Thursday, May 17, 2007

Christianity in Turkey

"I was immediately connected with the major leaders of the tiny Evangelical and Protestant communities throughout the country. I assumed these Christians would be hesitant to talk on camera, and thinking first of their safety, I certainly wasn’t going to push. But I was interested in hearing first-hand from them what the status of religious liberty is in their homeland, whether there is concern about future violence against them, and what the government is doing about it.

My assumption that they would prefer silence was wrong. They talked freely and fearlessly about their faith and the situation in which they live. “This is real martyrdom,” said one Christian from the city of Izmir, with whom I spoke only by phone. “When you, a loyal citizen, are killed for your faith, and for no other reason. It’s not the fake martyrdom of killing other people in the name of God. But we are not afraid. The early Church flourished in times of persecution. We will flourish too.”

"Looking for a Christian church in Turkey is like finding an apartment in Manhattan — not because there are so many of them, but because they literally look like ordinary apartments. Here, there are no high spires, beautiful facades, or church bells to draw you into Christendom. The churches just blend into their surroundings, so you have to have the exact address to find one."


“Okay, so how is your congregation doing in light of the recent killings? Are you afraid?”

He didn’t hesitate even a second. “Not at all! Jesus is our strength. I’ve been jailed many times, and beaten.”

“Beaten?” I replied, with emphasis of surprise. “But I thought it was legal to be Christian in Turkey?”

"It is,” he said, “but the police don’t know that, or don’t want to know it. They take us in, question us, sometimes rough us up, and then after a week or two, they let us go.”

“And why do they let you go?”

“Because they know if the case goes to court, there will be no law to incriminate us.”

Pastor Behnan repeated several times that he has nothing against the government. He is a loyal Turk, pays his taxes, and is grateful for the freedom of worship Turkish law permits. “Turkish law is good,” he said. “We can worship, and we can even translate and offer Bibles for sale. We never push them on anyone; but they can buy them if they want.”

But in practice, things aren’t so good. On account of widespread rumors, large percentages of the Turkish population are convinced Christians are a threat to national unity. Conspiracy theories abound that promote an environment of mistrust and fear of all non-Muslims. One rumor I heard from several Muslim Turks, for example, was that the CIA has trained and sent 40,000 Christian missionaries into the country to prepare an overthrow of the government.

I asked Pastor Behnan if the killing of the three Christians (whom he knew personally) was a random terrorist attack that could have happened in any country, or if, on the other hand, it was representative of a national problem. His explanation was clear, but not simple.

According to him, while physical acts against Christians have been rare, it would be inaccurate to say this was a random and isolated case. Ten young men worked together for many weeks to plan and carry out the torture and murder. They even pretended to be interested in Christianity to gain the trust of the men they would later kill. Pastor Behnan says this premeditated barbarism is fruit of the misinformation being spread to the masses by some Muslim religious leaders and even some high-level government officials. He says these men are purposefully creating an environment that promotes hatred of Christians, and as long as this sentiment spreads, people on the fringe will continue to carry out acts of violence in the name of religion and national unity." - Day One: Christianity in Turkey - FOX Fan

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