I’m a liberal Democrat and a progressive Christian. Predictably, I support gay marriage, gun control, government assistance for the poor, and the protection of the promise we made to Dreamers. I enjoy sharing a meal and discussing politics and religion with those who share my views.
I have a few friends and a number of relatives who are conservative Republicans and evangelical Christians. Predictably, they support traditional marriage, gun-owners’ rights, and a work requirement for the poor who receive government assistance. Many of them do, however, support protections for Dreamers. I occasionally share a meal with these friends and relatives, but we studiously avoid discussing politics and religion and focus on what connects us.
We are most comfortable with like-minded people, and that works for most of us in our social lives.
But political purism in the public arena endangers our democracy.
We share a country with others whose views are the polar opposite of our own. We share a country with people who support neither party. We share a country with people who practice other faiths and none.
According to Pew Research, only 13% of Americans identify themselves as “core conservatives” and only 16% as “solid liberals.”
Another Pew Research poll revealed that the United States has nearly as many people who identify as unaffiliated with any religion—23%—as it has evangelical Christians—25%.
We live in a country, however, where these small minorities largely determine the social dialogue and where the pendulum swings wildly when the party in power changes.
How many opinions do you hear or read that advocate a balanced approach to governance? What happens when our representatives in Congress offer bipartisan legislation? Voices that advocate for a middle ground are largely drowned out in the cacophony from the two extremes.
By its own definition, compromise isn’t ideal for anyone. But when consensus can’t be reached, compromise may be the only viable alternative.
As an elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) who has served in three different congregations, I learned this first-hand during the church’s debate over the ordination of LGBTQ members. Each year at our church’s General Assembly, contentious debates overshadowed all the other work of the church, and in 1996, a majority of presbyteries approved an addition to our Book of Order that required “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness” for anyone who served as a deacon, an elder, or a pastor.
The issue loomed large each year and threatened to split a denomination that had already split over slavery, the ordination of women, and other issues that mirror the controversies in our country’s political history. Facing schism, the church’s leaders looked for what some called a “third way” and offered a change to the language that left the decision for ordination up to local governing bodies, which was approved in 2011. In 2015 a majority of presbyteries approved the same approach to allowing churches to perform gay marriage ceremonies.
Obviously, these decisions didn’t make either side completely happy. A number of congregations even left the PC(USA). When my family moved, I often couldn’t tell at first glance whether a church shared my views or not since many churches opted for a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach. In addition, a gay pastor ordained in one presbytery might not be called to serve in many churches, and a gay couple married in one church might not be allowed to serve in church leadership in another church.
Clearly, this isn’t an ideal solution for anyone. But the contentious debates that dominated each General Assembly gathering no longer overshadow the most important work of the Church. And we still share communion at the same table.
Our country needs to find a similar “third way.” Politicians in each party need to advocate for what they believe is best for the common good, but they shouldn’t be held hostage by “core conservatives” and “solid liberals.” For government to work, our leaders need our permission to compromise without fearing the loss of their seats in a primary challenge. And voters need to do a better job of electing thoughtful, reasonable candidates who believe in the party platform but who have our permission to compromise.
For what is the alternative? Secession? Civil war? We’ve been there before, and I, for one, don’t want to repeat that history.
Many factors have contributed to the dysfunction of Congress—not the least of which are gerrymandered districts and wealthy campaign contributors. But we do share some common ground, and we need to start somewhere. Most public opinion polls show that Americans overwhelmingly support a solution for dreamers. The most recent Pew survey, conducted in January, reported that figure at 74%, with even 50% support from Republicans.
Why can’t we start there? Perhaps Democrats may have to give a little on funding more border security. And perhaps Republicans may have to challenge Trump on his demands for a border wall. But isn’t it worth it to welcome Dreamers to the table?
And perhaps if we compromise just a little, we ordinary Americans might even be able to share holiday dinners more peaceably at the same table again.