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Sunday Reflections: Is compromise always a bad thing?

I found former Congressman John Boehner’s new book at our library and finished it a few weeks ago. It was interesting to learn more about his governing philosophy.

He came to Congress from Ohio as a Reagan conservative, and immediately took the lead in ethics reform. We remember the U.S. House of Representatives post office scandal and the banking scandal in the 90s. Boehner sponsored legislation to reform these abuses. Later he grew in leadership responsibility and was elected Speaker of the House.

Boehner said he followed the Reagan philosophy in governing. He said if he could cooperate with the opposite party and get 80 percent of what he wanted, he considered this success.

A number of conservatives disagreed with Boehner’s leadership (and he fired back at a few of them in his book!). I have friends who accused him of going soft and not standing on principle. But it’s true that his conservative icon, President Reagan, practiced the 80 percent rule. In a less than perfect world, could a politician expect more than this? What else could one ask in a two-party system when at least some from the other side are required for major change?

Compromise can be a bad word in the church. It was a word oft-spoken to us when we were teen-agers.

“Don’t compromise with your moral convictions,” our leaders said.

And this was, and is, true. Vashti was an Old Testament heroine who refused to appear at the king’s drunken feast. She said “No.” In moral issues there’s no question about standing fast and suffering consequences if need be.

But in church governance, compromise can be a wise choice. And I think we see an example or two in the New Testament.

Paul and Barnabas disagreed on inviting John Mark to join them on their second missionary journey. He failed them before. So, Barnabas took Mark and went in one direction and Paul took Silas and went in another. Presumably both journeys were sanctioned by the Antioch church. It wasn’t the best way to do missions, but the church must’ve believed the benefit of two missionary teams would overcome the rough start.

And the Jerusalem church compromised when they wrote a letter to Antioch about the Gentile question. They said, in effect, we’ll accept non-Jews in the church if you reject pagan immorality and refrain from antagonizing Hebrews by eating non-kosher meat. This was a compromise because it faded over the years—at least the kosher requirement. It was a way to calm things down until the crisis passed. Thus missionaries felt free to invite all people to Christ.

Compromise in non-moral issues need not be a bad thing if it brings beneficial outcomes.

“Reflections” is a weekly faith column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church, Alabaster, Alabama. The church’s website is siluriabaptist.com.

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