Conviction and Compromise

Chad Torgerson recently wrote a wonderful article here at about never compromising our values.  There are certain fundamentals in our world that have become political footballs, but they should never be treated as such by the faithful.

From the U.S. Catholic Bishops, in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship:

“There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. Such actions are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. These are called “intrinsically evil” actions. They must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned. A prime example is the intentional taking of innocent human life, as in abortion and euthanasia.” (22)

The world will constantly try to get us to bend the knee to the culture of death.  And often we feel like Sisyphus in his uphill futile battle.  But we are called to stand firm in the ways of our God.

Yet what, if any, compromises can we make in trying to achieve God’s kingdom here on earth?

I recently saw the Steven Spielberg movie Lincoln, which highlights the the fight to ratify the 13th Amendment to outlaw slavery.  This wretched practice was an affront to the dignity of the human person, but many in that time did not see it that way, just as many in our time do not see the horror of abortion.  The film dramatizes among many things, the moral struggle of the “radical” Republicans who wanted full equality of blacks along with an end to slavery.  However, the congress would not approve of such a massive change to the culture.  So Lincoln encourages the “radical” Republicans to compromise, and support an end to slavery without the full rights of citizenship.

What should a faithful person do in that situation?  Voting for the amendment would seem a tantamount admission that blacks do not deserve the same rights as whites.  Voting against the amendment would risk the continued enslavement of millions of God’s children.

In our modern era, what happens if we are confronted with a ballot in our state that would outlaw all elective abortions except in the case of rape and incest?  The Catholic Church’s teaching on the dignity of the unborn life is very clear.  Even when the child is produces by means of an intrinsically evil act like rape, the child still has all of the dignity and rights of any other person.  If we don’t support such a law, we leave millions of unborn children at risk.  If we do support the law, it may appear as if we are saying that children of rape have less of a right to live as other humans.

What to do?  Can you compromise?

The answer is yes, but with some conditions:

1. The compromise must improve be an improvement. 

In this country at the time of Lincoln, most blacks did not enjoy the rights of full citizenship and millions were slaves.  The 13th Amendment would improve upon the situation by removing slavery.  Right now in this country, abortions are pretty much legal for any reason until the final trimester.  Voting for a law that would still allow for abortions in the case of rape and incest, while not prefect, would improve on the situation as it stands.

Or, as the U.S. Catholic Bishops put it:

“Sometimes morally flawed laws already exist. In this situation, the process of framing legislation to protect life is subject to prudential judgment and “the art of the possible.” At times this process may restore justice only partially or gradually.” (32)

2. Compromise cannot mean abandonment of our values. 

In order not to give scandal, it must be made clear that the compromise is only a step in the right direction and not the end itself.  If we were to accept the notion that black Americans did not deserve the full rights of citizenship or that children of rape had less of a right to life, then we would enter into sin.

“Such incremental improvements in the law are acceptable as steps toward the full restoration of justice. However, Catholics must never abandon the moral requirement to seek full protection for all human life from the moment of conception until natural death.” (32)

3. We can choose the lesser of two evils. 

When it comes to individual candidates in our representative republic, very rarely will we find a perfect candidate.  For example, imagine both candidates running for President of the United States are in favor of abortion.  Here we have two candidates who support an intrinsic moral evil.  We can choose not to vote for either as a protest.  But we are morally free to choose the candidate we believe will do the least amount of damage.  For example, Candidate A is in favor of abortion until the last trimester.  Candidate B is for unrestricted abortion.  A Catholic can vote for Candidate A if he or she believes that less moral evil will be the result.

“When all candidates hold a position in favor of an intrinsic evil… The voter may… decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.” (36)

4. We cannot support evil. 

Even though candidates are rarely ideal, it is never morally permissible to vote for a candidate because of an intrinsically evil position.  Using the above example, I am morally allowed to vote for Candidate A if despite his or her position on abortion because it will do less damage to the world.  But I am not morally allowed to vote for Candidate A because I support their flawed position on abortion as ethically acceptable.

“A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position.” (34)

Compromise on essential moral issues is a dangerous thing, and not something to be taken lightly.  We cannot cede any of the ground we have staked out in our culture war.  But we can, by inches, reclaim the ground we’ve lost.

Copyright © 2013, W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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