When a trusted individual sins in a way that can ruin dozens of young lives, Christian groups and communities need to respond quickly. Here’s one case study of ongoing recovery
Two court dramas in the last half of July and 6,000 miles apart showed the need for two new hyphenated words: hyper-sexualist and hyper-Islamist.
Definitions of the words’ cores run like this: Stressing sex as a central concern of life. Believing that Islam should be a central concern of not only individual living but political and societal structuring.
Adding hyper as a prefix turns them from beliefs into dictatorial demands. Hyper-sexualism: the belief that sexual freedom trumps freedom of religion, speech, and assembly. Hyper-Islamism: the belief that keeping Muslims from learning about any other belief system is more important than freedom of religion, speech, and assembly.
Hyper-sexualism was on display in a suit filed in Missouri federal district court on July 25. The plaintiffs are Mary Walsh, 72, and Beverly Nance, 68, lesbians who are now a married couple under current court rulings. They wanted to rent an apartment in Friendship Village (FV), a “continuing care retirement community” in St. Louis County that includes assisted living and a nursing facility.
FV, established in 1975, has no formal church affiliation but calls itself “guided by Biblical values.” It has a long-standing pro-marriage, anti-cohabitation policy, with marriage defined as “the union of one man and one woman, as marriage is understood in the Bible.” While FV did not express doubt that Walsh and Nance are nice people, it turned down their application for residence.
The lawsuit brought by Walsh and Nance argues that FV’s discriminatory conduct has caused them to suffer “irreparable loss and injury, including but not limited to economic loss, emotional distress, and the deprivation of their housing and civil rights.” It states that Walsh and Nance “could not believe that in 2016, as a married couple, they would experience such open discrimination.”
The lawsuit further states that the plaintiffs faced such discrimination because “they do not conform to traditional sex stereotypes, including that a married woman should be in a different-sex relationship.” Walsh and Nance “felt humiliated, stigmatized, and demeaned. … Their security and dignity have been stripped away.”
Also on July 25, but 6,000 miles away in Aliaga, Turkey, on the outskirts of Izmir, Norine Brunson was making one more visit to Kiriklar Prison, where her husband Andrew’s security and dignity had been stripped away. They are a Biblically married couple unable to live together since Turkey jailed the pastor from North Carolina in October 2016.
Brunson, 50, has worked in Turkey for more than two decades, most recently as pastor of Resurrection Church in Izmir. No one knows for sure why Turkish authorities arrested him, but the common presumption is he had worked with refugees in largely Kurdish areas of southeastern Turkey, and that became a pretext for charging him with “Christianization” and ties to terrorists.
The indictment against Brunson reads that he worked “to divide and separate [Turkey], by means of the Christianization of those from among the people of our Country who possess a certain ethnic origin.” Those last words appear to be a reference to Kurds. Specific charges against Brunson include these: One secret witness says Brunson met with a lawyer to discuss how to establish churches in Turkey. Another secret witness said Brunson met with a gang of Mormon teachers of English, all of whom have the same identifying feature: a missing finger (it’s a different finger on each one).
And that’s not all: Brunson’s daughter sent him a video of maqluba, a traditional Middle Eastern dish of rice, meat, and vegetables: Accusers said that’s the signature dish of a Turkish terrorist organization, so Brunson must be linked to it, they argued. Even more evidence: One of Brunson’s church members sent him a text message informing the pastor that he could not make it to worship due to diarrhea. (The prosecutor did not explain how this implicates Brunson.)
The charges were so ridiculous that Brunson’s real crime in the eyes of Muslim accusers was evident: He has helped some Turks learn of an alternative to Islam. In the United States, hyper-sexualism means that bakers, photographers, bed-and-breakfast owners, adoption workers, public officials, and many more can lose their livelihoods for refusing to cheer on homosexuality, since sexual freedom now trumps all other liberties. In Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan uses Islam to consolidate his power, a hyper-Islam steamroller increasingly flattens anyone standing in its way.
But not always. Eyewitnesses say Brunson in July “defended himself with boldness” during a two-hour court proceeding. That didn’t get him out of jail, but the U.S. State Department and President Donald Trump pressed the matter—and the Brunsons’ daughter, Jacqueline Furnari, told representatives of 80 nations at a religious freedom gathering “how proud I am of my father and what an example of Christ’s love he continues to be to the world.”
Congress on July 23 cited Brunson’s imprisonment when voting to bar temporarily delivery of about 100 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to Turkey.
On July 25 the Turkish government allowed Brunson to move from prison to house arrest. He arrived with his wife Norine at their home, where friends greeted him with singing and dancing.
Brunson’s trial, which could end with him receiving a 35-year prison sentence, is scheduled to continue on Oct. 12. Turkey continues to detain NASA research scientist Serkan Golge and at least three employees of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara. Nevertheless, Aykan Erdemir, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former member of the Turkish Parliament, said Brunson’s release from prison “is yet another evidence showing how principled pushback can elicit a more favorable response than appeasement.”