A Slow Strangulation: Turkey’s Disappearing Christian Leadership

August 16, 2019

The calculated disrespect of Turkish authorities toward Turkey’s Christian population and heritage is just one aspect of their increasing hostility toward the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Christian community in Turkey. The Order urgently asks Turkey’s government to heed the message of mutual respect preached by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and allow the Church and these other foundations to operate in a normal manner and choose their leadership as needed.

The Order also reiterates our hope that the international human rights community will direct its attention to the plight of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and of all Christians and other religious minorities in Turkey, and that the Turkish government will heed the repeated calls to grant full religious freedom to its embattled Christian minority.

“A Slow Strangulation: Turkey’s Disappearing Christian Leadership,” by Claire Evans, International Christian Concern, August 15, 2019:

08/15/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern)A melody is slowly quieting in Turkey. For centuries, the soft chanting of psalms flowed across churches flooded with worshipers. They knelt in prayer, their petitions floating like the incense which enveloped them. Candles were lit as they exited, a reminder of Christ’s light to the world. This is the country where the New Testament church came to life.

But today, that light is slowly extinguishing. The Gospel’s melody is softening. The Church in Turkey is suffering strangulation—the consequences of which are felt across the globe.

It is all because of one rule that Turkey has established, a rule which restricts Christians’ ability to choose their own leadership. Without leadership, the life of any church slowly fades. But not just in Turkey….

Most of Turkey’s 0.2% Christian population are Orthodox, and their leadership challenges vary. Greek Orthodox [Ecumenical] Patriarch Bartholomew I is considered the first among equals of worldwide orthodoxy. Turkey closed its only seminary nearly 50 years ago, leaving them no local opportunities to teach theology to future priests.

“Despite promises by the Turkish government to re-open our theological school, there has been no progress. Left unresolved, the administrative functioning and future of the ecumenical patriarchate is imperiled,” said representatives of the church.

The Armenian Orthodox face similar challenges. Their patriarch fell into a mysterious coma over a decade ago. Year after year, the church requested that Turkey allow them to elect a new leader. Each year, Turkey refused, saying that it was impossible so long as the current patriarch was still alive. This spring, he passed away, yet Turkey continues to delay the election.

The election atmosphere – always on the agenda, but never resolved – provides the ground for church divisions and conflict,” explained Bishop Sahak Mashalian….

As one representative of the Christian community warned, “This is tantamount to the asphyxiation of the leadership of (the church).”

The evidence clearly supports this belief. Abandoned churches dot the landscape of Turkey. There are no priests left to once again open their doors. There are no pastors to disciple the congregations. There are simply memories of what was. And a knowledge that unless Turkey ceases interfering in church leadership decisions, Christianity will be ever increasingly regulated to the past.