Andrew Brunson, an American pastor who served in Turkey from 1993 to 2016 and who then spent two years in prison on ludicrous charges of participating in a failed coup d’état before being released following the intervention of President Trump, spoke at a breakout session of the Family Research Council’s 2023 PrayVoteStand Summit at the Omni Shoreham Hotel on September 16. He said that he believes that “a dark wave of hostility and persecution is about to break on the church in the United States.” He called it “a churning, dark wave,” and said that he believes that “it is fast approaching.” He thus offered “a counternarrative” to the positive themes of other speakers at the conference. But he is convinced that the near future will be painful and bleak, and many Christians in America don’t have the “sense of urgency” that they should have. Thus, people are not prepared, and in particular, they are not psychologically prepared for persecution. This is not a situation, he believes, in which “we can pray ourselves out of it, or that we can vote ourselves out of it.” The wave of persecution is “almost unavoidable,” he believes.
Brunson believes that “persecution can be much more difficult than many people expect.” Christians who have lived in religious freedom, such as has existed in America, know of persecution mostly from what they hear and read. Biographies of saints who remained faithful under enormous pressure are recounted and are inspiring, but persecution which is personally experienced is far different. Persecution can end in triumph, it can purify, it can even attract people to Christian faith, but while it is being experienced, one does not know that there will be relief in this life, and the pain of the predicament is constant and pressing.
In his own work as a missionary in Turkey, there were “bomb threats and death threats,” yet his ministry continued to prosper, and his perspective on possible persecution was one of some “bravado.” He believes that this is particularly characteristic of Christian leaders. The prospect of it happening can be anticipated with a measure of “strength” and “joy.” This is the “idealized view” of persecution that many people have.
The Reality of Persecution on the Ground
But the truth is that “persecution brings people to a point of crisis.” It can strengthen faith, or it can move people away from God. Experiencing persecution for the sake of Christ will certainly bring eternal rewards, “but it may not happen in this life.” Further, it is not only the individual Christian who may “pay a price” in this life, “but also your loved ones.” The consequences, he said, can last “many, many years.” While it may only be that one or one’s family is “humiliated or hated or despised or called evil, this can also be very difficult.” It can cause people to leave the faith. The state may threaten to take one’s children, a situation which can be expected to happen when one dissents from the state religion or ideology. This is in fact now the case, he said, in California and several other states, if parents object to a child’s self-chosen (and perhaps coached by school counselors) gender identity.
It was pointed out that Jesus warned of persecution, particularly from family members who are unbelievers, or who are complicit with state authorities. There can also be financial pressure, when clergy or missionaries lose financial support due to persecution, or Christians lose their jobs or property due to state or social hostility. He contrasted the condition of the United States when he left the country in 1993 to the environment when he returned in 2018. Being a Christian in the twentieth century was a “social positive,” something a prominent person would want to publicize, and Christian morality was “normative,” whether people always lived by it or not. And so he was shocked to see the degree of hostility to orthodox Christian faith and morals that he found on his return to the United States. Both, but especially Christian morality, is “repudiated” as “harmful,” and held to undermine the social good.
People hostile to traditional Christianity have taken control of all major institutions, including “the news media, arts, entertainment industry, social media, professional sports, law, medicine, public health, Wall Street, corporate boardrooms, NGOs, universities, public schools, the administrative state, and even increasingly, the higher levels of military leadership.” The leadership of these institutions seek “to impose a progressive agenda on society.” It is not necessary for them “to be in the majority.” Instead, these elites have the most important platforms, the most widely disseminated public voices, “they control access to the high-tech professions,” and they administer the agencies of coercion (the military and federal law enforcement). “They own the levers of enforcement … they control the commanding heights of our society,” he said. These are not elective positions, “you can’t vote them out … [and] they are not your friends.” Christians need to recognize that “this is not a possible future; this is what we’re in now.”
These “anti-Christian institutions of our society are going to persecute regardless” of elections. Because Judeo-Christian values are being “expressly rejected” by the leaders of society, electoral victories will not stop the oncoming persecution.
But “a church that is in the minority thinks differently than a church that is in the majority.” In a majority Christian nation, an appeal may be made to make social standards conform to a Christian ideal of righteousness, whereas a church in the minority will focus on bringing Jesus and his lordship into people’s lives and living in faithfulness. “We’re looking at survival,” he said.
This was the ministry of the early church, Brunson observed. The focus was on obedience, and “loving God.” This “ended up impacting everyone around them.” Many Christians still have a majority mentality of affecting public policy, which may succeed in slowing down moral decline and anti-Christian hostility, “but I don’t believe we will be able to stop it.” But the real question is “how do we maintain obedience and faithfulness and the light of the gospel, when we are surrounded by darkness?” Christians will be a minority, and “a despised minority.”
Lines of Attack
Brunson then turned to two major issues over which Christians will be persecuted. The first will be particular salvation, the doctrine that Jesus Christ is the only way to God. “Many people will be uncomfortable” with this, because an appeal to truth is being made, “and that’s not very inclusive.” Secondly, there is the demand for obedience. Biblical justice is very different from “social justice’ as the latter is now understood. “Marriage, life, sexual morality, and gender identity” are all areas of conflict. “Biblical standards are increasingly seen as ‘hate speech’” he said. Pastors do not discuss Biblical morality even in church, because they don’t want push back from their congregants. People have been ‘marinated” in the values of the contemporary world, which is oriented to gratification. They regard appeals to Biblical morality as “political,” when in fact they are God’s eternal standards, binding at all times and places.
Brunson then said we should not expect the world to be moved by appeals to righteousness or examples of faithfulness. Jesus warned us that we should not expect this, and “this is a temptation that only arises when you’re in a Christian culture.” Religious freedom and liberty of conscience have not characterized most societies in the past, he observed. It is rather to be expected that “people hate you.” Although Jesus “was about loving, the most compassionate man in all of history,” nevertheless, “people said he was evil, they said he was demonic, and deranged,” and a threat to society. People will say the same of Jesus’ followers in an anti-Christian society.
Although the struggle for the sanctity of life will be a cause for persecution, Brunson believes that gender ideology will be the principal line of attack. Christians will be told that expression of or adherence to Christian sexual morality is “hateful [that] you make me feel uncomfortable, you make me feel unsafe, and hate has no rights … so you must be shunned, you must be punished.” Among other things, we can expect censorship “across all layers of the legacy Internet track, with only rare exceptions.” People will be de-banked, have the credit cards cancelled, barred from financial services because of adherence to Biblical commands.
He pointed to the surveillance state and social credit system in China as an example of what might happen in America. The social credit system affects not only the individual, whose privileges increase with conformity to state values, and decrease with deviations, but also affects with social credit of one’s family and friends. It is easy to see that Christians will be an underclass in this situation. He said that Chinese Christians are especially concerned about how they will live without banking or other services.
Brunson referred to the case of Sam Brownback, formerly Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom in the Trump Administration, who began a non-profit organization, the National Committee for Religious Freedom, which was in fact bi-partisan in its composition, but had its account cancelled by JPMorgan Chase.
The case of Nigel Farage in the United Kingdom was given to show that de-banking is also happening in other Western countries. In the case of Farage, who seems to have been de-banked not for religious reasons but for his nationalist beliefs, internal bank documents were discovered which said that Farage didn’t conform to the values of the bank. This was an entirely ideological reason, not at all related to the concern of the bank, which is making money. Many people, including members of Parliament, then sent Farage letters saying that they had been de-banked as well. But they were not going public with their experience, since they feared that it might be difficult to access other banks and financial services.
Brunson then related that de-banking had also happened to him, with a bank account he had held since 1985, and also to his wife and his son. In Brunson’s case (and others) further inquiry resulted in the bank claiming the cancellation of “inadvertent.” This dependency on institutions that regard Christian morality as unacceptable will become greater as society becomes even more dependent on digital technology, Brunson said.
Another avenue of attack will be professional certification and licensure. Such credentialing may not be granted or will be revoked due to “hateful views.” This will affect particularly medical doctors with respect to abortion or sexual anatomy altering surgery, but also many other professions. Similarly, accreditation of schools is also a credentialing, which can be made contingent on rejection of Christian morality.
Thus, both financial and social pressures will be used to coerce Christians into accepting a universalist soteriology and/or the sexual revolution (or whatever else the state determines to be an oppressive belief which calls for liberation). With more and more institutions now working under the ideological commitments of the post-Christian Left, Brunson believes we may reach “a tipping point,” after which ideological standards can be applied very quickly to many people across a broad range of issues.
Brunson then discussed the worldview assumptions behind the current hostile environment and how Christians should respond, especially in terms of the focus of the mission of the church, and these comments will be reviewed in a subsequent article.