Is compromise a virtue or a vice?
Once upon a time, here in the US, there was a statesman (not a politician), Henry Clay, known as the Great Compromiser. OK, he actually was a politician and even ran for the Presidency in 1824, then again in 1832 and 1844. His fame, such as it is, came, not from failed political campaigns, however, but for successful compromises. He was instrumental in formulating the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850, both tiptoeing around the issue of slavery.
Some might point to those compromises as means by which slavery was propped up for four more decades. Others might say they kept the union together until the North was strong enough to oppose a seceded South.
Others have been touted as statesmen for their ability to bring two opposing sides together. Neither ends up with everything they hoped for and both give in on things they stand against.
The way the US government was set up required compromise. Small states had equal voting power in the Senate, so large states couldn’t overlook their needs or ignore their voice. The President had to look to Congress to generate the legislation he wished to see enacted, requiring a fair amount of give and take on both their parts.
On the other hand, in the early history of the US, there wasn’t much compromise when it came to religious things. In part this intransigence explains the large number of Protestant denominations. When a group became convinced of the rightness of their theology, they weren’t about to hedge or make concessions with someone who saw things differently.
In this arena, too, people see the lack of compromise as both good and bad. It kept Christians opposed to one another, separated from each other, suspicious of others–pretty much the opposite of what Paul says in Colossians 3–”So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another and forgiving each other whoever has a complaint against anyone” (3:12-13).
On the other hand, a lack of compromise works against false teaching and the kind of slide into sin we see in the nation of Israel throughout the Old Testament.
What strikes me in thinking about compromise and the general overview of it in the history of the US, is the fact that today we seem to be approaching compromise in exactly the opposite way it was used in the first half of the 1800s. Then politicians who compromised were statesmen and professing Christians who compromised were heretics. Today, politicians who compromise are sell-outs, and people of religion who compromise are tolerant.
So what’s your take on compromise? Are there things, similar to Israel’s neglect of the Sabbath or care for widows and orphans or involvement in idol worship, that the Church (not people who say they are Christians because they were born in the US or because they go to a Christmas church service or because their parents identified as Christians) is compromising on today, and should not? Are there things the Church is holding on to, similar to the Amish horse and buggy or 18th century dress, that ought to be compromised?