A Response to Professor Mary Stange’s USA Today Article on Bowe Bergdahl

A rebuttal to Stang’s blaming the alleged extremism in the OPC for Bergdahl’s behavior

Because her article ran in an influential national media outlet, and because in it she basically insults the entire OPC and every other allegedly “hyperconservative” Christian, I felt I should try to contact her personally to convey my disappointment, and to call her to publicly apologize for her irresponsible and hateful article.  I looked up her email address on the web and sent the email below to her.  Since she has publicly slandered the OPC, I believe she needs to be publicly called out on this….

 

As you may know, the controversial Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, recently rescued from the Taliban, was baptized and raised in an Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).  When the news came out that he may have deserted his post, and some began to accuse him of being a traitor, I remember thinking, “I wonder how long it will be before someone blames the church of his youth (the OPC) for Sgt. Bergdahl’s actions (or at least for contributing to his actions)?”

Well, it didn’t take long.  Enter Dr. Mary Stange, a Religion professor at Skidmore College.  In a hit piece published on June 15, 2014 in the opinion column of the national media outlet, USA Today, Professor Stange commits the logical fallacy of poisoning the well by describing the OPC in emotionally-laden terms like “ultraconservative,” “hyperconservative,” and as “Calvinism on steroids.”

Toward the end of her brief but bigoted article she not-so-subtly suggests that the OPC is “evil,” when she writes: “We as a society have too frequently failed to take religion seriously as a source of evil as well as good.”  Her article gives no indication that she has made any responsible effort to actually understand or fairly represent the beliefs and practices of the OPC.

Because her article ran in an influential national media outlet, and because in it she basically insults the entire OPC and every other allegedly “hyperconservative” Christian, I felt I should try to contact her personally to convey my disappointment, and to call her to publicly apologize for her irresponsible and hateful article.  I looked up her email address on the web and sent the email below to her.  Since she has publicly slandered the OPC, I believe she needs to be publicly called out on this; which is why I share with you my personal email to her in this pastor’s blog.

Before you read my email, I anticipate that some of you may object to some of the things I say to Dr. Stange.  First of all, some of you may think my email is not very “nice.”  I admit that to be the case.  But I would remind the reader that neither Jesus nor the Apostles were always “nice.”  In fact, when dealing with hypocrites, Jesus was very direct, and not very diplomatic.  Keep in mind that Professor Stange is not only a grown woman; she has a doctorate in her field of study, and she holds a responsible position as a college professor — a position where her words and teachings will mold and influence future generations.  The content and tone of her article are totally beneath her position as a college professor and represent a complete lapse in professionalism.  In other words, she ought to know better, and her ignorant pronouncements about the OPC (of which she obviously has little if any accurate knowledge) are inexcusable.

As an example of her ignorance:  In her article she does not mention that Sgt. Bergdahl, while raised in the OPC, never publicly professed his faith or became a full communicant member of the church.  In other words, it is my understanding that he never personally owned the faith in which he was raised.  Any responsible critic of the OPC would at least mention this, but not Dr. Stange.  In such circumstances I believe sharp rebuke, not diplomatic gentleness, is called for.  Professor Stange does not need to be handled with kid gloves.

Others of you may suggest that my email is not “respectful” enough.  Let me say that I completely respect Professor Stange’s position as a college professor (indeed, it is precisely because of that respect for her position that I have reacted in such a serious fashion).  I also completely respect her legal right to write and say and teach whatever she wants, including the ignorant blather she spewed out in her article.  But at the same time, given the content and tone of her article, I have absolutely no respect for her intellectual or academic integrity, and believe you shouldn’t either. She is free to disagree with and to criticize the OPC all she wants.  But we should expect those with the honorable position and title of “Dr.” and “Professor” to behave honorably, and to show that they have at least done their homework.  If she is going to criticize the OPC, let her at least have the integrity to show that she has actually tried to understand what we believe and teach.

You can read Professor Stange’s article and the comments here.  (I would encourage the reader not only to read through the article, but also through the comments section.  The comments make much the same points I do.) [Editor’s note: the original URL (link) referenced is no longer valid, so the link has been removed.]

So, without further ado, here is what I wrote to Professor Stange:

Dear Professor Stange,

As an Orthodox Presbyterian pastor, I was very disappointed and offended at your hit piece in the June 15, 2014 edition of USA Today (“Can Bergdahl’s faith explain his actions?”) attacking the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the bogeyman “Calvinism.” Your brief but shallow article was filled with misinformation, the logical fallacy of “poisoning the well” (for example, using emotion-laden terms like “hyperconservative” and “ultraconservative”), slander and bigotry against those with whom you disagree. How “tolerant,” open-minded and enlightened of you to attack a religion that you give little evidence of actually understanding, but which you personally find distasteful. With all due respect (and, sorry Professor, not too much is due given the content and tone of your article), that is called “prejudice,” the cardinal sin of the supposedly broadminded religious plularism you no doubt profess. (And, by the way, would you not agree that “prejudice” is a form of “hate”?) Your prejudiced rant against a religion that you give little evidence of having seriously studied with any depth is unworthy of your profession and the academic and intellectual integrity that one should expect from someone in your influential position.

Tell me, Professor Stange, have you ever actually read, with any depth and care, the works of John Calvin, or representative samples thereof? Have you ever read the confessional standards of the OPC, namely, the Westminster Confession of Faith (American revision) and the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms? Have you actually studied the theological writings of classical, confessional Presbyterian theologians (and could you even name any of them)? Could you actually define the bogeyman “Calvinism” in an accurate way that we Calvinists who know our beliefs would recognize? Have you ever actually attended an Orthodox Presbyterian Church, spoken with Orthodox Presbyterian pastors, or interacted with OPC laypersons? Have you ever actually read historical writings on the founding of the OPC written by those sympathetic to the denomination, or on Dr. J. Gresham Machen (one of the major founders of the OPC)? If not, may I suggest that you go the OPC’s website and order some of the many books that are offered on the history and character of the denomination, and educate yourself (www.opc.org).

“His ultra-conservative church sees the world in either / or terms.” Professor Stange, may I suggest that your comment here could very well represent a case of psychological projection. It seems that in your world any Christian is “either” a “hyperconservative” (which is bad, very bad); “or” an enlightened, educated so-called “liberal” or mainliner (which, of course, in your world is very, very good and noble). Is that not a simplistic, “either/or” way of looking at things? Are you not yourself guilty of the very thing that you accuse us of?

Bullies like to pick on the little guys, and in the world of Christianity the OPC is one of the little guys. We are a small denomination (only about 30,000 members or so, though slowly growing), so I can understand the attraction of using us as your punching bag. But if you have an ounce of ethical integrity, you will publicly apologize to the OPC and to all of those other allegedly “hyperconservative” Christians you have frankly insulted in your article. I hope you will pleasantly surprise us by having the courage and integrity to do so, though I am not holding my breath.

Sincerely,

Rev. Geoffrey Willour is Pastor of Lake Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Mentor, Ohio. This article appeared on his blog and is used with permission.

Read other commentaries on this article here and here.