious figure: “Gog of Magog.” While scholars have traditionally believed Magog to be in Russia, Joel Richardson has put forward a persuasive argument that Magog is also located in modern-day Turkey.

When we see Erdogan emerge as an Islamist despot, could we be witnessing Gog’s rise? And the descent into the Ezekiel 38 war?

“Erdogan has increasingly… removed his mask,” Richardson says. “Erdogan and his government are emerging as the greatest potential entity to take control of the emerging pan-Islamist Caliphate. It is long past due that the American government and the praying church awaken to the profoundly caustic mixture of nationalism and Islamism that has emerged in Turkey.”

Andrew Brunson’s Story

Andrew and Norine Brunson

Andrew and Norine Brunson have served quietly in Turkey as ministers of the gospel for 23 years.

Now we turn to the second player in this drama—except, in Andrew’s case, there’s no dramatic backstory. He and his wife, Norine, have quietly pastored in Turkey for more than two decades, planting several evangelical churches. According to an article on the website slate.com:

On Oct. 7, 2016, Andrew Brunson and his wife, Norine, were summoned to a local police station in Izmir, Turkey. At the time, this didn’t seem like anything to worry about. The couple, originally from North Carolina, had lived for 23 years in Turkey’s third largest city, where Andrew was the pastor of the Izmir Resurrection Church, a small protestant congregation of about 25. The Brunsons had raised three children in Turkey and had applied for permanent residency. They went willingly to the police station, thinking they were finally going to get it.

Instead, Andrew and Norine were taken into custody, accused of missionary activities “against national security,” and told they would be deported. Norine was released on Oct. 9 and so far has been allowed to stay in Turkey, but Andrew remains locked up. On Dec. 11, he was moved to a counterterrorism center and charged with “membership in an armed terrorist organization.” A judge ordered that he be detained rather than deported….

It does seem highly dubious that an American evangelical Christian would be a member of a Muslim religious organization. The case against Brunson is reportedly based on the testimony of an undisclosed witness, though reports vary as to what exactly the witness alleges.

Erdogan has as much as admitted that Andrew Brunson is a hostage.

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered to free American pastor Andrew Brunson, imprisoned for allegedly spreading both pro-Kurdish propaganda and supporting Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen despite being a Christian, in exchange for Gulen himself on Thursday.

Erdogan did not appear concerned in his remarks that Brunson would engage in criminal activity if liberated, suggesting the main reason for his arrest was to be used as a bargaining chip for Gulen.

Several members of the U.S. administration have raised Andrew’s case with their Turkish counterparts. President Trump brought it up in a meeting with Erdogan, as did Vice President Pence. Senator James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) traveled to Turkey to advocate for Pastor Brunson and two dozen other imprisoned Americans. But so far, no change has resulted.

“His file is sealed because of Turkey’s state of emergency,” said CeCe Heil, a lawyer with the American Center for Law and Justice, which has been advocating on behalf of Brunson’s family. “We don’t have a lot of information. There’s no evidence. Speculation is the best that anyone has.”

“Unfortunately Pastor Andrew Brunson is now a pawn, kind of a trump card in Erdogan’s hand. There’s absolutely no rule of law, no due process in that case, it’s a completely bogus case. Anyone who has looked at the case knows that these are trumped-up charges,” says Erdemir. “Ankara sees Brunson as a hostage they can use as leverage in their relations with the United States.”

Brunson’s 19-year-old daughter, Jacqueline, spoke with Fox News in a Skype interview.

In it all, he’s remaining faithful. He’s saying, “God, I don’t understand what is happening. I don’t know how much longer this can last. I don’t know what is going to happen in the end…. God, I’m still choosing to follow You despite everything.”

Learning a New Song

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns… (Acts 16:25)

Norine Brunson maintains a Facebook page with updates on Andrew. Here is her moving and inspiring post from last October:

Your prayers have helped bring Andrew to the point of writing this song about a month ago. He sings it to the Lord all the time. Thank you for praying us through.

You are worthy, worthy of my all
My tears and pain I lift up as an offering
Teach me to share in the fellowship of your suffering (Philippians)
Lamb of God you are worthy of my all.

You are worthy, worthy of my all
Adopted as a son, a brother to my King
Indeed I will share in your glory if I share your suffering (Romans 8)
Jesus, you are worthy of my all.

You are worthy, worthy of my all
But my heart faints, drowned in sorrow, overwhelmed
Make me like you, Cross-bearer, persevering, faithful to the end
To stand the trial and receive the crown of life.

You are worthy, worthy of my all
This is my declaration in the darkest hour
Jesus, the Faithful One who loves me, always good and true
You made me yours, you are worthy of my all.

I want to be found worthy to stand before you on that day
With no regrets from cowardice, things left undone
(that is, I want to complete what God has planned and not miss out because of fear)
To hear you say “Well done, my faithful friend, now enter your reward”
Jesus, my Joy, you are the prize I’m running for.
(joy – I say that with my will, not my feelings)

You are worthy, worthy of my all
You are worthy, worthy of my all
What can I give to the Son of God, who gave himself for me
Here I am, you are worthy of my all.

Thank you, Jesus, for putting a new song on Andrew’s lips!

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