In the wake of yet another tragedy yesterday, after yet another clash of ideologies that has resulted in violence, many Church leaders have called upon all Christians to “build bridges.” Taken at face value, who can argue with that from a Christian perspective? We are called to love our enemy, to include those who are different from us, to welcome the stranger, and to forgive those who offend us. Of course we are supposed to build bridges, we say.
But that’s not what I’m going to do. At least, not in the way that it’s normally meant.
You see, a bridge is a wonderful structure that connects two isolated areas and allows people to travel freely from one side to another. Generally, this is a good thing, as people who would otherwise never encounter each other are able to come together in the middle—maybe even go to the other side—to learn from someone else’s perspective before returning to their own side. When dealing with different, but logical, positions on a particular topic, this is absolutely where Christians need to be, bringing together people of different faiths, political stances, and cultures to build a better world.
Emphasis on the logical.
In the case of white supremacy, I will not meet in the middle. In the case of any systemic hatred, bigotry, exclusion, suppression, violence, and terror, acts and ideologies not concerned with seeking the truth, building a peaceful society, or living with equitable justice, I will not go to the other side. As nice as “building bridges” sounds in an official statement or tweet, it makes little sense when we are dealing with objectively evil platforms. As Christians, we are not called to compromise or meet in the middle as a general rule. The middle ground is not always the right answer. We are called to justice, to protecting the inalienable human dignity of each person, to upholding the values of the kingdom of God, and to standing against evil in unwavering ways. How can we “build bridges” with harmful and violent ideologies? We would never compromise on our stance that life begins at conception. We would never meet in the middle about God’s love for all people, especially the poor.
But that’s what some are suggesting. One Church leader put out a statement yesterday saying, “I pray that those men and women on both sides can talk and seek solutions to their differences respectfully.” And normally, say, in the case of a fight between the Republicans and Democrats, I can see this as an appropriate statement: both sides have their points, and both sides can learn from one another. But how exactly, I might ask, is a person of color supposed to “seek solutions to their differences” with a white supremacist? How exactly are we supposed to learn from someone who wants nothing more than the reduction of rights, enslavement, deportation, or even execution of all people of color, homosexuals, Catholics (yes, we are not welcome), and immigrants? Sometimes, we are not dealing with a situation in which “both sides” have something to learn and “both sides” are equally at fault, and leaders who try to play the middle ground and appear balanced actually betray the very Gospel life they are entrusted to lead.
Sometimes, there is just no bridge to be built with that ideology, and I won’t try.
But that doesn’t mean that I’m building a wall or condemning people with heinous perspectives. No, as a Christian, I am always called to love my enemy no matter how destructive their ideology is. And in fact, I will “build bridges” to anyone who holds such beliefs. But these bridges are not meant for us to learn from each other and then return to our normal ways of life. No, in cases of objective evil and destructive behavior, we are called to build bridges to free people from the evil that surrounds them. Rather than offering free passage back and forth, this bridge is meant to get people off of the exclusive and destructive island they are on, to live with more love, peace, and inclusivity than they are capable of right now.
If we truly love someone as Jesus loves them, caring intimately about their soul and their place in the kingdom, letting them continue down a road of hatred and “respecting” the fact that they have a different belief is not enough. The kingdom of God is many things but it is not filled with hatred and bigotry, and it does not allow people who want to dominate others or be supreme. If we really want to love as Jesus did, we need to reach out to them—not to affirm what they think or do—but to affirm their inalienable human dignity and rightful place with God so to offer them another path than they have chosen.
But that path does not have to be our path. They do not need to be Christians or have any faith at all. They do not need to share the same political beliefs with us or like the same sports teams. For those situations, more bridges, with greater humility and openness on our part will be needed. But in cases of major affronts to the human family, in the case of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, or any other systemic hatred, bigotry, exclusion, suppression, violence, or terror, we cannot waiver as Christians and we cannot meet in the middle. The only bridge we can build in good conscience is one that helps our brother and sister free from the destruction all around them.
Looking around the world and mourning over recent events, I’d say we need a few more bridge builders like that.