Finding the Middle Ground

Posted on June 26, 2015


While teaching the history of the Christian Church, or the history of Christianity in general, I have to tread a rather fine line. I liken it to a pilot landing in weather, like in low clouds and reduced visibility.

You are looking hard for the “runway environment,” and for the end of the strobe lights, what pilots call the “rabbit,” leading to the runway, and the center line.

If you are landing in a stiff crosswind, you have to work to stay in the center of the runway, and keep your wheels aligned with the center line. There is little room for gross mistakes or errors in judgment. Land too far to the left or right, or touch down too early, and you can be in deep doo doo.
When touching down, I want to be on the center line, at the right spot on the runway.

I know I am on the right spot, the middle ground, in teaching the history of Christianity when I get people from both sides condemning me for prejudice, bias and discrimination.

One example is the history of the rise and evolution of the Roman Catholic Church. If I show too much sympathy, my Protestants friends will jump all over me for bowing to the Papists.

If I am slightly critical of Roman Catholicism, I’ll get waxed by my Catholic listeners who grump that I am mocking or criticizing the Church unfairly.

If I put those two groups in the same arena we could set off a second mini-Protestant Reformation, omitting the Inquisition and the burnings at the stake given today’s modern humanitarian sensibilities. A little water boarding would probably be employed on the side, surreptitiously, of course.

Staking out the middle ground is perhaps the most difficult area to be in just about any human endeavor.

Anyone—proven amply by radicals everywhere past and present—can be an extremist and find like thinkers on the fringes. Fanaticism is easy to live with. You don’t have to consider the alternatives as possibly containing a different truth.

Extremism does have its virtues though. Marcus Tullius Cicero, one of Rome’s greatest orators, observed that “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice,” adding “moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

This complicates the matter somewhat because my point is that the middle ground often offers the best solutions for all. The art of bringing warring factions to the middle to compromise is indeed the art of politics.

Abraham Lincoln was assassinated precisely because he wanted to move the nation back together after four years of violent, hateful internecine warfare. He wanted to reknit the North and South, to show the face of compassion and reconciliation to the defeated Confederacy.

To do so, Lincoln moved to the middle ground, and was assassinated by a rabid Southern partisan, John Wilkes Booth, who only knew vengeance and could not understand or comprehend a Lincoln.

In Christian worship, the extremes of worship are so radically different as to think two entirely different religions are being practiced.

Compare a very formal Creed-driven Episcopalian service with a wide open, Spirit-filled Pentecostal service and I don’t think Jewish or Muslim worship services are any different than the differences between Christian Denominations and Non-Denominations.

Then, try to reconcile the two. Try to find the middle ground where worship reflects both the traditions, culture and music that Christians have grown fond of over the past two millennia, with the actual statutes of Scripture and you’ll end up with zany solutions, like three services each Sunday, one for the Boomers, one for the Millennials , and one that combines the two.

Throw in a snake or two for the really far out extremists with those who ask for the intercession of the bones of the dead, and you’ll be excommunicated, although few in the new mega feel good churches probably even recognize that word, smacking of, God forbid, judgement.

In our world of so many competing interests, occupying the middle ground is generally guaranteed to have most of the population loathing you because you are not adhering to their particular “principles” or points of view.

My only counsel is to get really acquainted with what I call “foundational truths.” I don’t know a better source of these truths and principles than Scripture. Throw in the Constitution, the bill of rights, and a few other clearly enunciated and accepted principles on what is right and what is wrong, and then work your way through to the solution to your problem or challenge.

If you find yourself in the middle ground, you will probably have it all to yourself. It is also, generally, the high ground which you can claim proudly.

But if you are expecting applause, forget it. Modestly remember that you are doing right, and let your rewards come from elsewhere.

Published in The Tuscaloosa News Sunday June 14, 2015 as “Middle Ground Good, But Lonely Place To Be.”

Posted in: Life in America