Southern Baptist leaders have protested to U.S. and Turkish authorities the expulsion of the pastor of the denomination's only church in Turkey.
Missionary James F. Leeper was arrested by Turkish authorities Sept. 22 and expelled Sept. 29 following revocation of his residence permit in May 1978.
For the past 12 years, Leeper had served as pastor of the Galatian Baptist Church, a congregation composed mainly of U.S. military personnel and their dependents.
At first the conflict seemed to be centered upen Leeper. However, the Turkish government has now described the entire congregation, mostly military personnel, as unauthorized.
J. D. Hughey, the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board's secretary for Europe and the Middle East, asked the U.S. Department of State to seek official authorization for the congregation from the Turkish government.
Hughey pointed out in his letter that the church has, in the past, sought official status from Turkish officials but been denied. He noted, however, that in early 1971 the governor of Ankara gave his oral approval for the congregation's existence in the city. He pointed out that in 1977 Leeper was granted a residence permit "on the basis of his being pastor of the church."
James E. Wood Jr., executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, appealed to Turkish Ambassador Melih Esenbel for "the right of this English-language Baptist church to hold services just as we are sirailarly committed to the right of other faiths to do so in our respective countries."
During a meeting that Wood and Hughey attended two months ago, Esenbel said he understood Leeper had been charged with disseminating "religious propaganda," which he said violates Turkish law. He said any effort to influence people to change their religion falls under the umbrella of "religious propaganda."
Leeper is now in Germany and has been granted permission to return to Turkey for 20 days to remove his belongings. His wife was not expelled and has remained in Ankara.