by Jimmy Veith
For many, the word “compromise” has negative connotations. People who “compromise” are viewed as people who lack moral courage to live up to high ethical standards. We admire most those individuals who stand up against the system and do the right thing regardless of what others think. When “Mr. Smith” went toWashington, his filibuster in the Senate was not obstructionism. It was a heroic act. John Wayne never compromised. Our aversion to compromise, is probably a reflection of our individualism, which is a dominate personality trait of Americans.
There are cultures, primarily in the East, that seem to place a greater emphasis on getting along with others. The middle way or the “golden mean” is a dominant theme in their religions and philosophies, which place a greater emphasis on living in harmony with others. We are more defined by our Judeo-Christian heritage which places a greater emphasis on absolute truths.
The Bible is full of warning and admonitions against compromise. Yet, there are passages in the Bible that describe circumstances in which compromise is considered to be a good thing. Consider Acts 15, which describes what is know as the Jerusalem conference, where Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem to meet with Peter and the other Apostles to discus whether or not Gentiles who converted to Christianity had to become Jews first, and thus be circumcised according to the Law of Moses. The view of Paul and Barnabas prevailed and the conference concluded that converts did not have to be circumcised. (Yea!) But even then, the Gentiles were instructed to comply with Jewish dietary laws. (See Acts15: 20) Was this an example of a compromise? Are there other or better examples in the Bible where compromise is considered to be a good thing?
The United States Constitution is full of compromises. The greatest conflict among the delegates to the Constitutional Convention was between the big states and the little states. The big states wanted proportional representation based on population. The little states wanted equal representation so they would not be dominated by the big states. This conflict threatened to tear the convention apart, until they decided on the so-called “Connecticut Compromise” which gave proportional representation to the House of Representatives and equal representation in the Senate.
Today, we are engaged in a national debate over what should be done to address our national debt crises. The far right refuses to raise taxes. The far left refuses to reduce Social Security and Medicare benefits. Isn’t this a situation where a compromise which does some of both, is the moral and ethical thing to do?
What are the moral and ethical dimensions of compromise? Isn’t the attitude of “My way or the Highway!” repugnant in a Democracy? Is it possible that in some circumstances, our willingness to compromise is an expression of Christian humility?