Andrew Brunson and the Trump Evangelicals

Trump Brunson

I recently did an interview on Brunson and the Trump evangelicals for the Turkish news agency Ahval.  Here is a taste of Claire Sadar’s piece:

John Fea, professor at Messiah College and author of the book “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump”, which documents and analyses white evangelical support for Trump, answered “absolutely yes” when asked if Trump’s handling of the Brunson case has proved Trump’s Christian bona fides to his evangelical base. “Religious liberty was one of Trump’s most important campaign promises to American evangelicals. Every time he and Mike Pence weigh-in on the Brunson case they score points with this part of his political base,” Fea told Ahval.

Read the entire piece here.

2 thoughts on “Andrew Brunson and the Trump Evangelicals

  1. Dr. Fea,

    These purely electoral motivations you’ve mentioned on President Trump’s part probably exist, but a lot of the energy to secure Andrew Brunson’s release is due to the tireless work of his (any my own) denomination, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). The EPC has been relentlessly advocating for Brunson since February, 2017 (see these links for more information: https://cameronshaffer.com/2017/02/08/andrew-brunson-christian-pastor-still-in-prison/ and here: https://epc.org/news/freepastorandrew/). This advocacy work included drawing attention to Brunson’s condition quite a bit before the court evangelicals got involved.

    Brunson’s daughter spoke at the 2018 EPC General Assembly (https://epconnection.org/2018/07/09/38th-ga-sings-andrew-brunsons-worthy-of-my-all-hears-daughter-read-letters-from-prison-describe-familys-ordeal/), and our denomination, though mostly white and not well known, does include black and Latino pastors who are tirelessly praying for Andrew, contrary to the Ahval article. It is unhelpful to reduce the work of the church to a handful of loud celebrity pastors on Twitter.

    Perhaps Trump’s interest in Brunson is merely political, but he started commenting on the issue in April, 2018, the same month Mike Pompeo was confirmed as Secretary of State. Secretary Pompeo is a member, and former deacon of, an EPC congregation (https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/social-issues/mike-pompeo-gets-spiritual-support-from-his-home-church-in-kansas/2018/04/20/071b4f6a-441e-11e8-8569-26fda6b404c7_story.html?utm_term=.a5c7a1aa35aa). It’s likely Sec. Pompeo’s familiarity with the issue is what brought it to President Trump’s attention. But this is not a merely partisan issue: for example, 66 members of the Senate demanded Brunson’s release (https://www.tillis.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2018/4/bipartisan-group-of-66-senators-send-letter-to-president-erdogan-demanding-release-of-pastor-andrew-brunson). It is also international: 100 MEPs demanded Brunson’s release as well (http://media.aclj.org/pdf/Lettre-MEP-avec-liste-des-signatures.pdf).

    It’s also not true that the administration “belatedly” began commenting on the issue, as Ahval suggests. In November, 2017 the Senate’s Helsinki Commission held hearings on Brunson, including testimony from the State Department (https://www.layman.org/u-s-helsinki-commission-hears-pleas-andrew-brunsons-daughter/). The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has been actively involved in this case for some time, commenting publicly as early as October, 2017 (http://www.uscirf.gov/news-room/press-releases/turkey-uscirf-delegation-visits-imprisoned-us-citizen-pastor-andrew-brunson).

    Perhaps it is true that President Trump is only interested in Brunson in order to gain votes (and even then, so what?), but Ahval’s suggestion “The domestic politics behind Brunson’s rise to being a cause celebre are quite straightforward. An evangelical pastor who presided over a small congregation in Izmir for more than 20 years, his status as a persecuted Christian appeals to the identity politics of the powerful white evangelical Christian voting bloc” ignores the reality that evangelicals outside of the Trumpian court have been advocating for Brunson long before President Trump focused on him. It also fails to recognize the bi-partisan and international efforts for his release, and mis-characterizes the pre-April 2018 efforts by the administration to secure his release. But most importantly, it casts the efforts to secure Andrew Brunson in purely electoral terms, without acknowledging the injustice of the situation. The article dismisses the efforts of the EPC, other Christians, and the U.S. government by implying that the only reason to advocate for Brunson’s release is score political points or to validate the evangelical-persecution complex, rather than pointing out the obvious: Brunson is an illegitimately detained American, who is in prison for the sake of the gospel.

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    • Thanks for these clarifications. I am somewhat familiar with the Brunson case and realize that is has been ongoing. The reporter asked me to comment on the political implications of Trump’s involvement, which I did.

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