Building Bridges Amidst Disagreement


Recently I was asked a thought-provoking question, “How can someone who is set in their convictions build a bridge with those they disagree with?”

This question is an important one to dwell on. As the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) enters 2012, we watch as the threat of schism jeopardizes our unity as a community of faith, together, proclaiming the Gospel. Yet, unity is a part of our ordination vows. It’s part of our shared statements of faith and it is evident in our charge to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. Building bridges is an important part of talking with each other and sustaining our unity.

I recognize that I am firmly planted on “one side of the bridge,” with convictions that some disagree with. Yet, for thirty years I’ve also concentrated on being in dialogue and collegial fellowship with those who disagree with me. In that dialogue I often encounter an assumption that the purpose of my reaching out to those who disagree with me is to tip the bridge between us so that all the people on the other side eventually slide towards me. And many point to the middle as the most likely place from which to build a bridge reaching both sides.

I happen to live in the city with the most bridges in the entire world. We here in Pittsburgh know that bridges are what bring us across valleys and hollows, very like the chasms that have separated parts of our Presbyterian Church family for decades. We also know that good bridges are built from a sturdy pylon on one side of the ravine out to another sturdy pylon built on the other side. They are not built from the middle out.

And when the bridge is completed, it allows people on opposite sides to move back and forth freely – to be in communication with one another. Building the bridge doesn’t mean you have to move to the other side; it just gives you the ability to be together.

What this means is that it is up to us, those who are firmly planted in their convictions, to help be the bridge builders for the whole church. Wow!

So how can we do this?

I have seen the sturdiest bridges built when those who disagree with each other can find a shared value and activity – such as breaking bread together, volunteering, or joining in mission work. In dialogue, I have seen that it is important to find our common ground and to speak from the heart by using “I” statements and avoid statements or assumptions that begin with “You.” And most of all, it is important to keep the bridge of communication open. Without the bridge between us, not only do we cut each other off, but we also cut off the possibility that God, by giving us neighbors who disagree with us, is truly giving us a gift. How else are we to check for our own blind spots?

So I ask you all – how do you see bridges being built in your own life and in the PCUSA?


Reverend Janet Edwards

7 Responses
  • Bill on February 18, 2012

    I dont believe you will ever build this bridge unless or until all Bible believing Christians have either given up the Bible as the word of God or they have gone home to the Creator. What your asking from us, is that we take what we hold dear and know to be the truth ( The Bible-Gods word), and to reject the Bible as the true word of God. And thats exactly what your asking. There are certain passages that offend some, so the logical action to take is to remove it ( at least from the god of this worlds point of view).This action confirms the PCUSA is NOT a Bible believing church, at least to me and a few others I’ve talked with. So your wanting to disagree and yet be together will just not work until those that believe the Bible are dead and gone or are blinded by Satan.
    Your just asking too much………..

  • Donna on February 20, 2012


    I think a better analogy would be a peace treaty where parties agree to stipulations resulting in peaceful behavior. A bridge connotes that populations on both sides of the river want it and wish to cross it.


  • Janet Edwards on February 24, 2012

    Dear Bill and Donna,

    I am sorry I missed your comment Bill now so long ago. I am glad Donna’s more recent thought brings me back to respond to you both. Thanks for sharing here.

    Bill, you prompt two thoughts in me.

    First, the confidence that you express in your understanding of Scripture being absolutely without any doubt the true mind of God mystifies me. As far as I know myself, I do not, as you say, “reject the Bible as the true word of God.” What I do is recognize that words on a page, any page including the BIble, are inevitably subject to our minds grasping the meaning of these words and that is called interpretation.

    Since interpretation is inescapable, we must share our interpretations and through that process, the Holy Spirit leads us to God’s intent. I know there are Presbyterians who share your interpretation of Scripture and also your insistence that your interpretation is not that, but rather, is the one and only possible word of God. That there are also Presbyterians like me whose prayerful understanding of Scripture differs from yours does not mean, as you claim, that the PCUSA “has given up on the Bible as the word of God.” It means we differ on what that word is–the very reason we need bridges.

    Second, If, for the sake of discussion, I accept that your interpretation is the word of God and another view is not, I am also mystified as to how you, as a Christian, can just walk away from me and others like me. It seems to me that bridges to me would be your first priority since it is an imperative for you to inspire me to see the same thing you see in Scripture. This seems to be to be required evangelism and is best done with the gentle hand of an invitation to conversation.

    And, Donna, what I have said to Bill underlies my response to your idea of a peace treaty. I expect all three of us are committed to peaceful behavior and also know that there are those among us who can be cruel. We do have a problem when simple disagreement is experienced as cruel. It is a presumption of my understanding of how I am to love my neighbor that leads me to expect that every Christian would want a bridge to another and want to cross it.

    I hope you all find your way to respond. Peace, Janet

  • Donna on February 24, 2012

    Hi Janet,

    I hope I’ve not been interpretted as cruel. Terse, maybe, but I hope not cruel. In any case, I beg forgiveness.

    My point about a peace treaty is to ensure that progress (which in this case is moving the church forward while retaining all members) can be made if people can agree to certain behaviors, such as: no name calling, no disparaging comments, and so on. See the movie or book: Flight of the Phoenix (1965).

    But I suppose that is what the Gospels teach and it is ignored by whatever percentage of the population. And that population it appears to me would not be inclined to wanting to build a bridge.

    Again, apologies, a thousand apologies. One thing I know is the particular cruelty of Christians…


  • Janet Edwards on February 24, 2012

    Dear Donna,

    On the contrary, forgive me for implying to you that you are cruel in any way. I had no such idea in mind.

    And yet, we have both experienced, I think, others receiving our words as cruel even though we did not intend that. This is what I am speaking of when I talk about a contrary idea is experienced as cruel.

    I certainly agree with you that agreements on civil behavior toward one another is to be expected among Christians and I would say that is the basic foundation for a good bridge. And I also agree with you that there are some in the church who do not desire any bridge.

    For me, that reality is less important than what I see as Jesus’ command to continue always to invite such people to be in relationship, to meet on the bridge. My effort to bridge the chasm is what I have control over. What the other person does is their responsibility before God.

    I look forward to your thoughts.

    Peace, Janet

  • Bill on February 28, 2012

    Rev. I’m a simple man, no Ivy league education, no formal training. That being said is why God wrote the Bible. He didnt give some 613 ( or there abouts) commands/laws on how to live and make them impossible to understand. When he said Dont murder people, its easy for me to understand. What he meant was “dont murder people”. There isnt any need to look for some hidden and difficult meaning. I dont need to be a Theologian to get it. In my understanding of the Word, God and Jesus are one ( along with the Holy Spirit).So even though we dont live under the “Law” any more its still easy for me to understand the mind of Jesus. Jesus didnt “remove” sin, he forgave it. And thats where the trouble begins. Jesus loves everyone thats clear. So should those that follow him. But he said that if we claim to love him the we must obey him and “sin no more’. So many people LGBT included are hurting and they can figure out why God doesnt help them. How can he when some churches are teaching that its OK to continue in a life style God objects to. You cant repent when teachers are telling them they dont have to…..its sad!

  • Bill on February 29, 2012


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