It was a brand-new request for me. A friend said he needed someone to sit with him and his wife and their two lawyers and try to negotiate a way forward with some sincere give and take. I immediately thought of two images of myself. One was faithful Daniel in the den of lions, and the other was the soldier in the middle of the battlefield being shot at by both sides!
But I agreed to do whatever I could to be of service.
I remember my dad talking about this kind of thing when he served as an officer in the local steelworkers’ union. When management and labor came to an impasse, sometimes the opposing sides would agree to arbitration. The arbiters came in to find a way forward through compromise. It must have worked because dad continued to make steel until he retired.
Some declare compromise a bad thing. I’ve heard Christians say this over the years when referring to moral issues. And I believe this is true. The church holds to a moral standard no matter the current public opinion. We don’t poll, then decide.
One of my mentors, now deceased, once told me about his response whenever alcohol referendums came up.
“I’m fully aware there are drinkers in my church,” he said, “but I will be on the anti-drinking side whenever there’s a vote. I’ve seen the evil of this, and I have a responsibility to speak out.”
But on a host of other issues compromise isn’t a bad thing. I’m convinced most church fights don’t involve theology, though this sometimes happens. Most church fights involve leadership, or “who’s going to be the boss?” In the congregational system, the people are the “deciders,” as President Bush 43 used to say. And decisions can be fractious. How often do sincere people disagree over paint and carpet, which have little or nothing to do with the kingdom of God? Some of these disagreements seem important at the time, but the specifics fade in our memories over the years. What remains is brokenness and suspicion.
This is why arbitration or compromise can be good. Opposing parties can find middle ground and come closer to one another.
And there’s scriptural precedent.
The early church struggled with the “Gentile question.” Is the church for Jews only, or should we welcome non-Jews? Leaders convened a council for consideration and decided to welcome their Gentile brothers. But they also asked new believers from other nations to be sure to respect Jewish traditions so as not to create further friction (Acts 15). In this spirit of compromise the church understood its mission to take the gospel to all people. Compromise paved a way forward.
Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. siluriabaptist.com.