A U.S. senator speaks out on moral absolutes and muddy choices.

Moral principles, in the Christian tradition, are generally clear and unavoidable. We knock our heads against them will regularity. They are hard to follow, yet not hard to define.

But some of the greatest agony I have known as a member of Congress has come when those clear, commanding moral precepts collide.

How do you make a decision between a better environment and the jobs it will cost? The dignity of employment and our stewardship over creation both demand moral attention. Is a cleaner river worth regulations that eliminate 30 jobs, 300 jobs, 3,000 jobs? How do you weigh cleaner air against the broken spirit of the unemployed?

How do you choose between fighting poverty and fighting dependency? How do you pursue generous compassion when it risks the slow destruction of the spirit we see in generation after generation of a welfare underclass?

How do you choose between a reverence for life and the use of fetal tissue from abortions to treat the victims of Parkinson’s disease? How do you provide hope to those who suffer, when it risks covering the horror of abortion with a veneer of scientific progress and public service?

This is not the politics of triumph and trumpets. It is the occupation of restless nights and troubled days.

Sometimes every option is tainted by suffering and sin. Sometimes each alternative is made uncomfortable by a hybrid of good and evil. Sometimes we are left with the murky battle between bad and worse.

This is not relativism. The principles themselves are clear and immutable. But in a fallen world, one principle is often set against the other. Stewardship against compassion. Generosity against independence. Respect for life against the suffering ...

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