Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been Prime Minister of Turkey since 2003. He grew up in Istanbul, selling lemonade and sesame buns on the street as a child, and eventually became mayor of the city. He was a semi-professional soccer player in his youth and has been a committed Muslim all his life. Why is he part of our series on conversions that would change history? Because of the role of Turkey in the modern world and his role in that rising country.
The modern nation of Turkey was founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923 as a secular state. Women were not required to wear Islamic clothing; men often wore Western suits. The government functioned as a parliamentary democracy where clerics have no official office. (By contrast, as we saw on Tuesday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei is the de-facto leader of that nation.)
This secularist tradition has begun shifting dramatically under Erdogan’s leadership. Two years ago, he led the nation to amend its constitution in ways that have given him far greater powers. He launched a flotilla against Israel in May 2010 that Israeli forces believe was intended to strengthen terrorists in Gaza. As of January 2012, 97 members of the news media were in jail in Turkey, leading to charges that he is repressing freedom of the press.
In May of this year, he described Turkey as “one nation, one state, one flag and one religion,” though the country is populated by numerous religious and ethnic minorities. (After severe criticism, he later stated that he meant to say “one homeland” instead of “one religion.”) One critic calls him “Putinesque” and says, “he wins elections, but he does not respect the rights of those who do not vote or support him.”
Why is Mr. Erdogan’s Islamist leadership a problem for us? Turkey possesses the second largest military in NATO, next to the U.S. Their economy is the world’s second fastest-growing and the largest in the Muslim world. George Friedman’s controversial bestseller, The Next 100 Years, predicts that Turkey will soon become the most powerful nation in the Muslim world, rekindling the Ottoman Empire it once led. He believes that her leaders will eventually align with anti-Western powers in a world war against America. His predictions may not come to pass, of course, but they are cause for concern.
We cannot predict the future of Turkey under Mr. Erdogan’s leadership, but we can imagine the impact on his nation and our world if he were to become a Christian. God could say of another leader with a checkered past, “I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart.” Why? Because “he will do everything I want him to do” (Acts 13:22). Would you join me in praying today for Recep Erdogan to become such a man? And would you pray about your obedience to the Father as well? By David’s standard, how much a person after God’s own heart are you?