The history of abolition shows that sometimes excess leads to success.

Remember Barry Goldwater? Nominated for President by the Republican party in 1964, he probably lost the election in the five seconds it took to deliver these words: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice and … moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

A teenager at the time, I couldn’t understand the fuss he caused. Gold-water’s assertion seemed perfectly logical to me. He had not said he would drop the atom bomb, only that he would go all out for what he believed.

Now, a little older, I understand what worried people. It was that word, extremism. Extremists are people who go looking for a fight. They see the world as a moral battlefield, with themselves as the last line of defense at Armageddon. Make them your leaders, and you can plan on being dragged into one quarrel after another.

Some friends of mine belonged to a church that had long displayed an American flag. Then, at a congregational meeting, a leading member made a passionate motion that the flag be removed. He saw it as a symbol declaring God an American, and the church an American institution.

As much as the congregation agreed that Christian faith was quite different from American patriotism, they were not anxious to remove the American flag. That would be understood as a symbol, too—a symbol of rejecting America. They would rather the issue had never been raised, but as my friend said, when someone makes such a motion, you’re forced to respond.

So a compromise was suggested: Why not add the “Christian” flag to the sanctuary’s decoration? No, countered the motion’s sponsor, that would simply suggest that Christianity and Americanism were parallel and equal loyalties. Could that ...

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