The rhetoric is continuing to ratchet up and the sanctions are tightening. The White House, though, is not giving up its fight to free American pastor Andrew Brunson.
Brunson, a native of North Carolina, has been held hostage by the Turkish government since 2016, when he was wrongfully arrested on trumped-up terrorism charges. In late July, he was finally released from his prison cell and moved to house arrest, where he remains in the custody of Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s regime.
On Wednesday, the U.S. failed to secure assurances from Turkish officials to immediately release the Christian pastor who has been doing missionary work in the Middle Eastern country for more than 20 years.
President Donald Trump, as a result, issued a tweet Friday morning doubling the tariffs in Turkey to 50 percent on steel and 20 percent on aluminum.
I have just authorized a doubling of Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum with respect to Turkey as their currency, the Turkish Lira, slides rapidly downward against our very strong Dollar! Aluminum will now be 20% and Steel 50%. Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 10, 2018
All of this came after Vice President Mike Pence delivered a rousing speech during the U.S. State Department’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in late July, threatening intense sanctions on Turkey unless Brunson was released.
In an interview with Faithwire, Help the Persecuted CEO Josh Youssef, who was in the audience for the speech in Washington, D.C., described the vice president’s address as “one of the best political speeches I’ve ever heard.”
“There was kind of a gasp in the room,” Youssef recalled, noting the delegations in attendance seemed surprised by Pence’s hard-line comments regarding Turkey.
If Turkey does not take immediate action to free Pastor Andrew Brunson and send him home to America, the United States will impose significant sanctions on Turkey until this innocent man of faith is free. pic.twitter.com/GM9WohpMRm
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) July 26, 2018
Immediately after delivering his speech, the religious freedom advocate said, Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ushered Youssef and a handful of other attendees into a private meeting, where they listened to a series of stories of persecution around the world.
Youssef, who helms an organization dedicated to working with persecuted believers internationally, said that, during the entire meeting, “they never looked at their watches” and an aide never interrupted their conversations. He went on to say he noticed “a chill” among some of the foreign nationals in the sit-down.
Asked if the terse language coming out of the White House helps or hurts the situation on the ground, Youssef said he always seeks out the “silver lining.”
“I think, initially, your reaction is, ‘This is not good,’” he said, noting it’s important to look to Bible passages like Genesis 50:20, which reads, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
He continued, “We see, sometimes, on the backside of that difficult situation, a lot of times, the church ends up growing. … I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard Iraqis and Syrians say, ‘Thank God for ISIS … because if it hadn’t been, our eyes wouldn’t have been opened to the truth.’”
Youssef said it’s important to remember the persecution of Christians year ’round, noting the crisis is “much broader than just those significant cases that end up splashing across the news.”
“It is a day-in, day-out reality … that Christianity is seen as a threat — a threat to governments, a threat to Islamic ideals and philosophy,” he said. “It’s an assault on the Islamic family identity.”
There is good news, though, he said. Because God “shows up,” even in the darkest situations.