My next door neighbor is a good guy that I've gotten to know gradually over the past few years. He may not initially look approachable since he's tall, heavily-bearded and drives 18-wheelers for a living and Harley Davidson motorcycles for fun. He's been through a lot, has tried the fast and hard lifestyle, and now has eventually settled into a mature type of contentment and peace with the world. We've talked quite a bit about religion and the bible over the past couple of years, building up a mutual respect.
This weekend we were both outside and he stopped me for a second to ask me a question. "Do you and your father-in-law go to the same church?", he asked. I answered that yes, we did.
He scratched his head and said, "Oh... I thought you guys didn't agree on some things, so I figured you wouldn't go to the same church. Did I remember right that you guys don't agree on some things?"
"Of course we don't", I answered. "I don't agree 100% with anybody. Nobody does. We're all different. I don't look for total agreement with my church."
This seemed to surprise him, and I felt an opening, so I took it:
"You know those pamplets that churches hand out, usually titled something like 'What We Believe'? I've never seen one I totally agree with, and I don't expect to. I keep changing my perspective on doctrinal issues all the time, and it's likely that I'm wrong about a whole lot of this stuff anyway. I go to church because it's a good community, we help people in need, and we help each other. And I like that my kids get exposure to new things, new people and some solid moral teaching."
He didn't say much else -- I think he was still shellshocked that I would go to church with people I don't agree 100% with. With over 340 Protestant denominations in the US alone, I don't know where he might've gotten the idea that I would leave a church on minor doctrinal grounds. :)
If I had thought faster, the one-word answer for looking past disagreements is "grace". Often this word is confused with mercy, but they're quite different. My favorite definitions are grace as "getting what you don't deserve", and mercy as "not getting what you had coming". It works better if you read that last part in the redneck style (Unhuh... he shore got beat up good... but he had it comin'). Mercy is the pardon for a condemned criminal -- grace is winning the lottery when you didn't even buy a ticket.
We all need a lot more grace.