Turkey’s Difficult Evolution Toward Religious Pluralism
In Istanbul the Union Jack flies proudly over the recently repaired British Consulate.‑ Just over a year ago a terrorist bomb destroyed part of the consulate, taking the lives of several British and Turks.‑ Since then builders have erected a massive steel-reinforced cement wall around the front of the consulate, repaired the courtyard and the offices.
Like many buildings near the consulate the Orthodox Church of the Presentation of the Virgin suffered damage from the powerful explosion.‑ Unlike the consulate however, the church has not been repaired as the Turkish government refuses to grant permission.‑ The Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople said, “We find ourselves being victims not only of the terrorists, but also of the authorities of this city and this country. We are asking only for that which is a right of every citizen to equal treatment.”
December 19, 2004 the European Union voted to start accession talks with Turkey that should result in Turkey’s full membership in the EU, probably within ten to fifteen years. Just before the December vote, a group of deputies in the European Parliament proposed an amendment requiring the Turkish government to legally recognize Christian minorities.‑ The amendment failed and Turkey still refuses to recognize churches. Cardinal Roberto Tucci, representing the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, recently said on Vatican Radio, “This is a serious defect in the area of human rights, particularly in regard to religious freedom.” He worries that “political interests may overrule human rights.”
At the heart of the matter is Turkey’s difficult evolution from a mono-cultural to a pluralistic society, one that genuinely respects the human rights and freedom of conscience of each individual.
Immediately after the December EU vote, several Turkish media outlets reported on the small but very active Turkish Protestant community.‑
Celebrating Christmas, a number of Turkish and foreign Protestants handed out free copies of the New Testament to pedestrians in Ankara and in Istanbul on Istiklal Caddesi, one of the most cosmopolitan areas of the city. In response, Rahsan Ecevit, wife of former President Bulent Ecevit said, “What disturbs me is that many Muslim countrymen are on the path of leaving their beliefs, or becoming Christians. We are losing our religion. We will soon be wearing crosses from our skullcaps.”‑ The widely circulated Sabah reported, “NT Distribution and Kicking Protest! A parliamentarian arrived with TV cameras to the Alo Dua stand in Ankara. They overturned the stand and began to shout slogans.”‑ Bulent Ecevit himself complained, “and now they are even giving out free New Testaments to the public in the center of Ankara.”
Understanding the vast and complex Muslim world has held Ron and Jean Coody’s attention for fifteen years. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 gave them an unprecedented open door to move into the newly formed Central Asian country of Kazakstan. For the first half of the decade they worked alongside Kazaks seeking to address the many problems left behind by Soviet rule. After serving five years in Kazakstan, the Coody’s relocated to Cyprus. There they studied the Muslim context and helped produce media materials in the Arabic language. In 2002 they began working in Istanbul, Turkey.
After leaving Kazakstan in 1998 Ron wrote a book about their years among the Kazaks to help Westerners better understand the Muslim world. Even in the age of electronic communication Ron considers written material to be one of the most powerful means of communication. While in Turkey Ron will continue to write with the purpose of providing glimpses into the Muslim world.
Ron and Jean have four boys, John, Elliot, Judah Paul, and Isaiah. Ron grew up in north Louisiana and Jean near Taylor University-Fort Wayne. Ron is currently studying for a Ph.D. from Concordia Theological Seminary and Jean graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University in nursing. They belong to Avalon Missionary Church and consider the Waynedale area one of their home communities.
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