Sunday, April 09, 2006

In Turkey, a Deep Suspicion of Missionaries

"The priest was a missionary, residents whispered to one another, and his death resulted from a dispute over the money Turks have long believed missionaries pay to Muslims they are trying to convert."

" Mahya Usta, the attorney for the Turkish teenager accused in the murder, said missionary work "has nothing to do with my case." And leaders of Turkey's tiny, embattled Christian community said the ancient rumor of people paying for converts was an especially bad fit for Santoro.

"We have no money," said Bishop Luigi Padovese, vicar apostolic of Anatolia. "I gave Andrea 300 euros a month. If he gave 100 to each person. . . ."

But if the local version of events appears to have scant grounding in fact, it is anchored in a deep-seated mistrust of Christianity in Turkey, a nominally secular republic that U.S. officials frequently cite as a democratic model for the Muslim world."

"Unlike Afghanistan, which last month threatened to execute a Christian convert, the country has no laws barring Muslims from leaving the faith or against attempts to lure them away.

Yet Turkish police charged 293 people with "missionary activity" from 1998 to 2001, a state minister told parliament recently. People who place calls to Christian groups operating inside Turkey are warned against uttering the word "missionary" on an open phone line."

"Missionaries and the Crusades are related," Turkey's Directorate of Religious Affairs declared in a pamphlet published last June. The directorate, which exercises control over all Turkish mosques, distributed a sermon for Friday prayers nationwide a year ago. Imams warned worshipers that missionaries were involved in a plot to "steal the beliefs of our young people and children."

"Karatas, the Protestant spokesman, said fellow Turks often ask him: " 'If there is a war, whose side are you going to fight on?' I just couldn't get them to understand that even though I'm a Christian, my feeling for my country is the same. They just don't understand this."

Behnan Konutgan, an official with the Bible Society in Turkey who has said every Christian is obliged to spread the Good Word, has been arrested repeatedly. "When I am preaching," he said, "people think I'm an enemy of the country."
In Turkey, a Deep Suspicion of Missionaries

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