When do we compromise - and how?
The gruelling Civil War is over; the monarchy has been restored and is now reformed. It’s 1688 in the excellent history of the English written by Robert Tombs, which I am currently reading. He concludes: “Combining these seemingly conflicting principles produced characteristics of English political culture: suspicion of Utopias and zealots; trust in common sense and experience; respect for tradition; preference for gradual change; and the view that compromise is victory, not betrayal.” As you will know we are in the middle of another climatic time in our history, witness the remarkable events this week in the House of Commons – which I was very briefly to observe for myself on Monday from a redirected 148 bus. The problem is that we as a nation cannot agree on a fundamental– and our normal parliamentary procedures seem unable to cope. However, we do need to make a decision, soon – but how? Our traditional political values, outlined by Tombs, are under grave stress. As Anglicans we belong to the same tradition. We value the understanding of the broad church as we embrace our different, sometimes conflicting, traditions. Jacqui and I experienced this last Sunday with the morning Mass at the liberal catholic St Peter Walworth and then in the evening in complete contrast, the charismatic exuberance of Holy Trinity, Brompton. We enjoyed both but in very different ways. Incidentally both used liturgy from the aptly-titled Common Worship. Of course, there are those among us who would want to separate and start our own denomination but by-and-large we have learned to live together and even, occasionally, to work together. Of course, this does not preclude us from advocating our own understanding of what it means to be a Christian in our own culture. However, as Anglicans – and as disciples of Jesus - we have something to offer here. The then chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks recognised this feature of Anglicanism when he was invited ten years ago to address the assembled company of Anglican (or Episcopal) bishops from around the world at the Lambeth conference. In a Q&A session he observed: "It is the hardest thing in the world to hold the adherents of a faith together. The Anglican Communion has held together quite different strands of Christian theology and practice better than any other religion I know, certainly than any other Western religion I know." The key is compromise. But how do you define compromise – is it a coming-together or a sell-out? A good or a bad thing? One of my favourite LP’s (that dates me) is Keith Green’s “No Compromise.” The album cover shows one single individual refusing to bow down to an oriental despot. And fundamentally he’s right: when it comes down to basics, we are to serve God and no one else
To obey is better than sacrifice I want more than Sunday and Wednesday nights Cause if you can't come to Me every day Then don't bother coming at all. At the same time God calls us to belong to his church, a church where everyone is welcomed and valued, a church with people who will have different perspectives, different traditions and even opposing viewpoints. So the apostle Paul writes to the Corinthian church wracked by division: “For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (1 Corinthians 12:13) We need to live together in love – and that’s the next chapter: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. . .It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13: 4-7) For love seeks to build bridges, to respect the other’s viewpoint – even to compromise on something as fundamental as “Do you eat meat sacrificed to idols?” In two of his letters Paul seeks a mutual recognition over an issue which was threatening to tear the church apart. He concludes: “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food.” (Romans 14:19) The dilemma is often what is fundamental, what are our basic principles which we refuse to relinquish. Otherwise we run the real risk of destroying the work of God. So we need to beware, including in the realm of politics, of drawing too many red lines. Often what we consider basic is not basic at all. Jesus says as much of a fundamental principle of the Jewish faith: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27). Jesus lived in the real world of everyday politics. On being challenged on paying the annual temple tax for all Jewish males, he responds to Peter: “But so that we may not cause offence, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” (Matthew 17:27). Notice the motive, translated in the Message translation: “But so we don’t upset them needlessly.” In other words, we can give way on this one. (Three military helicopters just flown over our house – it must be Princess Anne en route to Edge Hill university). So we pray for our leaders, those who serve in the House of Commons, that they may work out a compromise as victory and not betrayal for the sake of our nation. Robert Tombs, 2014. The English and their history, Penguin