If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.Philippians 2:1-2
We get hung up, our pastor pointed out, when we think that Paul is talking about something like which budget scenario we should recommend or whether we should or shouldn’t have a holiday bazaar this year or which curriculum to order for the Sunday school classes.
Or if we think Paul is talking about which economic theory we affirm, or which set of policy prescriptions we think will solve “the immigration problem” or whether we think there is an immigration problem to solve.
Or even if we think Paul is talking about whether we identify ourselves as pre- or post-millennialist or Arminian or inerrantist or any of the thousand theological positions a person in a Christian church could double down on at any time.
We get hung up when we think he’s talking about what we think. We get hung up when we think he’s saying that “everyone should agree on everything.”
Here I digress.
Because I could not help having the following running conversation with myself, or more precisely, the following running discourse, while the other part of my mind was listening to the sermon on Philippians:
Our “we don’t all need to agree on everything” line is only partially correct. We certainly do want to agree on some things, surely. Although we don’t care one single bit whether we disagree about other things. And ideally, we WOULD pursue agreement on matters on which we care about agreement, or need agreement. And we would have a process for how we pursue that agreement. We are sometimes only stuck in disagreement because conditions are not yet ideal …
We want to aim for agreement and to strive to come to agreement on matters of FACT, for instance. We can’t seriously think it’s OK to walk around with the idea that “alternative facts” make sense. We don’t actually think it makes sense to disagree about what your name is, or your date of birth, or the church zip code, or the pH of water, or that the Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066 (Gregorian calendar), or … I’ve probably made my point.
Not to dispute that what constitutes a “fact” is philosophically trickier than we might think sometimes. Note the calendar stipulation above. But not to concede the point that there are some, nevertheless. Moving on.
Because we want to get to agreement on our explanations of phenomena, too. We want to have a single story about things like how electricity works and how much upward force where will keep the roof from caving in. Moreover, we had better insist on reaching agreement on things like that. If we don’t, if we accept alternative [i.e., wrong, or even inadequate] explanations here, we will be wandering around shocked through the debris of broken timbers and shingles and roofing nails.
And no, this is not to discount the existence of multiple perspectives. Getting to a full and complete account of complex phenomena is why we value, or ought to value, multiple perspectives in the first place – we should want to get all the pertinent data we can get. That’s why there’s more than one umpire at a football game. That’s why you’d like to have more than one witness to a traffic accident.
And granted, stories, human events, are not the same kind of thing as the pH of water, or what it takes to complete an electric current. We understand that, too.
But standards of completeness and accuracy still apply. There may be more than one right way to tell a story, but there are also wrong ways to tell true stories, ways that make them false. We cannot rightly think it is OK to disagree about this; that it is just as OK to tell a story falsely as it is to tell it truly. We cannot rightly think it makes no difference whether or not we agree on the substance of the truth.
[We cannot, for instance, rightly think that, if sexual misconduct were to happen in a congregation, it would be better to cover up the facts of that misconduct and deny and disavow any knowledge of what has gone on than it would be to acknowledge the truth of the matter and deal with it. This is one of those things I think we ought to pursue agreement on until we get it.]
And of course this is not to demand agreement on matters of taste. I think mayonnaise is gross, but I won’t stop you from putting it on your sandwiches, as long as you don’t try to make me eat them. You think modern art is pointless, but you’re fine if I spend an hour or two at that museum, as long as I don’t expect you to come along.
Or maybe you WILL come with me to the museum, if I agree to come with you to that tasteless according to me Seth Rogan movie afterwards. That kind of mutual accommodation on matters of taste can work, too. This is why there are potlucks and paint chips and preference curves.
We probably want to agree on what the matters of taste, the “things indifferent,” are, however.
Then there are the kinds of things we may agree or disagree about that it seems to me we should, nevertheless, ultimately want to agree on, because ultimately they are not actually equally valid answers to the basic questions. Like whether or not an allegedly free-market economy is indeed the most effective way to ensure the general welfare, and how much non-market intervention it takes to make it that way. Or whether or not we would all be better off with single payer health care.
I am sure there are right and wrong answers to such questions. We haven’t all arrived at them yet, however, for some reasons that are well understood, and some others that are less so.
For many of those same reasons, we don’t do a very good job of arriving at the right answers and avoiding the wrong ones at present, either.
We could do better, though, I imagine, if we really tried.
This would go for “church things,” too, like “should we be trying to be more anti-racist as a church, and what would that actually look like in practice, and how are we going to deal with ‘some people’ who wish we’d stop talking about this all the time already?”
We are supposed to care about what is true. And we ought to want to agree on what that is, the best we can.
The main issue is how we treat one another while we’re still working on that.
Here that conversation/discourse and that sermon converge.
“Being of the same mind” has to do with how we treat one another.
“Being of the same mind” has more to do with how we think about and approach one another, less with the what the factual or cognitive content of our intellectual positions on things is.
That “same mind” Paul urges us all to have is the mind that cares about the other person, the other people; that knows they matter; that knows them to be precious and indispensable – rather than disposable or inconvenient or nuisances or means to ends, which are all ways we could and often do mistakenly think of other people.
That “same mind” is the one that is much less concerned with “winning on this” or “getting everyone on board” than with ensuring that we have heard from everyone and have considered everything and have in fact built a boat that everyone actually can get on board and be well-served in doing so.
It’s the “same mind” whose primary concern is everyone’s well-being. Each one’s well-being. Genuine well-being. Full and complete.
The same mind we share when we really want that, for each, for everyone.
The same mind that, when we have it, we act on it, and when we act on it, it shows, and when it shows, it looks like love.
“That same mind that was in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5)