We are accustomed to believing that peace can be achieved through compromise.

America was founded on compromise.  Most in the northern states had abandoned the practice of slavery and saw it as contrary to principles of liberty.  The southern states maintained the practice and saw it as a necessity for their economic survival.

But the American people, both north and south, needed each other on the global stage to ward off external enemies and build their own national strength.  We needed the Union of the states.

The Great Compromise of 1787 created that Union.  Slavery was permitted in those states that wanted it, but the power of the slave states was limited in the central government.  Only three of every five slaves in a slave state counted toward the state’s population.  This decreased the representation of slave states in the central government and limited the spread of slavery.

As America expanded westward, Northerners tried to limit, and Southerners tried to expand, the spread of slavery into new territories.  Both sides were constantly working through political compromises to maintain their Union.

When a compromise failed, another was tried.  With each compromise both sides grew more suspicious that the other was trying to force itself on all states.  The election of Lincoln in 1860 drove southerners to secede from the Union, certain that Lincoln was going to eliminate slavery.  

The Civil War was fought to determine how our nation would proceed, and we are still wrestling with the results of that conflict.
While compromise toward peace may be desirable, compromise is not always possible.  Some stances are irreconcilably contradictory.  Sometimes people must choose sides.

We struggle with the idea that Christians could find themselves on opposite sides, each side certain that his side is God’s side.  Christians, we say, should be able to compromise, to agree and be at peace with one another.  That may be true in an ideal world.  Apparently, we aren’t in an ideal world.

The apostle Paul counseled believers to “if possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12.18).  

“If possible”, he said.  Sometimes it’s not possible.
“So far as it depends on you”.  Sometimes it depends on things beyond you – and if those things are not in place, peace won’t be achieved no matter what you do.

Thomas Paine called such times of polarization and division “times that try men’s souls”.  We find ourselves, I think, in such a time.

There are no detours or short-cuts.
We cannot escape it or go around it.
We must figure out how to walk through it.
History may be pondered in retrospect, but it cannot be lived that way.  It can only be lived forward.




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