By J.C. Mitchell
I hear Christians of all types say how you treat one another is more important than doctrine. I can think of two men that remind me of this reality. The first is John Meis, a student who subdued the shooter at Seattle Pacific University. In Meis’ statement he writes, “When I came face to face with the attacker, God gave me the eyes to see that he was not a faceless monster, but a very sad and troubled young man.” He held him for the authorities, and yet still saw the murderer as a person. This is a powerful statement and it truly comes from a deep faith, which I imagine has been shaken. I must admit it gives me hope for the world and Christianity that this college student would compose such wonderful response to a horrific experience and share what he saw: another man, not a monster. I do not need to know John Meis’ doctrine to know that even in restraining another, and specifically a murderer, he still saw and thus treated Aaron Ybarra as a person, and certainly at one of the most trying times of seeing the Creator’s hand in every person. Meis remarks it was the Divine that empowered him.
The other man that reminds me that how we treat one another is more important than our doctrine is Frank Schaeffer who wrote Why I am an Atheist, Who Still Believes in God: How to give Love, Create Beauty and Find Peace. Schaeffer recounts his life thus far, with wonderful and powerful prose. Now I would not peg Schaeffer as an atheist, for he prays daily and is an active member of a Christian congregation, but he embraces his doubt. I find this refreshing, and this should not be confused with being agnostic: “I don’t view my embrace of opposites as a kind of agnosticism. I view it as the way things actually are. An agnostic neither believes nor disbelieves in God. I’m not that person. I believe and don’t believe at the same time.” (14) While this may not seem possible to some Christians or atheists, it is Schaeffer’s experience of the Divine, of the world, and thus we should explore this with him, for it has led him to a place where it is easier to give love, create beauty and find peace.
I would love for everyone to share their faith journey, but what makes Schaeffer’s particular interesting is that his parents were famous evangelicals, Francis and Edith Schaeffer, and he was involved in promoting the religious right. He rejected religion altogether, but now is able to fully embrace the mystery of the wonderfully mysterious love many of us call “God.” Schaeffer shares his epiphanies and doubts in an engaging way weaving his life experiences, Biblical knowledge, scholarship, and art, that I imagine atheists and Christians (or for that matter all people of faith) would agree with his conclusion, which I started with: how you treat people is more important than what you believe.
Schaeffer shares moving stories about his very conservative parents who would have told you that homosexuality is a sin, yet they saw each person as a child of God and saved any judgment for the divine, even renting a home to a lesbian couple. This proved to be the same non-judgmental love he felt when as a teen he and his now wife found themselves as unmarried and pregnant. His parents embraced him and Genie, for doctrine about marriage is not as important as love.
One of the most interesting points Schaeffer makes is comparing Denmark and the USA. In Denmark, the culture lives the mission of Jesus, by taking care of everyone and providing education to everyone, but very few go to church. While in the USA we consider ourselves to be a religious nation, and we know children go to bed hungry, have inadequate health care available, and education is influenced by your property taxes. This juxtaposition of cultures has to rattle all Christians to consider what is more important: your dogma or how you treat the social other?
“How we treat others is the only proof of truth we have. That proof is not found in any book. It is only found in the expression of unconditional trust we may sometimes see in the eyes of the people who know us best.” (91) It is in our families and those we are close to where we, like Schaeffer, find the unconditional trust and love many of us call the Divine (God), and when we can look at those that have hurt us and others and see them as a human, we are on the way of truth.
How we treat one another is according to Frank Schaeffer the key, and I believe Jon Meis lived that out in that instance he saw a “a very sad and troubled young man” even if do not agree with Meis’ belief that “God gave [him] the eyes…” Meis did.