The Common Good

Would God want us to compromise to avoid the ‘fiscal cliff’?

Date: November 29, 2012

Jim Wallis, the progressive evangelical and founder of Sojourners, was equally emphatic in his response. “How we treat the least of these is the ultimate question. We can’t compromise on protecting the most vulnerable. Certainly all kinds of other things can be compromised. But that’s not where the real money is.” A path to fiscal sustainability is out there, Wallis concedes, and a faith-based notion of the common good might motivate both sides to sit down together, but “compromise sounds weak and cowardly and all that.”

Compromise is a biblical value, though, if you look for it carefully. Scripture is full of advice and examples about listening to others, and accommodating people who believe differently from you. Leviticus makes rules to live by and also delineates pragmatic exceptions to those rules in important cases of expediency. “Neither shall you stand by the blood of your neighbor,” says the ancient text, a rule about not doing harm that exempts Jewish doctors from observing Shabbat in order to save lives. Hospitality — also interpreted as openness — is a crucial Biblical value in both the Old Testament and the New. In Genesis, the patriarch Abraham serves milk and meat together to three strangers (angels) who visit his house; he violates his own dietary laws, he compromises his own firmly held beliefs, to make his guests comfortable. Peter talks about giving hospitality without complaint, about serving and listening with love. In the Sermon on the Mount, of course, Jesus talks about overcoming difference: “Agree with your adversary quickly,” he says. And: “If you love [only] those who love you, he says, what credit is that to you?”