In spite of what I wrote in my previous posting, I do not like compromise. That is one reason I am glad to have spent my life as a teacher/preacher rather than as a politician—although, certainly, compromising on some things was sometimes necessary in church conferences (business meetings) and faculty meetings.
In politics, as most of us realize, compromise is often necessary. And compromise is not always bad. At times it is even necessary and, thus, good. But there are times when compromise is not good.
Compromise is good when it is choosing a lesser evil for the public good. That is the logic behind the Niebuhrian/Obaman justification for war in some cases (although I still question whether that is a good compromise in most cases), and that was the logic behind many Senators voting for a less than ideal health care reform bill last week.
Compromise is bad, though, when it means giving up one’s ideals for one’s own personal benefit. Thus, compromising in order to reap financial benefits or even to gain the praise of others is not good. We should stick to our ideals even though that may mean forfeiting personal rewards that would come with compromise.
Art Gish’s The New Left and Christian Radicalism (1970) was one of the most important books I read in the 1970s. The Christian radicalism that Gish, a Church of the Brethren minister, wrote about is the type preached and practiced by the sixteenth-century Swiss Brethren (Anabaptists) and their descendants.
Gish claims that refusal to compromise was a part of the radicality of the Anabaptists. That is why they could persist in practicing believer’s baptism even when it was illegal to do so (as it was in Zurich after 1526). And that is why they could be consistent pacifists, when all around people were arguing that war is sometimes necessary.
The Swiss Anabaptists were true to their ideals. For that reason, some became martyrs, such as Felix Manz who was executed by being drowned in the Limmat River in central Zurich in January 1527. If push came to shove, I don’t know whether I would have the intestinal fortitude to hold fast to my ideals and beliefs rather than to compromise in order to save my life, but I have nothing but admiration for those who refuse to compromise because of their ideals.
Compromise may be necessary in politics, but doesn’t a strong religious faith mean holding firmly to one’s ideals without compromise?