Steve Inskeep interviewed Professor Shankar Vedantam on NPRthis morning on the topic of compromise. Studies show that Americans have ambivalent feelings about compromise in politics. They vote for people who say they won’t compromise their values, but they are disappointed when those they elect fail to compromise in order to pass legislation. If one reads the Constitution of the United States it will become readily apparent that compromise runs throughout the document. We have survived as a nation by practicing give and take in governance.
No politician runs on a platform of compromise but, once elected, he or she soon finds out that negotiation is necessary in order to make any impact as a legislator. Perhaps I should say that this has been the name of the game, but both parties seem to have settled into ideological trench warfare on many issues. As a result, movement is often lacking in the legislative process.
Compromise simply recognizes that where there are two people present, there are at least two different set of needs, expectations and priorities. If any progress is to be made, there must be some negotiation based on mutual respect and a desire to achieve win-win solutions. This is not a bad thing but something that people who live in community have learned to do in order to survive. If you don’t want to survive, don’t compromise.
We see this in the family. In a healthy family, no one gets everything he or she wants. The best outcome is that each family member will at least get what he or she needs. This only happens when love, commitment, communication and sacrifice are practiced.
The same is true of the church. Each congregation begins with a certain set of principles that everyone more or less holds in common. After that members either agree to disagree (and perpetuate an unhealthy climate) or they find ways to give and take to stay together and move forward in God’s mission.
Is this easy? Of course not. Why do you think we have so many denominations and many variations within denominations? Most often churches and denominations argue and split over things that are of little importance or over which they have little control. Rather than treating one another as children of God, we deny others their God-given identity and value and make them into “non-persons” or objects.
Theologian Martin Buber emphasized that in order for a person to truly know God, he or she must enter into an intimate “I-Thou” relationship with God. As long as our experience with God is an “I-It” relationship, we will not know God. The same is true of human relationship. If we do not encounter the other as person rather than object, we cannot have a loving relationship with that person.
The church is made of “thous” not “its.” Because of this, we must learn to value and communicate—and compromise—if we are to be a whole and healthy family of God.