Paul Rauschenbush, great-grandson of the Social Gospel icon Walter Rauschenbush and of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, writes about his experiences as a Christian growing up around his Jewish cousins.
They never experienced a tension in their religious differences, he writes, because for them their different faiths were grounded in a common set of moral and social commitments:
While we were competitive with them in some areas of sports and academics, our religious differences were never brought up. I never once heard that it would be better if our Jewish cousins were Christian or that we might be better off as Jews.
This was made easier by the fact that our family as a whole had a particular approach to religion. Religion was meant to be a positive force in our personal, and communal lives by instilling moral values and a vision of social justice, a sense of gratitude and duty, and an openness to the wonder and mystery of the world. It was never meant to pit "us" against "them." My family unconsciously adopted a model of interfaith cooperation that continues to influence my understanding of inter-religious engagement as a religious person and leader.
When we were in our late twenties one of my Jewish cousins began a spiritual search and came to me for advice. My response was for her to start by going to synagogue. My approach leaves some of my co-religionists wondering if I truly believe Jesus is the only way to God--and I have to reply that I don't. The proof is in the pudding, as they say. I know people can live full, beautiful, meaningful lives by practicing Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and any number of other faith traditions, or none at all. I also know that professing a certain faith tradition is no guarantee of a Godly or good existence. As far as the afterlife goes, I'm willing to trust in God enough to not have to make decisions about people down here. Not to say that I don't have thoughts on the subject. To put it bluntly: if I can't hang with my Jewish cousins up in heaven, then it doesn't sound much like heaven to me.
While I was surprised that my cousins invited me to convert to Judaism, I just laughed and took their invitation the way it was meant: as a compliment. In hearing me talk about the moral imperatives of my Christian convictions they recognized those same convictions in their practice of Judaism.
As a Christian theologian and ethicist, I think there are a lot of good reason to care about getting doctrine right. Our view of God affects our view of ourselves and the world we live in, and thus ultimately affects our ability to relate morally and justly to one another. So getting doctrine wrong can mean getting lots of other, apparently more immediate things, wrong as well.
That said, I'm often reminded of the trope from the progressive Christianity of another era, when churches were working their way toward merger with one another and trying to figure out of their doctrinal and confessional differences would be an obstacle. At that time, they coined the phrase "doctrine divides, service unites." To the degree that doctrine continues to divide us, that is no reason that service can't continue to unite us, both across denominational and interfaith lines. Particularly when religious traditions possess so much (untapped) potential to contribute to the greater well-being of humanity, there's little excuse for us to get too wrapped up in the points of disagreement we have with one another.