Jan 012013 0 Responses

Why Pastors Are to Blame for the Fiscal Cliff

The Fiscal Cliff is my fault.

In August of 2011, an ineffective Congress unable to put aside self-promotion built a false cliff (yes, they built that) of tax hikes and spending cuts to go into effect on January 1, 2013.  Not a single member of Congress promoted the hikes and cuts as what was best for America.  They assumed the horrific nature of the hikes and cuts would force both sides to have serious negotiations and make a grand bargain of prudent tax increases and spending reductions.  They assumed wrong.

Instead of spending five months working out an agreement, both parties spent the time blaming the other side and, if not for a last minute agreement to delay the hikes and cuts by two months, America nearly fell off of a cliff of its own invention.

All of this is my fault. Not just me, but countless others pastors and preachers who fell for a lie that language doesn’t matter.

For as long as I can remember, I have heard sermons which have said, “Don’t compromise your faith.”  From passionate revivalists to well meaning Sunday School teachers, from TV evangelists and every person I ever called pastor, they would yell, whisper, caution, and beg—”don’t compromise your faith.”  It seemed like an important plea.

There is only one problem—they meant capitulate.  “Don’t capitulate your faith.”

Dictionary.com says compromise is “a settlement of differences by mutual concessions.”  

Capitulation is “to surrender unconditionally.”

When I warn my congregation against compromising their faith, I’m not really afraid they will settle the tension between society and the gospel by mutual concessions.  I’m afraid they will surrender unconditionally.  I’m afraid they will capitulate their faith.

  • Adultery is not compromise; its capitulation.
  • Stealing is not compromise; its capitulation.
  • Worshipping money over God is not compromise; its capitulation.

It is not even possible to compromise one’s faith because conceding in some area of faith is to abandon faith all together.  We don’t compromise faith, we capitulate it.

It sounds like a minor grammatical game, but it has significant ramifications.  By switching compromise for capitulation, we have taken a good word and demonized it.

A whole generation of evangelical Congressmen and women have gone to DC believing the word compromise is bad.  An entire segment of the electorate believes compromise is akin to the devil.  Pastors have miss-informed their congregations to believe compromise (the actual work of a democracy) is the same as capitulation.

  • Finding a middle ground on tax rates is not equivalent to surrendering one’s faith.
  • Making difficult decisions to spend less money because we do not have it is not the complete surrender of moral values.
  • Compromising on the details of policy is not the same as capitulating the American dream.

Compromise is often good; capitulation is nearly always bad.

Sadly, by failing to compromise, our leaders have capitulated their calling.  They have failed to do the work they were called to do.  While they have failed, many of us have encouraged their failure because we have taken a word vital to the well-being of American democracy—compromise—and confused it for a word which could lead to the end of democracy.

When you think of the word compromise, is your first thought negative or positive?  If you heard a leader “compromised,” would you think more highly of her or would you think she was weak?


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