In Turkey, there are 186 local Protestant churches of various sizes, most of them led by local Christian workers.
A new report published in March by the Turkish Association of Protestant Churches, shows that less than 15 Protestant churches are able to meet in their historic worship places. Around 120 churches gather to worship either in rented premises or in households.
Training of pastors
“Protestant communities train most of its religious leaders through its own internal apprenticeship method” as a result of not having access to the official education system. “No progress with regard to the rights of Christians to train their own religious workers” was made in the last months.
“A small percentage obtain education at theology schools abroad” and “some are able to gain the necessary knowledge and skills for pastoral leadership through seminars organized within our country”.
Pressure on foreign Christian workers
The APC underlines that “some Protestant congregations which had a foreign religious worker providing spiritual leadership had some serious difficulties because the foreign national was required to leave the country due to the issuance of N-82 or G-87 codes banning entry into Turkey or the denial of residence visas, a situation beginning intensely in 2019 and continuing in 2021 even though the numbers diminished in 2021”.
The ACP knows of 78 cases of foreign Christian workers who “were deported, were denied entry into Turkey or faced problems with getting their residence permits renewed”. This affected over one hundred of their relatives (mainly spouses or children), which were faced with the decision of leaving the country as well.
Cases of deportation of foreign religious workers and members of congregations, refusal to give entrance to Turkey or denied residence permits and visas. / Source: 2021 Protestant Community Rights Violation Report, Association of Protestant Churches.
Places of worship
Problems continued to be faced “with regard to requests to establish a place of worship, to continue using a facility for worship, or with applications to use existing church buildings”. Churches continued to acquire legal status by establishing religious foundations.
In this context is that Association of Protestant Churches emphasised that Christians in Turkey gives “great importance to freedom of religion and belief and strives to ensure these freedoms become a reality for everyone, everywhere”.
Hate speech against Christians
In 2021, the Turkish Protestant association was not made aware of physical attacks against Christians based solely on faith directed at Protestant Christians.
But they “saw an increase from the previous year in hate speech based solely on faith, as well as hate speech for the purpose of provoking hate in public opinion, both written and verbal, that was directed at Protestant Christian individuals or institutions”. Much of these dangerous messages were spread on social media: “there has been a noticeable increase in hate speech filled with insult and profanity directed at official church accounts, church leaders, Christianity, Christian values and Christians in general”.
Furthermore, denounces the report, “in many cities where Protestant congregations are found it was reported that offers to become informants to local and refugee Christians from people claiming to be intelligence officers who used threats, promises, benefits or money in order to gain information about Christians, churches, church activities and Christian organizations”. The ACP has been able to confirm that at least 8 members of Protestant groups have been offered to become informants in several cities.
But despite these and other “basic problems”, there is “in general, freedom of religion” in Turkey, concludes the ACP.
Protestants found no violations of the right to propagate religion in 2021, and their right to education was not violated.
The report finishes with a series of recommendations to the authorities which include. Among others, the establishment of open channels of communication with Protestant churches and “effective and rapid oversight mechanism” regarding intolerance in the media.
This story originally appeared at Evangelical Focus and is republished here with permission.