I find myself attracted to those who strive to be bridge builders and reconcilers, men and women who seek to find common ground in opposing camps and help others to live and work together in spite of differences. In the political arena we are now witnessing the mostly futile efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry to play this role as he tries to bring Israelis and Palestinians together (again) to resolve how to live in peace. Kerry admitted in a Senate hearing this week that his effort may be for naught while defending the value of continued effort.
Our nation is polarized these days in terms of race, class and religion. I read recently that counties with a Whole Foods grocery store vote overwhelmingly Democrat while counties with a Cracker Barrel vote overwhelmingly Republican.
Building bridges doesn’t mean blurring our differences. Many issues, goals and principles are important enough that one must with integrity defend a stance and walk resolutely in a certain direction. The problem with such an approach, though, is that it can potentially leave little room to maneuver with opponents.
Thus I was intrigued this week to discover the story of a bridge-building Dutch journalist, clergyman and statesman. The life of Abraham Kuyper surfaced in a review I read of George Marsden’s 2014 book The Twilight of the American Enlightenment. Marsden, a highly acclaimed author and professor at the University of Notre Dame, explains how the United States has become so divided and cites Abraham Kuyper’s life as a way forward.
Kuyper (1837 – 1920) was a Dutch clergyman in the Dutch Reformed tradition, an exceptional pastor, theologian and churchman whose principled and faithful witness to Christianity led him to break away from the state church and its lax discipleship, a painful decision that may not seem in keeping with the calling to build bridges. But Kuyper, while convinced that he and his followers had made the right decision for the sake of the gospel, refused to let his new congregation grow self-righteous. He chastised his people for ever thinking they were the promised people, exhorting them to consider themselves no better than those from whom they had separated.
Kuyper was also a political leader, elected as Prime Minister of the Netherlands from 1901-1905. In this capacity he exerted his influence to help Dutch citizens of all persuasions to live and work together without forsaking their own deeply held principles. According to Barton Swaim’s book review (Wall Street Journal April 7, 2014), Kuyper “advocated openness about presuppositions – whether secular or religious – and insisted that even those who disagree on fundamental principles can work toward equitable compromise.” That’s often a thankless task.
If you’ve never heard of Kuyper, take some time to read his story. He was one of those rare individuals able to hold in delicate balance his own religious and political conviction while working with others who held equally ardent opposite viewpoints. We need more such persons in church and state.
Creede Hinshaw is a retired minister in Macon.