Friday, February 17, 2006

Some Thoughts on Compromise

Compromise is sometimes a dirty word, and sometimes it is the only way to get things done. The problem comes when we cannot see which one it is at the time. Of course we should compromise in the unimportant, non-essentials. Compromise to help others is a good idea. To never compromise is to be selfish. However, there are times when principles are at stake, and then compromise becomes a dirty word. Sadly, this is seldom seen. History is replete with Compromisers who would sell their soul to keep unity, and they always fail, and more often than not, make things worse. Let us just look at a few examples.

Senator Stephen Douglas is a fantastic example of this. Douglas believed he had found a compromise position in Popular Sovereignty. This was the idea that people within the territory could decide for themselves the issue of slavery while still a territory. Douglas was sure that this would win accolades in both the North and the South. But, he was wrong. His compromise hastened the “irrepressible conflict” by tearing the Democratic Party in half (thirds actually), and giving Lincoln the victory assuring the South would leave and blood would be shed. Had he but stepped aside and let a principled candidate run, like Jefferson Davis, the Democrats would have held onto the White House, and perhaps bloodshed could have been avoided.

Charles Erdman, a professor of Princeton and follower of the Old School theology, sought to be a compromiser and a unifier. While he was the moderator of the 1925 General Assembly, the Assembly upheld complaints against a few ministers who denied the virgin birth of Christ. In response to upholding the complaint many liberal ministers threatened to leave. Erdman compromised with these deniers of the virginity of Mary by creating a commission to study the problems of the church. The committee met and reported back the next year disavowing the idea that liberals were following a different gospel. The 1926 Assembly was controlled by the liberals and they stopped the appointment of Machen to Chair of Apologetics, and the end of the PCUSA and Princeton had begun.

In every major conflict whether it be in the church or in the state many try to find ground that all can inhabit. They propose compromises that do nothing but undermine the position of those who are right. When fundamental principles are at stake there can be no compromise.