Thumbs up for the courage to compromise. Thumbs down for the arrogance of power.
Fourteen Republican and Democratic senators reached a compromise agreement Monday night on judicial nominees, dampening the heated ideological conflict in Washington.
Minority rights were preserved; some nominees get a vote.
"The Senate won, and the country won," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Another one of the moderate leaders, Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) said, "We have lifted ourselves above politics."
He added, "And we have signed this document in the interest of the United States Senate, in the interest of freedom of speech, freedom of debate and freedom to dissent in the United States Senate."
The religious right was furious with the compromise. Ending the right to filibuster had become a non-negotiable issue for the religious right, pitching their case as secularists against people of faith, asserting that this was the most important vote in the Senate this term and threatening Senators for defeat if they blocked President Bush's judicial nominees.
James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, called the compromise "a complete bailout and betrayal by a cabal of Republicans." He predicted that "voters will remember both Democrats and Republicans who betrayed their trust."
Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, said that the seven Republican Senators "didn't have the backbone and the fortitude to stand up for the fact that we are the majority."
Despite the religious right's high-velocity squawking, the new political center in the Senate defeated extremism, modeled cooperation and advanced civility in the public square, all of which depended on the virtue of compromise.
Unfortunately, compromise is a dirty word within much of the faith community, especially among those who believe they hear exclusively and directly the voice of God unmediated by text and context. They see compromise as moral weakness. They take an all or nothing approach.
Others within the faith community see compromise as necessary virtue.
In a new primer on citizenship, Roy Herron, a Tennessee state senator and former Methodist minister, writes: "Faithful Christians and unbridled idealists often suggest that compromise—settling for anything less than complete victory of their values and vision—destroys integrity. Compromise, however, is compatible with integrity, perhaps even necessary to preserve integrity."
Writing in How Can a Christian Be in Politics?, Herron argues: "It is only by compromising at times that we can live with peace and integrity. If we insist uncompromisingly on having our way, we will fuel opposition and fracture the peace of shalom."
A handful of U.S. Senators have done their best through compromise to preserve community and bridge the growing partisan divide. They deserve our gratitude.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.