- Is American pastorAndrew Brunson coming home?
Over the weekend, US Secretaryof State, Mike Pompeo
said he's hopeful Turkey's government
will allow Pastor Brunson toreturn to the United States
in the coming days.
The 50-year old you seethere on the screen,
he's a native of NorthCarolina, he was arrested
back in December 2016,claiming that he was a spy
and had connections to a terrorist group.
Brunson was recentlyreleased into house arrest,
but the charges he'sfacing mean he could spend
the rest of his lifein prison if convicted.
Joining me to discussPastor Brunson's case
is a distinguished panel of CBN experts,
all of whom have covered thisstory from multiple angles.
First we start with BenKennedy, he is our White House
correspondent, joins us at the North Lawn.
Jennifer Wishon is CBN's seniorWashington correspondent,
John Waage is our senior editor
who is currently in Jerusalem.
And here in studio with meis CBN's senior international
correspondent, Gary Lane.
Thank you all for your time.
Jennifer, let me begin with you.
Can you briefly tell us whoexactly is Andrew Brunson
and why was he arrestedin the first place?
- Sure George, wellAndrew Brunson is a pastor
from North Carolina who haspastored a church in Turkey
for 23 years peacefullyand without incident.
Two years ago, you may remember,there was a coup attempt
against Turkish President Recep Erdogan.
After that attempted coupattempt, Erdogan became
very paranoid, he cracked downon anyone he saw as a threat.
He literally arrested hundredsof thousands of academics,
of civil servants, ofpolitical dissidence,
and Christians who are areligious minority in Turkey
got swept up in that.
And so Andrew Brunson aroundthat time was summoned
to his local police department, again,
he had lived in this communityfor more than 20 years.
He was summoned to show his papers.
And he thought that at best,his visa would be renewed
and at worst he would be deported
as other Christians had been.
However, Andrew Brunsonwas detained and he was put
into an over crowded prisoncell where no one spoke English,
there were no other Christians,he was often sent to
solitary confinement, hewas not allowed to leave
his prison cell, and heremained in that state
for 18 months before Turkeyfiled any charges against him.
And when they did, it came in the form
of a 62 page indictment
where he was charged withpreaching the gospel in Turkey,
he was charged with planningthe coup against Erdogan years
before it ever happened, andhe was charged with being
a part of a terrorist organization,
many terrorist organizationsin fact, among other things.
And so since that time, hehas had several court hearings
and recently was placedunder house arrest,
which was an improvement,but now folks who are
following his case are concerned that
he may not be safe underhouse arrest because
he has been so smearedin the Turkish press
that many people in Turkey don't like him
and see him as an enemy of the state.
And that's where we are today, George.
- Yeah, excellent analysisand overview of the situation.
Let me go to Ben at the White House.
This issue really came toprominence in a greater light
when President Trump came into office
and in the last six, sevenmonths has really honed in
on the case of Mr. Brunson.
Ben, tell us why PastorBrunson's case is so important
to President Trump.
- Well yeah George, you're right.
For one, President Trump caresfor Evangelical Christians,
he listens to them, andthey have really been on
the front lines fighting forPastor Brunson's release.
So Evangelical Christians are in his ear.
We have seen Trump tweetabout it, calling Brunson
an innocent man of faith whoshould be released immediately.
Trump added that the missionarypastor is suffering greatly
and we continue to hear thosestories come out of Turkey.
Brunson has lived in Turkeyfor more than two decades
as Jennifer was talkin'about, he is not a threat
and in the 23 years, he hasnot committed any crimes.
So this is a man who wantsto share the word of God
and bring people to the church.
Another reason Trump caresis Vice President Mike Pence,
who himself is also a devout Christian
who is advocating forPastor Brunson's release
and other Americans detainedin foreign countries
to also be released.
So it appears PastorBrunson has a lot of allies
right here behind me atthe White House, George.
- And remember Ben, youput this in the context
of when the president gaveone of his first interviews
coming on the scene, takingover the White House,
he spoke to our very ownDavid Brody and mentioned
that in his administration,religious freedom
and the plight ofChristians around the world
will take a more prominentrole than it has ever been.
So you look at his focus on Pastor Brunson
in the context of his ownview of how Christians
around the world have suffered, right,
and this administration is keenly aware,
just in the last few days they've had
significant gatherings on theissue of religious freedom
and the plight of those who suffer
for their faith aroundthe world, right Ben?
- Oh George, absolutely no doubt.
We've seen PresidentTrump turn to his faith
time and time again,and when world leaders
are here behind me meetingwith President Trump
in the Oval Office or somewhereon the White House grounds,
he brings up religion.
That has been severalof the questions posed
to President Trump when these dignitaries,
when world leaders stopin for a discussion
with the Commander inChief and he said yes,
I did bring up religiousliberty, religious freedom,
and he did bring that upwith several countries,
including North Korea, atthe big summit that happened
several months ago.
As you are well aware, George,North Korea is one of the,
if not the worst place to be a Christian.
There literally is noreligious liberty or freedom
and President Trump continuestime and time again.
We see through thisadministration to put that
at the forefront when talkingwith these world leaders.
- Yeah, John let me goto you in Jerusalem.
Sir, this case took on adramatic turn as you know
last week when the WhiteHouse suddenly decided
to slap sanctions on two veryhigh ranking Turkish officials
accused of arresting Pastor Brunson.
That's highly unprecedented, right?
- Right, you don't havemuch precedent for that,
but then you don't have much precedent
for a president like Trump.
He comes into it very, veryshort part of his career
has been as a politician,
and he is seeing things througha different set of lenses
and so we're gonna get adifferent set of actions
from the White House from time to time
and this is one of those times.
But the two high ranking officials that he
placed sanctions on,that's largely symbolic,
but it's still a significant thing.
The interior ministerand the justice minister.
Interior minister would be like
our department of homeland security.
These are two guys that by and large
represent the budding police state really
that Erdogan is building in Turkey
and to the shock ofpeople who value democracy
and respect Turkey'stradition of secularism.
Of course that's been changingover the last 14 years or so,
but yes, it is different andGeorge, this isn't the end
of the possibilities forwhat President Trump could do
with the enormous economiccloud of the United States.
You know, there are otherthings he can do to the
Turkish industrialists andpeople who back the bankers,
who back Erdogan's movesthat he's been making lately.
This is just kind of a toestepping in the water right now,
there could be more andI think that's part of
Trump's total dedicationto saying we're serious
about this Brunson matter.
- Yeah, to Gary here in the studio,
Gary back in 2008 theUS dollar was equivalent
to one lira, which isthe Turkish currency.
Today, $1 basicallypurchase you about five lira
on the market, it hasplummeted, lost it's value.
Clearly this issue alongwith all of our various
long standing issues with Turkey is making
an economic dent on the country.
- I think it is George,many times the markets react
to what may come, notwhat has just happened.
And if we do not see Brunson released,
we're likely to see more sanctions.
Maybe sanctions againstTurkey itself, a NATO ally
and you and I, George, weretalking earlier about this
before this program,that Erdogan will respond
because he wants to be amember of the European Union.
He hasn't given up on thatdream, I think it's less likely
today than it was maybe several years ago,
but he still wants to be a part of the EU.
Trump knows that, theEuropean Union knows that,
and therefore they know thathe will bow to pressure.
But he needs to save some face here.
So some type of deal willhave to be worked out
where Erdogan can saveface and not seem like
he's kowtowing to the westerners.
- Jennifer, let me go to you.
You know, this is acase that is playing out
in a country that is increasinglyhostile to Christians
and increasingly becoming more Islamic.
Erdogan since he came intopower, my understanding
is that he has built over 20,000 mosques
all across Turkey.
Clearly, the plight ofChristians minority group
in the country, theycontinue to suffer, right?
- Absolutely, and this is something that,
I mean especially, we keepsaying this is a NATO ally,
especially with a NATOally this is something that
US officials are watchingvery closely because
the US has a prerogative topromote religious freedom.
And actually today, justhours ago, I interviewed
the vice chair of the USCommission on International
Religious Freedom whoattended Pastor Brunson's
last hearing in July.
And she painted anextraordinary scene for me.
She said that his courthearing was in a gymnasium
attached to the prison, in a huge room,
and at the front therewas an elevated dias where
three judges sat lookingdown physically on Brunson
when he was brought in.
And behind Brunson, there wereshe said at least 500 chairs
between him and where internationalobservers like herself
and Pastor Brunson's wifewere allowed to sit and watch.
And so she said that asanytime Pastor Brunson would
turn around, his wifeknows that he can't see
distances very well, so shewould stand up out of her seat
and put her hand over herheart so that her husband
would know that she wasthere and supporting him.
And you mention this move by Erdogan
to create a more Islamic state in Turkey,
but interestingly, PastorBrunson used that court hearing
to witness to the peoplewho were in the room,
to share his Christian faith.
Let's listen to her descriptionof what he had to say.
- Pastor Brunson sat therewhile he heard former
church members, peopleprobably that he baptized,
people that he had teawith, testify against him.
For two hours he heard his former friends
testify against him at what could be
a life sentence for him.
And the judge at one pointturned to him around noon time
and asked Andrew Brunsonto speak for himself.
And he said, "My faithteaches me to forgive,
"so I forgive those whojust testified against me."
There was a chill in the room.
- Yeah, so she said that atthat moment everyone in the room
realized that even thoughthese former church members
had been testifying againsthim, really with bogus charges,
unsubstantiated, thateveryone in the room knew
that his faith is real.
That when he says hebelieves in Jesus Christ,
that Jesus is his savior,that that is real.
And it was just such apowerful, moving experience.
- Yeah, unfortunately Jennifer, you know
we have a situation wherethe Turkish government
continues to paint Mr. Brunson as a spy.
I think Ms. Director we've got two images
of recent newspapers,the Takvim is actually
owned by Erdogan'sfamily and right in there
they paint Pastor Brunson.
The Aksam is also anothernewspaper owned by the Erdogan
family, they paint Mr.Brunson as a CIA spy,
a priest who is actually a spy.
Gary, let me go to you.
Christians are continuingto suffer in this country,
there was a recent programon a national TV network
owned by Erdogan's familythat basically said that
Evangelical Christiansare a national threat
to the country and a globalthreat around the world.
- George, I think that is something new,
a new development saying thatEvangelicals are a threat
to not only Turkey but the world.
But let's look backbecause many people say
oh, things are getting badin Turkey for Christians,
it's always been bad forChristians in Turkey.
Let's not forget, 1915,the Armenian genocide.
In 1923 when Kamal Attaturk came to power,
everyone thought oh he'simplementing more of
a secular society but healso took steps to make
Christians more of a minority
and to seize Christian property.
Now that got worse, ofcourse George in 2002
when the Ak Parti party came to power,
the justice and development party,
that's Erdogan's party, andprogressively since then
we've seen things get worse.
Just about a year anda half, two years ago,
church property wasconfiscated in Diyarbakir
against the Kaldians and thenalso against the Armenian
Christians there, andChristians have tried to get
their property, their church property back
from this government.
The government has refusedto give back property
of the, Christian property, and you know,
if Erdogan wants to become amember of the European Union,
he's gonna have to let goof that church's property
and stop persecuting Christians.
- Ben, let me go toyou at the White House.
Okay, so the sanctions areput in place, what next?
I mean, as John mentioned, theseare symbolic in large part.
First time that the UnitedStates has levied sanctions
against a fellow NATO nation.
What's next from your perspectivethere at the White House?
- Well, you know George, you're right.
The sanctions are step one.
A move designed to put theTurks on notice that the clock
has essentially run out.
Turkey's president is nowtalkin' about retaliatory
sanctions, Gary mentionedthat earlier, against the US.
No doubt this move is notgoing to help the situation
or speed up Brunson's release.
You have to remember, the USand Turkey are NATO allies.
I expect talks to continue between
the Trump administration and Turkey.
Secretary of State MikePompeo, as you remember,
just sat down with Turkey'sforeign minister in Singapore
where the talks weresaid to be constructive
and that this issue is straight forward,
adding that we are going to find a way
to bring him home soon.
So that is definitely goodnews, but at the end of the day,
Pastor Brunson has not been released.
So I don't expect President Trump
to really let up on the gasuntil that happens, George.
- Absolutely, the economicand the political pressure
will continue to be exerted on Turkey.
In fact, Turkey's presidentover the weekend said that
President Trump's slappingof sanctions on these two
cabinet members wasdisrespectful in his words,
in president Erdogans words.
John Waage to you the Jerusalem.
There's a well known Turkishnovelist, Alsi Erdogan,
no relation to presidentErdogan, who went a step further
talking about the Islamicnature of her country.
She warned that her countryis sliding into fascism,
what are her concerns?
- Right, and it was ofinterest here in Israel because
it was published in the Times of Israel,
which is one of the leadingEnglish language dailies here.
It was published just today.
And you know basicallyshe's saying her country
is not Germany of the1940s, but it is becoming
Germany of the 1930s.
Talking about all theconsolidation of the power
that Hitler was makingin Germany in the time.
She warned that every institutionis basically in Turkey
headed for the abyss.
And she's experiencedsome of that first hand
because she was arrested andnow is in exile in Frankfort
and she was arrested during the big sweep,
during the attempted coup, afterthe attempted coup in 2016.
And a staggering number,70,000 people were arrested
in conjunction with thatfailed coup attempt.
She was a newspaper columnist,she's also an author
who's written prize winning work.
And she was swept up in that.
And she's going to betried soon in Ascentia.
But these are the kind ofpeople who have fled Turkey
and are very dismayed atwhat they see happening.
And she pointed, in particular,to the justice system
which has been the replacementjudges who were ousted
in the coup and either jailedor sent away, whatever,
those judges have been replacedby 20-something judges,
people in their 20s whoare Erdogan supporters.
And so you can imaginewhat kind of ripple effect
that might have on theTurkish justice system
in the months and years ahead.
- Yeah, in fact, that wordis that close to about 40,000
members of Turkey's military,they were also purged
in this process.
There's a caricature thatwas recently published
in the Economist and ithas an image of Erdogan
speaking to his doctor,and he says hello doctor.
It's me president of Turkey,I have a growing problem.
And you see this image ofErdogan with the metal, steel
grip with thorns.
Now he says it's in my hand,it has a habit of grabbing
power, squeezing opponents,and threatening free media.
But right now, my countryis under a lot of stress
for a lot of reasons andneeds a different touch.
So the doctor says, so you wantme to surgically remove it?
And Erdogan replies, actually I was hoping
you would make it bigger.
Gary, earlier this year theWashington Post editorial
board said Erdogan was becoming a dictator
and transforming Turkeyinto a totalitarian prison.
He was recently givensweeping constitutional powers
that no democratically elected leader
in Turkey has ever had.
What is Erdogan's long termpolitical and religious goals?
- Well power, and I think hesees himself as a new sultan,
as a new caliphate.
He wants to reestablishthe Islamic caliphate
throughout the middle east.
That was his goal with Syria.
He opposed Assad, he wantedto see Bashar Assad deposed,
he worked to help supportISIS, buying oil from ISIS.
They controlled some oilfields when they had control
of a third of Syria and Iraq,he bought oil from them.
Also, people in the middleeast told me that he allowed
them, ISIS, access to go acrossthe border back and forth.
He wanted to use them tonot only opposed Assad,
but also the Kurdishpeople in northern Syria
and in parts of Iraq who have long opposed
the Turkish government.
So he wanted to consolidatehis power, use it to branch out
and spread a caliphate, George,throughout the middle east
beginning with Syria.
Which, you know, I've talked to many Arabs
in the middle east, especiallyin places like Egypt.
And it's like no, we don't want to have,
even though we are Sunni Muslims as well,
we do not want to see the Turks restore
a caliphate in the middle east.
- Yeah, that is not going to happen.
Let me go to Jennifer inour Washington DC bureau.
As you know Jennifer,there is a lot of angst
between Turks, Kurds,Arabs, Sunnis, and Shias,
but I'm curious as we wrap this up,
does the presidentshandling of the Brunson case
send a message to othercountries that if you persecute
Christians or violatereligious freedom rights,
there will be consequences?
- Absolutely, I mean the factthat you have the president
of the United States, the vice president,
you have 66 US senatorswho signed a letter
demanding that Pastor Brunson be released.
The fact that the US Senatehas said we're not gonna
give you these F-35 jetsthat you so desperately want,
it does send a strong message.
And it's not just the president, you know,
US law in recent years hasstrengthened America's push
of religious liberty.
But we have to wonder, youknow speaking of Erdogan's end
game, I mean if you look economically,
we know just from we're goingthrough in our own country
that the economy speaks loud and clear.
And so Erdogan is backinghimself into a corner
if he does not soon let Pastor Brunson go.
Textiles are really theremaining strong industry
left in Turkey, the USis the largest importer
of cotton into Turkey, theirlargest commodity is hazelnuts,
and you know, George American'seat a awful lot of Nutella.
So Erdogan is really alienating himself
on the national stage economically.
Also, with his NATO allies andif he wants to join the EU,
I have a feeling he's gonnareally need to straighten up
and lose that iron fist
that you just showed us in the cartoon.
- That's right, I neverthought in this conversation
we would be talking aboutAndrew Brunson and Nutella,
but we are.
Finally, let me go to Benbecause this is obviously
in the calculus not justof Anchora or Istanbul,
it is also in the calculusof that big, beautiful house
that you stand in frontof because they know
that the pressure is onand Secretary Pompeo's
comments over the weekend,trying to dial down
the rhetoric after slappingthem with these sanctions,
with these two individuals.
Clearly, it is in Turkeysinterest to get this solved
very quickly, right?
- Oh George, you're right.
And to piggyback off whatJennifer was just talking about
here, the more this makeheadlines, the better it is
for Pastor Brunson to be returned home.
The more Trump tweetsabout it, the more that
Secretary Pompeo sits downwith his counterpart in Turkey
and this is one of thetop things that he plans
to discuss among a large array of things.
The better, the fasterreally this will happen.
I think everyone is confident that yes,
Pastor Brunson will be released.
There's no proof of anythingthat he's been accused
of doing and it just, thewhen is this going to happen.
No doubt the president and vice president,
members of congress asJennifer was talkin' about
want this ASAP,
I mean, today would be ideal,but we'll just have to wait
and see how fast this progresses.
But you're right, thelonger this stretches out,
the worse this looks for Turkey.
- Yeah okay, terrific.
Ben Kennedy at the NorthLawn in our nation's capital.
Thank you sir for your fantastic analysis.
To Jennifer Wishon, whocovers all things politics
as well as Nutella these days.
Jennifer thank you somuch for your insights.
And to my friend JohnWaage, who finds himself
in the city of Jerusalemgiving us perspective
from the middle east sir,thank you to all of you
for coming on the show.
Gary, my final questionto you, final thoughts,
what impact will this have?
As I mentioned at the top of the show,
already we have issueswith Turkey because of its
influence in Iran, in Syria,relations with Russia,
growing relations with Russia.
What impact do you think thiscase of Mr. Andrew Brunson
will have on US Turkeyrelations going forward?
- Well they're not goodright now, but look,
it's in the long term strategic interest
of the United States to resolve this.
We need Turkey, we've gota major air base there
that supports our strategicinterests in the middle east.
Also Turkey needs the United States
as Erdogan wants to proceedand become a member of the EU
he needs to make good withthe United States, Trump,
and with the European Union.
So I don't expect this isgonna last too much longer,
George, it should be resolved soon.
I think what is neededthough is Erdogan needs a way
to save face and a way out of this.
- As somebody who understandsthe middle east culture,
that is very much a part of it.
So we continue to pray for Andrew Brunson
as well as the otherAmericans who are languishing
in Turkey as we speak.
Okay, so for the latest from CBN News,
whether it's on the issues in Turkey
or in our nations capital,you can go to cbnnews.com.
On behalf of Gary Lane, I'm George Thomas,
thank you so much for joining us
and stay tuned always, 24/7 to CBN News.