We are an increasingly divided country. Disagreements have become more pronounced, more hateful, and often more petty. It is massively important, then, that wherever we see people working to build bridges across divides that we in the church celebrate them and the work God is doing through them. Bridge-Builders deserve our support.
John Inazu has done a tremendous job of demonstrating the vast divide that exists between Americans of various convictions. He argues, however, that there is a way forward that allows us to maintain such convictions and yet to exist together, even to thrive together. He calls it “confident pluralism.” In his own words:
Confident pluralism takes both confidence and pluralism seriously. Confidence without pluralism misses the reality of politics. It suppresses difference, sometimes violently. Pluralism without confidence misses the reality of people. It ignores or trivializes our stark differences for the sake of feigned agreement and false unity. Confidence pluralism allows genuine difference to coexist without suppressing or minimizing our firmly held convictions. We can embrace pluralism precisely because we are confident in our own beliefs, and in the groups and institutions that sustain them. (Confident Pluralism, 6-7)
It is not easy to exist within a pluralist society and to hold onto our convictions. Yet, as Inazu argues, we must acknowledge it if we have any hope of living together in society. Even as Christians we recognize that we want to be like the people of Israel in Babylon. The Prophet Jeremiah, writing to the exiled people of Israel speaks God’s word, saying:
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (29:7)
The goal is not to become assimilated to Babylon, to lose our confident convictions. Yet, even as they were to be the distinct people of God among a sinful nation, they were to seek to live at peace with the city, even to strive for its “welfare.” Christians can be “confident pluralists” of a sort. We are holding tightly to the truth, arguing for it even, yet we are doing so with respect, humility, patience, and kindness. We disagree strongly, but we disagree in ways that seek to honor those with whom we live.
As I look at the current landscape of Evangelicalism, and particularly across the spheres of culture with which I most familiar, I see lots of division. We see divisions, even among Christians, over issues like race, sexuality, politics, and constructive care of others. We see massive divisions that separate the church from the world that most desperately needs us, we see divisions that keep Christian from Christian, and church from church. Over the next few weeks, then, I want to acknowledge and celebrate those who are doing the hard work of seeking to build bridges and draw communities closer to each other. These men and women do this from a place of confident Evangelical conviction, and yet speak with kindness, humility, and respect towards those with whom they disagree. They are markedly different from the world, and often even from their own community because of this level of patient engagement.
Over the next several weeks, then, I want to highlight some wonderful men and women who are building bridges in different communities and contexts. I will speak to those who are laboring to address race relations in the church, establishing friendship with extreme liberals, seeking to love and show kindness to the LGBT community, and who are connecting with divergent viewpoints in counseling and care. The goal is not simply to celebrate these men and women, this is more than hagiography. The goal is to thank God for raising up such bridge builders and to seek to support their efforts and emulate their attitudes and actions. These people, after all, model our Savior who was himself a bridge-builder. Jesus Christ was never vague or apathetic towards truth or towards sin, and yet in his earthly ministry many sinners loved Him and came to Him. He took on flesh, entered our mess, and without compromise loved us. We want to be like Christ and there are good examples among us who can provide help and encouragement. Some of the names you can expect to see in this series include: Russell Moore, Trillia Newbell, Karen Swallow Prior, Glenn Stanton, Alan Noble, and Robert Kellemen. I hope you will check back each week to engage this series and pray for these folks.