Category Archives: Pastors

In MSNBC interview, Senators Lankford, Shaheen discuss imprisonment of Andrew Brunson


In an interview on MCNBC’s “Morning Joe” program on May 24, Senators James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) continued their call for punitive action against Turkey due to Andrew Brunson’s prolonged imprisonment. The EPC Teaching Elder has been held since October 2016 on charges of espionage and terrorism.

“He is basically being held hostage by (Turkish) President Erdoğan,” Shaheen said, “and this is a blatant attempt to blackmail the United States and we are not going to stand for it.”

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Lankford and Shaheen are pursuing targeted sanctions against Turkish officials, and are working with Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) on a bill to prevent the transfer of American fighter aircraft and technology to Turkey until the relationship between the two countries improves. In the 10-minute interview, they also discussed the future of U.S.-Turkey relations and Erdoğan’s oppressive tendencies.

Click here to watch the full interview.

Sad, angry, resolute: thoughts from a Turkish courtroom


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Richard White, Pastor of Christ Community Church in Montreat, N.C., speaks to a reporter outside the Sakran Prison complex in Aliaga, Turkey, on May 7. White attended the second hearing of EPC Teaching Elder Andrew Brunson’s trial. (photo credit: World Watch Monitor)

by Richard White, Pastor
Christ Community Church
Montreat, N.C.

Sad, angry, and resolute.

These are my states of mind as I wake after Andrew Brunson’s trial. After 10 hours in court, I am deeply saddened that the judge refused to allow Andrew’s request to return home and finish the trial under some form of house arrest. I’m sad at having to watch Norine be brave yet again for her husband and community. She is like Mary pouring her treasure out at Jesus’ feet. It’s her costly treasure of time, lost time with husband and children, her father’s death, and so much more. I’m also sad for the Turkish people and the blatant miscarriage of justice. This bleeds into my anger.

The judge allowed the most ludicrous witnesses to testify against Andrew. One young man, who had angrily left their church years ago, wanted to return to the church but was denied membership because he was such a troublemaker. He refused to repent. On the stand, this man admitted to creating a fake Facebook page in Andrew’s name and posting pro-terrorist items on it. The judge looked passed this and validated this man’s testimony of seeing terrorist flags in Andrew’s church. It was a total lie, but the judge said it carried weight. The judge not only led witnesses with his questions, but also linked all the witnesses at the end in an effort to maintain the case against Andrew. The most angering blow was at the end when the judge decimated Andrew’s witness defense list saying that most of his witnesses were also “suspects” and, therefore, could not testify on Andrew’s behalf. This, in effect, ties the hands of Andrew’s defense.

So, what to do with unresolved sadness and justified anger? This morning I am reflecting on 1 Peter 2:23—“When he was reviled he did not revile in return, when he suffered (unjustly) he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to Him who judges justly.” Also, Psalm 30:5— “Weeping endures for the night but joy comes in the morning.” And Romans 12:12—“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation and constant in prayer.”

God did answer many prayers. Andrew spoke with clarity, authority, and boldness in the Lord as he refuted many, many lies spoken against him. Norine remained strong and alert. I had asked the Lord to be able to get into the courtroom. We got in. I asked to be a visible encouragement to Andrew and to have five minutes to visit with him. Everyone assured me that it would be impossible. No clergy of any faith have visited prisoners during this state of emergency in Turkey. BUT…then there was a technical difficulty with the jumbotron screens and while all were distracted, Andrew turned around in his seat and looked back at us as we sat in the back of the court. Norine said that this was not allowed. But with the judges distracted with the screen, Andrew was able to lock eyes with Norine and me and Sam and several others. I was able to communicate love, prayers, and blessings. It was a sacred and joy-filled moment from the Lord. We all wept. This technological difficulty lasted five minutes. It happened again later so we got another opportunity for eye–to-eye, loving contact. When Andrew was escorted out of the courtroom I moved to a place closer to his exit door and yelled out, “We love you, brother. We will never forget you. The whole church is praying for you back home.”

Joy, sorrow, anger, and resolution.

I remain resolute in standing with and praying for Andrew. I know you do as well. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Remember those in prison as though with them.” So we must keep praying. God is working something much larger than we can see or understand right now. I assured Norine and Andrew (in a note I left for Andrew with the U.S. consular) that our church is praying for them, even at 2:00 a.m. in Graham Chapel.

Thank you for praying. This is the hard work God has for us. Romans 15:30 says, “I appeal to you brothers and sisters by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered.”

Hollywood EPC (Greenville, N.C.) celebrates 75th anniversary


Hollywood Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Greenville, N.C., celebrated its 75th anniversary on Sunday, May 6. The church started as a Sunday school in the 1920s, and became a particularized church in 1943.

WITN News in Greenville aired a story about the day’s festivities:

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Keith Cobb is the Pastor, and the congregation joined the EPC in 2015.

North Carolina Senator denounces Andrew Brunson trial as “kangaroo court”


TillisFoxNewsIn a May 8 appearance on Fox News, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) offered harsh words for Turkey for its continued detainment of EPC Teaching Elder Andrew Brunson, who has been held since October 2016. Brunson was returned to prison following testimony on May 7, with further proceedings postponed until July 18.

“The allegations against him are absurd,” Tillis said, “and even more absurd is Pastor Brunson requesting 10 witnesses to testify in his defense and being denied. That is the nature of this kangaroo court we are witnessing in Turkey.”

Tillis noted that Brunson’s situation continues to strain relations between the two countries.

“It is unheard of for NATO allies to treat people this way,” he said. “We have to look at all of our ties with Turkey and question whether that is the best partner on national defense and economic ties.”

Click here to watch the full six-minute interview.

GA worship speakers include Ligon Duncan, Eli Morris, Rufus Smith, Dean Weaver


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(Clockwise from top left): Ligon Duncan, Eli Morris, Dean Weaver, Rufus Smith

Worship has been an integral part of the EPC’s annual General Assembly since the inaugural Assembly in 1981. The 38th General Assembly, to be held June 19-22 at Hope Church in suburban Memphis, Tenn., carries on this hallmark.

Eli Morris, Hope Church Senior Associate Pastor, will speak prior to the opening business session at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 20.

Rufus Smith, Hope Church Senior Pastor, will deliver the message at the Morning Worship Service at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, June 21.

Ligon Duncan, Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary, will preach at the World Outreach Global Worker Commissioning Service on 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 21.

Dean Weaver, Moderator of the 37th General Assembly and Lead Pastor of Memorial Park Presbyterian Church in Allison Park, Penn., will lead the Moderator’s Service of Communion and Prayer at 8:30 a.m. on Friday, June 22.

“Each of our worship speakers have been integrally involved in ministries that allow them to address our theme of ‘Forward!’” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “I fully anticipate that God has a dynamic, relevant word for us through these gifted communicators.”

Weaver is a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the Alleghenies and has served as Pastor of Memorial Park since 2006. He was Founder and Co-Moderator of the New Wineskins Association of Churches (NWAC), a group of about 200 theologically conservative Presbyterian churches formed in 2001 from growing discontent regarding the general direction of the PC(USA). The NWAC was dissolved in 2011. Weaver also is President and co-founder of EduNations, a non-profit corporation that builds and operates schools in Sierra Leone, West Africa. He is a graduate of Grove City College in Grove City, Penn.; Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (M.Div.); and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (D.Min.).

Duncan was raised in the home of an eighth-generation Presbyterian Ruling Elder, and has authored, co-authored, edited or contributed to more than 35 books. At age 28, he was elected to the faculty of RTS, where he taught Systematic Theology until 1996 when he accepted the pastorate of the First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, Miss. He served as Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly in 2004-05, the youngest minister in the PCA’s history to be elected Moderator. He returned to RTS in 2012 and became Chancellor/CEO in 2013. He is a graduate of Furman University in Greenville, S.C.; Covenant Theological Seminary (M.Div. and M.A. in Historical Theology); and the University of Edinburgh New College in Scotland (Ph.D.).

Smith served Hope Church as Associate Pastor of Discipleship from September 2010 until November 2013, when he was elected to succeed Richard Craig Strickland’s 25-year founding pastorate. From 1988-2010, he served as Senior Pastor of the inter-racial and inter-generational City of Refuge Church in Houston, Texas. While in Houston he served as Lead Chaplain for the NBA Houston Rockets for three years. He studied at Houston Baptist University and maintains an active traveling and speaking schedule.

Morris, in addition to his role as Senior Associate Pastor for Hope Church, serves as Chaplain with the FBI Memphis Division. He is passionate about meeting the needs of the underprivileged, and serves on the boards of STREETS Ministry, Oasis of Hope, Luke 4:18 Ministries, and MIFA Emergency Services. He is a graduate of the University of Memphis, Memphis Theological Seminary (M.Div.), and Fuller Theological Seminary (D.Min.).

Click here for more information about the 38th General Assembly, including daily schedules, links to online registration, and more.

USCIRF declares Turkish court’s decision in Andrew Brunson trial “unconscionable”


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The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed disappointment in a Turkish court’s May 7 decision in EPC Teaching Elder Andrew Brunson’s trial on terrorism and espionage charges. After 11 hours of testimony—mostly from anonymous witnesses who testified via video link with disguised faces and altered voices—the judge postponed further proceedings until July 18 and returned Brunson to prison. In addition, the court refused to hear testimony from any defense witnesses.

“We leave the courthouse with serious concerns,” said Sandra Jolley, USCIRF Vice-Chair, who attended the proceedings in Aliaga, Turkey. “Today’s eleven hours of proceedings were dominated by wild conspiracies, tortured logic, and secret witnesses, but no real evidence to speak of. Worse still, the judge’s decision at the conclusion of today’s hearing to dismiss all of the witnesses called by Pastor Brunson’s defense without listening to a single minute of their testimony is simply unconscionable.”

Click here for the Commission’s full statement.

The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission that reviews the facts and circumstances of religious freedom violations abroad, and makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress.

Andrew Brunson to remain imprisoned, Turkish judge rules


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Norine Brunson arrives at Aliaga Prison and Courthouse complex in Izmir, Turkey, on May 7, 2018. REUTERS / Osman Orsal

Following testimony in the second phase of Andrew Brunson’s trial on May 7 in Turkey, the court ruled to keep the EPC Teaching Elder jailed until at least the next hearing, scheduled for July 18. The date is 24 days after Turkey’s snap presidential elections, which were called in April by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for June 24—17 months ahead of their original date of November 2019.

Multiple media outlets reported that a secret witness testified anonymously against Brunson, claiming that he assisted militants with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and aimed to create a Christian Kurdish state. The witness spoke via video link with a disguised face and voice.

Brunson denied the accusations, insisting that he never permitted “politics to enter the church. I am helping Syrian refugees, they say that I am aiding the PKK. I am setting up a church, they say I got help from Gülen’s network.”

He has repeatedly denied the prosecutor’s charges that he was involved with terrorism and espionage, and again proclaimed his innocence to the court on May 7.

“My service that I have spent my life on, has now turned upside down,” Brunson said. “I was never ashamed to be a server of Jesus, but these claims are shameful and disgusting.”

Brunson’s lawyer, Ismail Cem Halavurt, said that in Turkey, “if there’s an investigation that lacks evidence, it’s kind of the custom now to fortify the case with secret witnesses that have no credibility, no link to reality.”

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, said at least one individual who was present in the courtroom described the hearing afterward as “unfair.”

“I heard from someone who was there that Andrew presented a great defense, and his lawyer made a passionate plea for his release,” Jeremiah said. “Sadly, the judge returned Andrew to prison, which means this unjust and inhuman treatment continues. While this is not the result we had hoped, prayed, and fasted for, we continue to trust that the Lord Jesus Christ will be Andrew and Norine’s strength and shield.”