". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13

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‘Do Not Run But Stand’: Former Prisoner Andrew Brunson Prepares Christians for Hostility

July 6, 2022

Updated: 07/07/2022 10:13 AM EDT

It was midnight on October 13, 2018. Pastor Andrew Brunson, a survivor of religious persecution in Turkey, was greeted with an American flag as he descended from an Air Force flight in Germany after a harrowing two-year imprisonment. Overwhelmed with joy, he buried his face in the star-spangled banner. 

Back in 1993, Brunson had departed from the U.S. to serve as a pastor for the Izmir Dilrilis (Resurrection) Church in Turkey. For two decades he led the evangelical Presbyterian congregation. However, during the aftermath of a failed coup in 2016, Brunson was arrested on trumped-up terrorism and espionage charges. He spent the next two years in prison.

Throughout this time, Brunson maintained his innocence while Christians across America prayed and advocated for him. New York pastor Bill Devlin and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, who was serving as a U.S. Commissioner on International Religious Freedom, attended his trial in 2018. Despite a guilty verdict from the court, the Turkish court allowed Brunson to return home due to good behavior and time already served. But the America he returned to was drastically different from the country he had left. 

In a “Washington Watch” interview with Perkins, Brunson explained that in the nineties, Christianity was still largely viewed as a socially positive force in America. 

“But in the last eight or ten years, there’s just this sudden acceleration away from this where being a Christian now is actually seen as a social negative,” shared the North Carolina native. “As I come back to the States and I see an environment that is becoming more hostile, I think [it] is going to become much more so in the near future. Many people aren’t prepared for the hardships that come with persecution.”

Brunson expressed that the ongoing cultural shift cannot be fixed by political victories but rather by Christians in diverse industries continuing to champion truth. But in a time when many are “under pressure” to conform, Brunson believes “purification requires fire.” 

In response, Perkins shared that there is also an “eschatological explanation” for the rejection of Christian values. 

“As we near the return of Christ, there is a refinement that is taking place in the church,” Perkins said. “Around the globe, people of different backgrounds are coming to Christ. There is a move of the Spirit in the world today, but also evil is on the march and we’re seeing it prominently here in our nation.”

The two discussed how when the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed in 1993, both sides of the aisle could agree on the matter, but those days are long gone. In recent weeks, multiple places of worship and pregnancy resource centers across the country have been attacked

 “The Supreme Court decision on Dobbs is being portrayed as a victory for Christians that is going to oppress people,” asserted Brunson. “And then you look at the Supreme Court decision on the football coach who was fired from his job for kneeling on the football field after games on his own. And the Supreme Court says, ‘No, we’re going to defend religious freedom. The state shouldn’t be intrusive in that way.’ This is being portrayed in media as, again, a victory for Christians that’s going to impose morality on people.”

Brunson, who also serves as FRC’s Special Advisor for Religious Freedom, feels an urgency for Christians in the West to prepare for a coming wave of hostility. 

“Jesus demands obedience from us in areas of sexual morality, gender identity, life, biblical justice,” he said. “And if we stand for those, then we’re going to come under pressure.”

Brunson has been criticized for being too political for a minister and for wading into polarizing issues. His response? “God isn’t Republican. He’s not a Democrat. He’s God. And he’s saying, get on my side. And so when we speak the truth about these issues, it’s not political, but people will interpret it that way. It’s simply a matter of truth.”

As a survivor of religious oppression in Turkey, Brunson anticipates that many Christians in America will soon experience persecution. 

“Our country is entering a time of judgment. It’s inevitable. And so as our country is being judged, we ourselves as believers are not under judgment, but we are going through that with everyone else.” 

To equip Christ-followers during this wave of hostility, Brunson recently launched an eight-part series titled “Prepare to Stand.” In it, he shares some of the lessons he learned on staying faithful during his imprisonment.

Perkins closed the interview by asking him what Christians can do to be prepared for this time of hostility and judgment.

“How can we prepare ourselves … so that when we are afraid, we do not run but stand? There are things that we can do, mindsets that we can develop, disciplines that can prepare us for that,” Brunson shared. “And then when people persecute us, don’t say, ‘Well, God, how could you let this happen to me?’ Often he works in the midst of suffering.”

Correction: The original version of this story stated that Brunson landed in Germany on July 4, 2018. The actual date was October 13, 2018.

Deborah Laker serves as a staff writer at The Washington Stand.