Since his release on Saturday, white-hot controversy has dogged US Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was exchanged for five senior Taliban leaders. The Taliban held him captive for the past five years. Bergdahl is being branded as a deserter for abandoning his unit in eastern Afghanistan.
On Sunday at a White House press conference, President Obama with Bergdahl's parents Robert and Jani at his side announced Bowe's release. Earlier this week, Phil Proctor, pastor of Sterling Presbyterian Church, an Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Sterling, Virginia, began distributing an email in response to questions he was receiving about the Bergdahls since he served as their pastor and has remained close to the family. In the five years since Bergdahl's capture, there has been a nationwide campaign for his release with many posters describing Sgt. Bergdahl as a POW.
Proctor said he wrote the email to counter false reports about the Bergdahl family, including that the father had become a Muslim. Right now, Bergdahl is being treated in a military hospital in Germany and the date of his return to the US is unclear. Washington-based journalist Sheryl Blunt spoke with Proctor earlier this week. The interview has been edited for clarity.
After serving as an interim pastor at the Bergdahls' church in Boise, you served as a missionary in Uganda and kept in touch with them. How close were you to the family?
We stayed in touch with different people in the congregation. When we would come back on furlough, we would get together with people and the Bergdahls were among those we would get together with regularly. In 2011, I took the congregation here in Sterling.
Providentially, Bob and Jani were traveling in and out of the DC area and so it became a great opportunity for them to stay with us when they were passing through.
After the Taliban freed Bowe, you spoke with both parents. What did they say?
We just rejoiced together in God's mercies. We talked about the media response and their intention of keeping quiet. We prayed together thanking God for his mercies to Bowe and asking for continued protection and healing.
How do you respond to the hostile reactions among some conservative Christians?
This whole thing is the dog of politics wagging the tail of the conservative Christian conversation. Folks are failing to recognize that this is a political football and was from the beginning.
The Bergdahls are just the flavor of the week, and next week it's going to be a different scandal. That's politics. But these are brothers and sisters in Christ. We can have political views on whether Bowe should be in prison, or whether Bob should say the Arabic version of "shalom," but to adopt the rhetoric of the day and use it to guide conversations among Christians about another self-professed Christian--I'm saddened by that.
We live in the grace of God and as we are immersed over and over again in appreciation of his grace to us in Christ; it lives out in peaceful relationships. I would hope that we as believers can be more eager to pursue peace.
Do you believe Bowe is a deserter?
I honestly don't know. Whatever happened--if we saw a Christian couple whose daughter had gotten pregnant or whose son got caught with a bunch of cocaine, we would cry with them and we would help them to walk through the valley.
If this kid made a huge, stupid mistake, that's for the magistrates to figure out, to look at the evidence and to talk to the witnesses.