December 17, 2019 Austin Spiller

Unity of the Spirit until Unity of the Mind

One does not need to remain invisible or passive to be Christlike in a community, nor does one need vehemently defend all beliefs that are passionately held. There is a better way to handle disagreement in a community. In this week’s post, Austin Spiller,graduate student at Southeastern University’s Divinity School, draws a relevant comparison between our firm understandings of taboo subjects and how we as believers communicate them with those we love. 

“I really hope you don’t become one of those crazy liberals out there in graduate school.” – My cousin, at the holiday dinner table

The Christmas season offers promise of joy and peace, yet it is normally eclipsed by times of familial conflict at the dinner table. It is no wonder we are told to avoid discussion of religion and politics. Whether the discussion be about Trump, Kanye, or that person and their lifestyle choices and decisions, we often do not know how to simultaneously be lovingly together and disagree. Despite diverse belief, our communities and families can still be unified in the Spirit until the day where we will have unity of the mind.

When disagreement creeps into the dinner table discussion there is usually one of three responses: fight, flight, or freeze. One may fight by debating, combatting, and otherwise causing a heated discussion. In flight, one decides to run away from the discussion altogether; refusing to participate in the community, even. Others may freeze and retreat into their own mind, dissociating from the discussion and community, all while bitterness and resentment builds on the inside. Surely, there must be a better way. How do we hold commitment to beliefs without becoming alienated from those who believe otherwise?

I would like to propose two ways of being this holiday season (and always, I suppose):

  1. Be courageously present.
  2. Be confidently humble.

These two frame the picture for unity in the Spirit.

Courage is “the measure of heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community… a future.”[1] To be courageous is to be actively participatory from le coeur – the heart. It is no easy task to be present and engaged with life, let alone a community of those who think very differently – and let’s be honest: you had no say in the matter when it comes to your family! As Christians, we should resist the temptation to retreat from a community in response to (prolonged) disagreement. Oftentimes, belonging precedes believing. It may not be until your loving active presence that some may begin to believe as you do.

As Christians, we should resist the temptation to retreat from a community in response to (prolonged) disagreement. Oftentimes, belonging precedes believing.

Regardless, the end goal of a community (or family) is not conformity. Conformity from you or your family. Unity in the Spirit celebrates inclusion of diversity. Diversity within a group is often a strength, not a weakness. While each person has a unique limitation of knowledge, so each person has a unique contribution to the truth.  Every discussion and person carries an opportunity for learning and further nuance of ideas. As the experienced have learned, not everything is so black and white; things are not always as they seem. To be certain is often to be blind. To withhold oneself from discussion and community is not only detrimental to the self, but to the other as well. Your voice and opinion matters.

On the other hand, your voice and opinion are not the full story. You may have researched and critically thought your way through to a particular belief. Yet, others have done the same and may have reached opposing conclusions. Be firm in your beliefs and the conclusions you have come to but allow a spirit of openness and humility knowing that we all still have much to learn. (Yes, even you. Especially you.) Share what you have learned. Listen to what others have learned. This will lead all parties closer to the truth. Not all opinions are of equal value, but all opinions are helpful nonetheless.

We can disagree well as Christians. Thomas Aquinas’s spirit of disputatio, or disciplined opposition, characterizes this well. He believed that in order to have true discussion over opposing ideas, one must fully understand the other’s point of view, listen to what they have to say respectfully, abstain from deceitfulness in argumentation, refrain from jargon, and seek clarity and charity.[2] One should be courageously present in the discussion and community, yet also confidently humble in discussing ideas.

One should be courageously present in the discussion and community, yet also confidently humble in discussing ideas.

One does not need to be invisible or passive to be Christlike in a community, nor does one need vehemently defend all beliefs that are passionately held. There is a better way to handle disagreement in a community. Be firm in your beliefs. Be willing and open to change your mind. Be present and loving in community. We come to the dinner table not as ideologies but people. We are more than the sum of our beliefs. Perhaps, then, we should extend a little extra grace this holiday season, Lord knows we ourselves need it. Until the day we have unity in the mind, let us settle with unity of the Spirit and reflect a true trinitarian community.


[1] Whyte, David. Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words., 39. 

[2] Muck, Terry. Christianity Encountering World Religions: The Practice of Mission in the Twenty-first Century., 118-124.

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