In my previous post I gave 6 steps that we can take to cross the divide that separates us all. In the past month since that post it feels as if the division has only grown all the more. But maybe we can reverse the trend, maybe the divide can still be crossed, even if we disagree with one another.
But to do that, to have any hope at all to find some common ground we must first give up ideological purity. This is a hard one, we like the idea of being principled, of being right, of being on the right side of history. Giving up ideological purity requires something that these days sounds like a dirty word...compromise.
Ewwwwwwww. Don't you feel all gross now?
However, compromise is foundational for a fruitful relationship. If you're in any type of relationship where you refuse to practice any sort of compromise then you're not in a healthy relationship but an oppressive one.
Imagine a marriage where there was no compromise? How broken would that relationship be?
Imagine working with people who never compromised. New ideas would be rejected, process improvements would decline, and innovation would be stifled. Some of us have worked for people or employers who don't compromise on what they believe is right and it's not a great time.
*Note: That is not to say that the workplace should constantly compromise whenever a new idea is proposed. What I am saying is that if you never compromise then no new ideas will ever be allowed to flourish.
Now imagine looking for a church community to be a part of where you won't have to compromise on anything that you want or believe. You'll never find it. And if you find a church unwilling to compromise on anything...RUN.
An Easy Example
Compromise doesn't have to be a dirty word. We can still be principled and compromise. We can also compromise without being passive or giving up everything we want all the time. Compromise is the gateway to cooperation.
Going back to marriage, let's do an easy example. My wife, Beautiful, and I want to go on a date. We love date nights and believe they are necessary for our relationship to remain strong and healthy.
On our date night I want to go to the movies but she wants to go on a hike. We only have time for one activity.
A compromise will have to be made otherwise we are spending date night alone. Compromise begins to feel like losing when we feel forced to give up what we want or to take on an option that we don't desire.
But that's where we get compromise all wrong. For date night we take a step back and focus on something foundational that we both agree on, a mutual goal. The goal of date night isn't to see a great movie like "Over the Top" or to go on a kick-ass hike. The goal is to spend time together and have fun.
So we cooperate and find an activity we'd both like to do that will fulfill the goal for the evening, to be with each other.
A Not So Easy Example
So let's talk abortion. Those 4 words create high blood pressure but stick with me. If ever there was a topic in our culture that was in dire need of leaving ideological purity and compromise it's this.
99% of the time when this topic is discussed the sticking point comes down to labels, pro-choice and pro-life. Both sides demand ideological purity, absolute free access to abortion and contraceptives against making abortions illegal on the other.
The fiercest debate generally rages around one point, whether a fetus is a separate life from the mother or not. Full disclosure, I'm not at all interested in igniting that debate in this post.
What I am interested in saying is this, this fierce debate over what is life and what is not will never be settled. But what if both sides tabled this debate and like the much easier example before we took a step back and found something foundational that we both could agree on. If we did that, we could work together even if we fundamentally disagreed with each other.
What can compromise help us accomplish in the abortion debate?
In the interest of not writing a billion words I will link to larger studies done by smarter people than I. What I want to stick to is the possibilities available to us if we leave our ideological pure mountaintops.
If people in the pro-choice and pro-life camps took a step back they would find a common goal to work towards: reducing unplanned pregnancies.
Research cited by the Guttmacher Institute shows that in 2011 45% of all pregnancies were unplanned. That's 2.8 million pregnancies. Of those 2.8 million unplanned pregnancies 42% ended in abortion.
Now, again, let's keep ourselves from the debate of the rightness of the decisions available: keeping the baby, adoption, and abortion. Not that these aren't important to discuss, but for finding common ground we must table these debates for the moment.
The main point to draw from this data is that both sides would like to decrease the amount of unplanned pregnancies. And important to note, if we decrease unplanned pregnancy we will decrease the number of abortions.
So we potentially agree on a goal, but how do we achieve it?
So we've done the hard work of putting aside our differences, our ideological purity, to find a common goal. But now, how to achieve it?
Once again, we have to compromise. The goal is reducing unplanned pregnancies but the way to achieve that goal is also fiercely debated.
First, let's tackle a potential roadblock in reaching our shared goal.
Let's talk abstinence. Personally, I abstained from sex until marriage. It was my choice and it's a choice that I believe in enough that I hope that my son and daughter choose similarly. Most churches would teach a similar ethic.
But, while I believe saving sex for marriage is best, I also know that many would disagree with me. In order to find common ground to achieve our goal, I'll have to give up my ideological purity. I can't demand that everyone follow the "save sex for marriage" way even though abstinence is 100% effective to prevent pregnancy.
In the same way I wouldn't want a sexual education program that encouraged my kids to have sex before marriage.
What we need is an agreed upon set of facts to start from. I know, I know, these days an agreed upon set of facts is like finding a unicorn, but stick with me.
Here are some quick facts (links to more info included) and then we'll end our example with a quick conclusion:
1) Researchers found that teens who received comprehensive sex education were 60 percent less likely to get pregnant or to get someone pregnant than those who received no sex education.
2) The New England Journal of Medicine published a study that showed that teenage girls and women who were provided contraception at no cost and educated about reversible contraception and the benefits of LARC (long-acting reversible contraceptives such as IUDs) methods had rates of pregnancy, birth, and abortion that were much lower than the national rates for sexually experienced teens.
3) The CDC shows that while condoms and the pill help with reducing unplanned pregnancies they are far less effective than LARC. The CDC shows that less than 1% of women using LARC will get pregnant and this type of contraceptive is effective for 3-10 years.
4) The Guttmacher Institue published a study showing that the direct medical costs of unintended pregnancies were $5 billion in 2002. Direct medical cost savings due to contraceptive use were $19 billion.
5) The Guttmacher Institute published another study showing that abortions have decreased by 12% from 2011-2014. The study was inconclusive in determining the correlation between abortion access and abortion rates. However, it has been highlighted elsewhere that the number of unplanned pregnancies has fallen 18% from 2008-2011. Lastly, check out more statistics from Guttmacher which has more information including that half of abortion seekers are living at or below the poverty line and feel financially unable to care for more children.
If the pro-life and pro-choice camps could set aside their ideological purity and debates then I believe we can find a way to achieve our common goal: the reduction of unplanned pregnancies.
Comprehensive sexual education is essential and it can include talk about abstinence but we should depend on those values being imparted by family and community.
Providing free access to LARC is hugely beneficial in lowering the rate of unplanned pregnancies. Now, I know the "free" part of that will ruffle feathers with my fiscally conservative friends, but check out this added benefit: $19 billion in savings thanks to contraceptives. Look at it as an investment!
Spending time passing strict regulations on abortion clinics hasn't shown any tangible results outside of making life more difficult for those seeking abortions. The time/money spent on this would deliver better results being invested in providing free access to LARC!
I know this was a quick exercise and by no means a comprehensive overview of the abortion debate, but I want to stress again that solving that debate isn't the point.
The point I hope we walk away with is this: if we give up ideological purity and seek cooperation we can all win and reach goals that are important to everyone.
Also, giving up ideological purity is the first step to crossing the great divide that continues to grow everyday.