There’s one word that’s all but become the dirtiest word in the whole wide world of Christianity. Over the last 30 or 40 years, Christian leaders have very carefully taught their flocks that this word means something it really doesn’t–and from there the idea that it is the worst thing that any Christian can ever do, ever. It’s not until a Christian deconverts that they usually start untangling the false definition from the reality, much less learns how it works in healthy relationships of all kinds. Christian leaders pushed this redefinition onto their flocks for a reason–and to reach a goal that they clearly feel is more pressing than all that boring stuff Jesus is supposed to have told them to do. I’m talking about compromise, of course, and here’s the skinny on it–and why it’s going to sink any effort Christians even try to make to save their religion from irrelevance.
A Dangerous Word.
There may not be any compromise of Christian obligations, which forbid every unholy alliance: “for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial?
The duty of a Christian people under divine visitations, 1832
Even when I was Christian in the late 80s and early 90s, compromise was well-understood to be the worst thing a Christian could ever do. It meant the process of allowing worldly1 stuff and attitudes to invade our thoughts and behavior. A Christian who had compromised was no longer an effective salesperson for Christianity–but even worse, such a Christian was lukewarm and no longer even assured of going to Heaven after death.
Compromise was death by a thousand cuts, in a way. Christians (we learned at the time) had to watch out for bending even a little bit on the rules of the religion. If someone allowed worldly things to take up room in their life, that would crowd out Christian things–so obviously that was a problem.
Christians who had compromised were seen as worldly. So loving AC/DC was worldly. So was wearing makeup, going to the movies, and skipping Bible study on Thursday nights. Worldly was the last thing anybody in my religion wanted to be. It was the polar opposite of being on fire and sold out. It was compromised.
So we sang songs about how we totally would never compromise. We learned in Sunday School that compromise was the worst thing a Christian could do. We heard church leaders declaring that any change in any of our practices would be compromise. We were threatened with Hell for allowing anybody in the world to persuade us to alter anything we were doing or were told to do. And then we grew up and entered the adult world of work and marriage carrying this redefined form of the word along with us.
Hilariously, I was probably halfway through college when I found out that the word compromise had any other meaning besides “diluting or weakening one’s Christian faith with worldly ideas and entertainments.”
A Long History.
The sort of Christians who go in for the most toxic doctrinal stances in the religion declare their hatred for compromise at the drop of a hat. And they’ve been smug about not compromising for centuries.
Yes, centuries. It’s not hard to locate very old books written by Christians to describe how they’d always refused to compromise with government authorities regarding their beliefs and rituals. Here’s one such account, from 1792:
Had Christians intended nothing more than to introduce a new deity, a compromise could easily have been made to the satisfaction of all parties; an intercommunity of worship being the very spirit of paganism. But a religion which represented every other as a cheat, struck at the very foundation of all that was held sacred among men. It was to this inflexible disposition of both the Jewish and Christian religions that the Romans pointed, when they accused, first the Jews and then the Christians, of hatred to the whole race of humankind.
Christian leaders taught their flocks from an early age to view any encroachment upon their practices and beliefs as a full-scale attack by secular forces. Giving in would shatter a Christian’s devotions and faith. Those were supreme; they could not be threatened nor made less of a priority in that Christian’s life. Christians who allowed that to happen were gambling with their very souls.
Such black-and-white thinking was, far from ridiculed in their ranks, allowed and encouraged to become the predominant way of thinking.
Flash forward to the modern day, and it’s not hard to find Christians who react to the idea of compromise like someone just ordered them to put leeches on their junk. It’s one of the worst words in their lexicon–an accusation they’ll do almost anything to avoid.
That’s why TRUE CHRISTIANS™ look askance at Christians who seem to fit into culture a little too comfortably or are too kindhearted toward others, and are so suspicious of churches that seem a little too optimistic and seeker-driven rather than demanding and extremist. In the 1990s the term “Christian lite” began to be bandied about to describe both such Christians and such churches. They were compromised, and any Christian foolish enough to fall under their sway was doomed.
I probably heard that kind of talk often in my neck of the theological woods. We hated the idea of compromise. We lived and breathed a sort of all-or-nothing world where something or someone was either properly Christian or completely of the Devil–but couldn’t be both because that was “serving two masters,” and we knew what happened to people like that. We were pushing hard to make everything we handled, owned, wore, and drove blare our Christian faith to the skies to anybody looking at it. We were on fire. We were sanctified. We were uncompromising.
But we’d learned a redefinition of the word. We had no idea what compromise really was, only that we had to reject it wherever our leaders said it lurked.
What Compromise Isn’t.
In my own marriage to the ultra-fanatic Biff, both of us were taught–and believed–that compromise was a process of give and take where one person gives in to do something they totally hate in the hopes that next time around, the other person will give in and do something they totally hate. Meanwhile, the person who wasn’t giving in got to do what they loved, though they’d hopefully know that next time around they’d be doing something they hated.
And friends, that isn’t really a healthy way of handling a marriage.
What really happened in actual practice was that the person who was handed all the power in the relationship (the husband) tended to get what he wanted all of the time, and the other person who had no power at all in the relationship (the wife) ended up doing something she hated all of the time. Typically speaking, what the dominant person in the marriage was compromising by doing or not doing was stuff that any healthy person in any healthy relationship would be doing anyway. But this was presented as a gracious, sacrificial concession to the subordinate person in a fundagelical marriage.
That was what we were taught about marriage–this totally wacky view of relationships that reduced us to toddlers and then taught us that it was totally healthy to have a relationship where one child slaps another in pique and spite, knowing that the other child will be slapping them next time. The amazing thing is that more fundagelicals don’t divorce, really, not that so many of them do. They’re learning a style of interaction that is anything but respectful and loving, and then wondering why their relationships deteriorate so quickly and so dramatically.
The same thing happens with Christians in greater society, unfortunately. These Christians, operating with the fear of compromise put into them by their irresponsible leaders, head out into the world and try to offer compromises that aren’t really compromises at all. When people with a skewed view of relationships try to engage with outside culture, of course there’s going to be friction. They’re trying to abuse others the same way they abuse people in their own ranks, and that grabbiness doesn’t get same results with people who aren’t primed to accept injustice as a divine mandate.
Offering a Prize That is Already Bespoke.
This teaching was applied to greater culture, too, where these same sorts of Christians demanded that the people they were busy hassling and persecuting should compromise by handing over their rights to make fundagelicals feel more comfortable. That is not how compromise works. Back on Ex-Communications (a post that I’ve drawn on in part for today) I wrote about how Ben Carson was at the time talking about “compromising” with gay people: he’d graciously allow them to exist without his tribe’s endless persecution, but they’d have to stop accusing fundagelicals like him of bigotry, allow fundagelicals like him to legally discriminate against them, and of course and above all stop agitating for the right to get married.
And when people blew up over what he said, he got mad at everyone who was condemning his false compromise. In his culture, what he was offering was totally okay. That’s how fundagelicals get taught to compromise. No doubt he was shocked and more than a little dismayed and indignant that his totally-for-sure sincere offer was rejected so hard!
Back then I concluded that Christians like Ben Carson wanted Americans to purchase our freedom from Christian control-lust and grabbiness by giving in to their control-lust and grabbiness.
He wanted us to perceive the prize he offered us as something that he could actually give anyone–not as it truly is, something that’s already ours and not his to give or take away. He especially didn’t want us to realize that what he offered was not only not his to offer in the first place, but it was something that he’d be doing anyway if he were even a little as loving and compassionate as his tribe is supposed to be toward others.
Questions That Reveal Way More Than the Askers Intend.
A few years ago The Christian Post ran a truly wackadoodle “quiz” along those lines to test how compromised its readers were. This quiz is quite enlightening to read, too, giving a good idea of what the TRUE CHRISTIANS™ who wrote it view as compromising: stealing pens from the office, lying about the success of a revival service or about why a sick day is being taken, and being late all the time.
This weird picture is the same one painted around the same time by Ministry Today. In a blistering
article sermon about how evil compromise is and how it was totally destroying Christianity’s power and credibility, compromise is exemplified, literally, first by “a glamorous spokeswoman for conservative Christian values” who models lingerie and swimwear, then by “a well-known rapper” who is very fervent but also goes to strip clubs, smokes and drinks. He gives no names, of course. The writer goes on to talk about “the gospel of hyper-grace,” which he thinks teaches adherents that they never need to confess sins or repent of them and that they “can follow Jesus effortlessly.” He doesn’t give any names there either, of course.2
See, that guy knows exactly why all those young people leaving churches were leaving, too: because they could see that the adults in their churches had compromised–so he issues a call to action to churches to start drilling down harder on “an uncompromising, Spirit-empowered, compassion-birthed message” to bring all those young people back.
That was in 2013, incidentally. I’m guessing that the do that, except more often and harder message that guy preached didn’t actually work any more than the extensive Bible study prepared by the writers of Bible.org did, nor the equally party-line-regurgitated glurge found over at GotQuestions.org. All of these Christians believe 100% that anything that induces any Christian to do anything but what the fundagelical party line demands is compromise, and that compromise will send a Christian straight to Hell and empty churches completely.
When Nothing Else Works, the Threats Come Out.
Whenever Christian leaders get so alarmed that they pull out the threats of Hell, reading between the lines can often illuminate what’s really got them so upset that they’ve cruised right past persuasion into strong-arming.
It isn’t compromise itself that they’re fighting: it’s simply the disobedience to their demands that such actions would constitute; it’s the evidence that they are losing power in a culture that they no longer control so completely.
A Christian who no longer believes that same-sex marriage is the worst thing ever is probably also a Christian who won’t vote the way that those leaders want their flocks to vote. In the same way, Christians who don’t buy into the party line about marriage probably don’t buy into much else the leaders pushing sexism-as-the-bonus-plan say.
So the people who push teachings like this can see the rising tide of Christians who correctly see that the old teaching of no compromise ever was really just a permission slip for predators and abusers to operate freely both in churches and in society at large, and those leaders are rightly afraid of what that tide of rejection means for their continued and accustomed ways of behaving.
Putting Rights Up on the Chopping Block.
Whenever Christians demand that the people they’ve marginalized forego and give up their own rights, that’s definitely a false compromise that they are offering. And since that first post in 2015 that I wrote about it, that tactic has continued to be what TRUE CHRISTIANS™ do when presented with total loss in the public sphere.
In effect, these Christians are telling us that in order for them to feel snug and comfy in their religious ideals, they have to live in a society where they can inflict injustice and unfairness upon the people they hate. The whining and anger they evince when these false compromises are rejected speak volumes about exactly what they want and what they’re all about: it’s not love that is embodied within them as a group, but control-lust.
There simply is no compromise in politics that will make TRUE CHRISTIANS™ happy. There is only total dominion and domination. Whatever laws are proposed, if they do not give TRUE CHRISTIANS™ total leeway to discriminate and abuse whoever they like, those Christians will refuse to accept them.
To them, their “religious freedom” can only be secure when they are allowed to abuse others and rob others of freedom and liberty. And they’ve figured out all kinds of hand-waving and apologetics to excuse them of violating the Great Command to love their neighbors and to get out of doing all that boring stuff Jesus told them to do, like going the second mile, turning the other cheek, giving up their coat and their shirt, or giving all that they have to charity and taking up the cross. They’re fighting for something very real and very serious: they’re fighting for whatever shreds of domination they can still seize.
All that gets in their way is principled voters and elected officials who refuse to let Christians pursue public behaviors that hurt others no matter what their excuse is.
The Real Truth About Compromise.
Fundagelicals keep trying to offer us “compromises” that give them the unilateral power they want while giving those they seek to abuse nothing they need. They do it because they see “compromise” as demanding of them that they stop showboating and swanning around, stop mistreating others, and stop trying to trample on society.
In a real compromise, people don’t ever negotiate with their bodily rights or civil liberties. Those are sacrosanct. If Christians demand something of others that requires giving up either of those things, then they are simply in the wrong and will simply need to work out a way to practice their religion without harming others. We are not obligated to give such people the time of day. If someone makes such an offer, we are in the right to declare that it is not given in good faith and to refuse to accept it.
We are not obliged, either, to negotiate with those who threaten us or who seek to do us real harm.
In a perfect world, Christians would listen to those criticizing them and realize that yes, they are indeed trying to steal people’s rights and liberties away, and that no loving god would ever condone that kind of behavior. They’d wonder why a loving god would ever smile upon robbing others of their rights. They’d ask themselves why so many people are convinced that they are hateful bigots, even after the usual hand-waving and apologetics were offered up. They’d see the many surveys that indicate that they’re losing people and credibility not because of compromise but because of a total lack of compassion.
Maybe they’d even realize that if their happiness depends upon someone else becoming miserable or losing essential rights, then they need to revise what they need to be happy because nobody who is loving could ever do that to someone they really cared about. They’d know that they were in the wrong to make the demands they do of others, they’d go back to the drawing board, and they’d come back with something that’s more emotionally healthy for everyone.
But I’m talking about people who literally have no idea what a healthy compromise is or what it looks like, and who have been taught for centuries to regard any and all compromise as a dirty word and a Hellbound behavior.
Nor do Christians automatically learn what compromise is for real when they deconvert. It can take literally years to figure that out and untangle ourselves from all the ineffective and malignant teachings we absorbed while Christian.
Compromise, in the Real World.
After deconverting, a lot of folks have to learn from scratch what people outside of fundagelicalism probably learned back in elementary school: that compromise sometimes can involve someone giving up something they really want to make a relationship work, but more often it’s about finding an alternative to both parties’ desires that suits them both without harming either of them.
Out here in the real world, where the air is more clear and the water finer than frog’s hair, people’s rights do not go up on the chopping block, ever, for any reason. There are some things that just aren’t up for negotiation in a real compromise: someone’s dreams, their rights, their friends, their loved ones, their self-esteem, or their values.
Real compromise is about finding solutions that work for everyone–that fit into both parties’ ideals and values, that form a creative third option for those parties. It’s not “I get my way this time, and then next time I get my way again.” It’s not even “I’ll inflict this terrible thing upon you, and then later you can inflict something terrible on me.” (–Unless it’s done by consenting adults, of course.) And that idea is simply anathema to way too many Christians because they are not the ones wielding unilateral power in that equation. (Remember, Christians like that know that the only way to avoid abuse is to hold all the power in a relationship. Their entire culture revolves around gaining and holding as much power as possible–and they view losing any of it as an attack.)
And as long as Christians think that way about compromise, they’re going to bungle their very own attempts to save their religion. Nothing can halt their decline until they realize that some things are not theirs to offer–and that some of the things they pretend to offer are things that any really loving person would be doing anyway without negotiation. As long as Christians would rather have a vastly-diminished religion with all their toxic teachings intact than one of any size with emotionally healthy teachings, they’re going to keep losing power and people.
That’s the real Good News, if you ask me!
We’ll be talking about Halloween next time, because the Satanic Panic never died for some folks. See you then!
1 In fundagelicalism, the phrase “the world” and modifiers like “worldly” denote something that isn’t 100% totally Christian; in other words, the world was the evil secular world outside the bubble Christians live in–or anything related to that secular world. A TRUE CHRISTIAN™ would rather gulp down burning coals than ever be accused of worldliness, because that’s not only a slam on them as Christians but also an implicit declaration that they are going to Hell. They have compromised with “the world” in some way, and there’s only one penalty for that great crime.
2 I’m guessing that the number of churches that are anything like what he describes is about equal to the number that just have paintball fights on the lawn instead of holding Sunday services. But he’s almost as bad a poet as he is a prophet, from what I can see. Oh and don’t miss his ABAB doggerel at the end there where he snidely attributes all desires to compromise to Satanic influence.