They Know Not What They Do

By Bill Mefford

For those who love irony, the trump administration is a gift. Promises to "drain the swamp" have given rise to the most corrupt administration in US history, with more investigations,  indictments, charges, and convictions of campaign and cabinet officials than any other administration in history. Chants of "Lock her up!" were led by the first guy in this administration to be charged with a crime - and it took all of 18 days into the administration for Michael Flynn to be forced out (sentencing has yet to be handed down). 

And this is just the tip pf the iceberg. But the problem is that the irony surrounding trump is not really all that humorous or satisfying. It is a mixture of sad, infuriating, and pathetic. 

But I found something last week that is so replete with irony that I have to share. In fact, I wish this was being more widely discussed. Listen to this. 

We all have seen evangelicals fawn all over trump as he is now the leader of the evangelical movement. He is their white knight - quite literally - saving them from the ravages of secular humanism that is sweeping the nation, robbing evangelicals of their rights, persecuting them at every spoken word, every decision they make, every wedding cake they refuse to bake, and every gay marriage they deny. 

Or so goes the evangelical thinking. 

This is, of course, a big pile of horse manure - there is no persecution of Christians in the United States. Absolutely none. But regardless, evangelicals love trump. That cannot be denied. And one case they care strongly about is the case of American pastor, Andrew Brunson, who is being tried in Turkey on charges of terrorism. To evangelicals in the United States, Brunson is a posterboy of the Islamic-based persecution sweeping across the world. 

Brunson has been a missionary in Turkey for twenty five years, pastoring a church in a city called Izmir, which is located near the Mediterranean Sea. Turkey was a gateway to Europe for Syrian refugees fleeing in 2014 when the violence erupted there, provoked by Syrian president Assad, who has gassed his own people and committed all kinds of human rights atrocities. 

Brunson saw the arrival of literally millions of refugees into the southwestern part of Turkey and he did not see "invaders" as many Turks viewed them. He saw people in need - beloved children of God, in need of sanctuary. Brunson longed to give them sanctuary so he mobilized his church to care for them, welcome them, and to share with them the love of Jesus. At the very least, Brunson was acting like a Christian. This is what Christians have historically done when racism and nationalism spurs anger and violence towards immigrants and refugees fleeing persecution. Brunson deserves to be praised. 

But in caring for the refugees, Brunson and his church were viewed as being revolutionary. Literally. In response to an attempted military coup in 2016, Turkey's president, Erdogan has used this as an excuse for a power grab and he has helped to stoke rising Turkish nationalism, particularly against the Kurds, who mostly reside in southwestern Turkey, which was where Brunson frequently traveled to minister to the newly arriving Syrian refugees. 

The conflict between ethnic Kurds and Turks is quite old and so when Brunson welcomed Kurds into his church while often traveling to Kurdish territory it only drew more suspicion from Turkish officials and even among some of the Turks who were members of his church. All of this activity made Brunson ripe for rumors of Turks back in Izmir, which the racism against Kurds was rising to a fever pitch due to the increasing nationalism. 

So, Brunson was arrested in 2016 on charges of terrorism, all because he wants to welcome and minister to Syrian refugees and he longs to be an ambassador of reconciliation between Kurds and Turks who historically have been at odds. His arrest is as much due to the nationalism and racism as it is to anything he has done. 

Now, you catching the irony? I thought you might. 

Evangelicals, and their leader, donald trump, are concerned about the welfare of someone who wants to welcome Syrian refugees - who are Muslim, by the way, and he refuses to stop ministering to those in need even though he is surrounded by people who, out of their racism and nationalism, have adopted the creed, "Turkey first." Brunson wants to welcome the millions of Syrian refugees while US evangelicals and their leader, trump, have pushed against accepting any Syrian refugees (or ANY refugees at all, for that matter). Through the first four months of 2018 the US had accepted 11 Syrian refugees. Eleven. 

The irony is so thick it is hard to believe how easily it has been lost on trump and his evangelical minions. 

Now, I have no hope that the irony of this situation will be explained to trump. He seems about as interested in nuance and illumination as I am in vegetables. Not happening. 

But do you think the reality of this situation will dawn on evangelicals advocating for Brunson's release? I doubt it, but I have a little more hope on this end. Just a little. 

But let me tell you, when it comes to religious persecution, progressives really ought to get off their butts. It is a real thing, though much more nuanced than evangelicals seem to think. There are almost always multiple causes for persecution that are not so easily cut and dried as evangelicals like to make them. Still, progressives should care about this issue because it is indeed a human rights issue.

But if I was Pelosi or Schumer or some liberal pol running for president, I would make the Brunson case a cause to mobilize people around. This presents a perfect way to talk about the idolatrous "America First" nonsense that has given nationalists excuse to be racist in the name of God and country. Talking about why Brunson is being charged for being a terrorist should bring shame and much needed silence to all those who repeatedly make xenophobic statements about refugees, immigrants, and Muslims. 

Sometimes the best way to address the baseness in our culture is to hold up a window into another culture and allow it to become a mirror we can see ourselves in. We should care about Andrew Brunson not because he claims to be Christian, but because he actually acts like one. He refuses to bow down to the sins of racism and nationalism that are so rampant in Turkey, and I can only hope that if he were in the United States right now he would stand on the opposite side of trump and his evangelical base and demand that the United States do better than it is doing in resettling all refugees. 

My prayer is that he is freed. But even more, I pray his liberation can bring liberation to some of his racist and nationalist supporters here. Lord, in your mercy. 

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