Archive for June, 2016

Remembering A Colleague

June 30, 2016

We lost another colleague from the House of Bishops yesterday. I guess at my age, I should expect that to happen with increasing regularity as the years roll on. Ed Salmon was the 13th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. We served together for over 25 years as bishops, he was elected two years after me and at an older age, having served as a parish priest longer than I ever did.

In fact, the first time I met Ed we were visiting his large parish — the Church of St. Michael’s and St. George’s in St. Louis (I used to wonder why they didn’t just call it All Saints’ and be done with it!). I was serving, as a new bishop, on the Episcopal Church’s Standing Commission on Evangelism and we were visiting ‘happening’ places to see how evangelism was best being done around the church in preparation for what we were calling “A Decade of Evangelism” planned for the 1990s.

I arrived at the church early one weekday morning and found Ed Salmon in a powder blue jump suit, happily preparing scrambled eggs and sausage singe-handedly for a group of about twenty-five youngish businessmen who would shortly arrive for an early morning Bible study before heading off to work.

I remember Ed preparing the breakfast which others would then help him serve before he moved into conducting a lively Bible study and discussion with this men’s group. It was only one of many successful programs in this large parish which continues today to be a leading light in Episcopal evangelical circles in the Midwest and beyond.

Bishop Salmon was a more conservative bishop than I and we often disagreed on trends and directions of the Episcopal Church in the 1990s and early 2000s. Episcopal bishops sit at round tables of eight or so when we meet so that we can get to know one another better in a small group rather than (as used to happen) sitting in legislative rows where it is easier to make speeches than it is to listen to one another.

On more than one occasion, Ed and I shared such a small group experience and I always found him to be a gentle soul and a man of integrity. He was a bridge builder who fought hard to keep his conservative Diocese of South Carolina in the Episcopal Church even when he himself disagreed with some of the decision we made in General Convention.

He was grieved when his successor Mark Lawrence successfully led the diocese out of the Episcopal Church and yet, throughout his remaining ministry as a bishop and while serving in retirement as a seminary dean, sought to build bridges and relationships with the breakaway Episcopalians (who persist in calling themselves “Anglicans” of one stripe or another even though they are not members of the worldwide Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church is).

While I served as ecumenical officer for the Episcopal Church, Ed and I worked together to find ways for clergy ordained in the breakaway bodies who wished to return to the Episcopal Church (of which there were quite a number) find their way back with a minimum of difficulty and red tape. He also attempted to work with the Reformed Episcopal Church, an previous breakaway from an earlier era over, actually, more substantive issues.

In a day of vitriol, harsh rhetoric, and demonizing those with whom one disagrees, I always found Ed Salmon someone with whom I could “disagree agreeably” and I never heard him demean or denigrate an opponent, even though he had a droll sense of humor and could more than hold his own in the debates in which we were often engaged in those days. Today’s morning psalm, to my mind, describes my friend and colleague about as well as could be done:

“O LORD, I am not proud; I have no haughty looks.

I do not occupy myself with great matters, or with things that are too hard for me.

But I still my soul and make it quiet, like a child upon its mother’s breast; my soul is quieted within me.

O Israel, wait upon the LORD, from this time forth, for evermore.” (Psalm 131)

Rest in peace, Ed. And rise in glory!

Supreme Court Defends Abortion Rights

June 28, 2016

I am pro life. And pro choice. That is not a hedge or the statement of some fence-sitting position on the issue of abortion, but the conclusion I reached many years ago after much soul searching and anguish. It is a position I have had to walk out in the circumstances of my own family so it is far more than a philosophical speculation divorced from reality.

I do not know when life begins. Neither does anyone else. Therefore, I believe it safest to opt for the earliest stage of development which is conception or at least implantation. Therefore, I believe that any abortion takes a life or at least a potential life. That is a grave decision indeed.

Nonetheless, the only person morally able and responsible for making that decision is the woman in whose body this precious organism resides. Hopefully, this woman will have the counsel and support of the father, her parents, doctor, clergy and friends to help her make, and live with, that decision. Sadly, many if not most, do not. Sometimes Planned Parenthood takes the place of such familial presence and, in my experience, they do a wonderful job. In the case of my teenage daughter no pressure for abortion was applied. And no abortion was performed. Instead, we were blessed by my beautiful first granddaughter!

Of one thing I am certain: it is not the government’s responsibility to insert itself into the life of a woman seeking to make such an anguished decision or to make that decision even more complicated. That is why I support the Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down the state of Texas’ rules which threatened to reduce sharply the number of abortion clinics in that state.

Initially, the state’s argument that doctors performing abortions be required to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals in case something went wrong with the procedure and which also would have forced clinics to meet hospital-like standards for outpatient surgery seemed reasonable to me to protect women’s health (which is another reason I am pro life — I am pro-women’s-lives!). But I am persuaded by Justice Stephen Breyer’s majority opinion that the regulations are medically unnecessary.

He wrote, “the surgical-center equipment, like the admitting privileges requirement, provides few, if any, health benefits for women, poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions and constitutes an ‘undue burden’ on their constitutional right to do so.” I am not completely happy with that opinion, but I am old enough to remember the tragedies of “back alley” abortions sought and received by desperate women before the days of Roe v Wade. If a woman decides to have an abortion, she will likely have one. The only question is whether or not it is safe and legal.

Let us cease the attempts to roll back a woman’s constitutional right to choose. Let us rather increase sex education, assure that safe contraception methods are easily available, support mental and emotional health care for all, guarantee equal pay for equal work for women, do away with the stigma of unplanned pregnancies and the misogynist assumption that such a pregnancy is “her fault” (as though there were no father involved!).

These, and other, measures will go a long way toward assuring that — as President Bill Clinton once said — abortions will be safe…legal…and rare.

Why Hillary Should Choose Julian Castro As V.P.

June 27, 2016

So, it looks like Hillary Rodham Clinton has likely narrowed her search for a Vice President to three — Elizabeth Warren, Tim Kaine, and Julian Castro. I would strongly encourage her to choose the latter. Here’s why:

I love Elizabeth Warren and she would be a great attack dog against Donald Trump. I’m not really worried about having two women on the ticket. But Warren is still a relative newcomer to politics, the Democrats can ill afford to lose her Democratic seat in the Senate, and she has little or no executive experience should the VP be forced to assume the mantle of the presidency. She has plenty of time to develop herself and her experience. Warren has an bright future in any case.

Tim Kaine (who by the way described himself as “boring” on MSNBC’s Meet the Press yesterday morning) is hardly a household name. He is the junior senator from Virginia (an important state which he could deliver on election night) and has executive experience as the 39th Lieutenant Governor and 70th Governor of that great State. However, once again, we can ill afford to lose a solid Democrat in the Senate plus, as another left-of-center Democrat, he will not bring anything new to the Clinton ticket.

On the other hand, Julian Castro certainly would! He is a young 41, attractive and charismatic, and currently serves in the Obama Cabinet as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He has executive experience, having served as major of San Antonio. While he obviously has an Hispanic heritage, Castro’s Texas roots go back to 1920. He graduated from Stanford and has a law doctorate from Harvard. He is a Roman Catholic while Secretary Clinton is a devout Methodist.

Julian Castro would balance Hillary in almost every other conceivable way as well. He could deliver Texas and perhaps other Western states while she is strongest on the East coast. He is young; while she is not (same age as me…that makes her…old!). He would have overwhelming Latino support while Hillary will sweep the women and African Americans. Once the young Sanders’ supporters get to know him, they will appreciate his youth and energy as well as his ideas.

I would love to see a Clinton-Castro ticket and believe it would immediately serve to breathe some excitement into a campaign which desperately needs some at this point. Imagine having Julian serve as special trade ambassador to Latin America as Joe Biden has taken on special assignments in this Administration!

Oh, and Julian Castro has a twin brother (Joaquin) who currently serves in the U.S. House of Representatives. They could trade off when the travel schedule gets overwhelming!






The God You Don’t Believe In, I Probably Don’t Believe In Either!

June 25, 2016

One year while I was still working as Assisting Bishop in the Diocese of Chicago, Bishop Jeff Lee, invited congregations who felt they could to invite some “unchurched” folks to meet and have coffee with one of us bishops during our Sunday visitations. The idea was to hear from the actual people we are not reaching some of the reasons why? It’s easy for us church goers to “guess” at why our congregations are declining. It’s quite another to hear it straight from those who have either left our ranks or who have never been attracted to church in the first place.

Not every congregation took him up on the challenge, but quite a number did and we learned something interesting things. First of all, often non-church-goers have been hurt by the church in some way in their past. Maybe they grew up in a very judgmental, hellfire and brimstone kind of church and felt rejected.  Some are Roman Catholics who were refused communion after they re-married after divorce contrary to their church’s teaching.

Some have just drifted away because of the busy-ness and stressed out nature of their lives. They just don’t find the time for church, and some have been away so long they feel awkward now coming back. A number of folks just can’t get their heads around what they perceive to be the beliefs and doctrines of the church, and they say they’d feel like hypocrites standing in the midst of folks who seem to believe, say, the Nicene Creed when these people quite obviously don’t! And, again, they’re afraid they would be judged by us if their true beliefs, or lack of beliefs, were found out.

Of this number, some are just out and out atheists. They really don’t believe in God and wonder why some of the rest of us do. Well, we took great pains not to judge any of these good folks. They had honored us by even agreeing to come and have a conversation with us. And we weren’t there to convert them. We were there to learn from them. Privately though, I always wonder – of this last group, the self-professed “atheists” – just what kind of God they “don’t believe in!” In other contexts, I’ve often said to such people, “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in…because I probably don’t believe in that God either.”

I say this because, I think often people have rejected their childhood image of “an old man with a white beard who lives above sky” or the angry, judgmental God who delights in nothing more than casting unbelievers into the fires of hell for all eternity.   Some of these folks have never allowed their understanding of God to “grow up” right alongside the other areas of their knowledge which keep expanding with every year. No wonder they can’t square their Sunday school image of God with the post-modern world of the 21st century!

I ran across a beautiful quote from a friend of mine named Steven Charleston. Steven is a Native American of the Choctaw Tribe and lives in Oklahoma. But he is also a bishop of The Episcopal Church, has been a seminary professor and dean.. This is what he wrote:

The same power that set the sun aflame as though it were a candle, the same power that spun the Milky Way like a pinwheel, the same power that sprinkled the confetti stars across the distant heavens, that very power holds you safe under the shelter of its eternal care. The universe is not unconscious, creation is not unaware, all that was and is and ever will be resides in the mind and purpose of a presence beyond our comprehension or control. That presence is the source of life, of love, of intricate beauty and serenity sublime. That presence is with you today and will be with you forever. (June 17, 2015)

That’s the kind of expansive view of God I would just love the opportunity to introduce some of our unchurched friends to. Because I think our God is bigger than whatever truncated image they have felt it necessary to reject.  It’s the same God. But we must find ways to talk about the Holy One in language different from what our grandparents, our parents, and even many of us grew up with. I hope we can find ways to do that.

I hope we can find ways to do it before it’s too late, too late for the church…or at least the church as we experience it today.  At the very least, I hope you will listen to people you may know – people at work, in your neighborhood, people in your own family – who may be struggling to square the image of God they think we believe in with the world as they actually experience it.

Don’t judge them. Listen to them. And then, after you have listened long and deeply, maybe you can find a way to share with them – ever so gently that we welcome seekers in this church. Try to help them see that you don’t have to “have it all together” to be an Episcopalian. If you did, probably none of us would be here! The church, at its best, is a school of love; not a museum of saints. Hear again words describing the kind of God at least I hope you would be inviting them to encounter:

The same power that set the sun aflame as though it were a candle, the same power that spun the Milky Way like a pinwheel, the same power that sprinkled the confetti stars across the distant heavens, that very power holds you safe under the shelter of its eternal care. The universe is not unconscious, creation is not unaware, all that was and is and ever will be resides in the mind and purpose of a presence beyond our comprehension or control. That presence is the source of life, of love, of intricate beauty and serenity sublime. That presence is with you today and will be with you forever. (June 17, 2015)




Make Britain Great Again!

June 24, 2016

An astounding vote today has expressed the will of a majority of the English people to leave the European Union! I say the ‘English’ people rather than the ‘British’ people because both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted strongly to remain in the EU. The vote really should have been called ‘Englexit’ rather than ‘Brexit.’

Absolutely no one knows what this will mean. It will take up to two years to negotiate their way out of the 47 year old trade and immigration agreement. Already the British pound has fallen and world stock markets are in for a roller coaster day. David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, who bet his career on arguing for the UK to remain part of the EU, has resigned.

Some are calling this English “Independence Day” and, as an American, I can see the appeal of regaining a kind of national sovereignty and no longer having to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops Brussels (the EU headquarters) regularly puts them through. In fact, in my worst moments, I could actually be a Libertarian!

In the early stages of the American presidential campaign, I was actually quite drawn to Rand Paul. He was an attractive, articulate figure, an eye surgeon who did mission trips to Latin America. He spoke of a more isolationist foreign policy which would keep us out of wars. He advocated a simple, flat tax which would simplify all our lives. And he was far from the racist xenophobe so many other Republican candidates appeared to be.

But, the more I heard him, the more I realized that his brand of libertarian isolationism is actually contrary to everything I believe. The last thing we need in this world is to retreat behind our “safe, secure borders” and let the rest of the world go to hell. (As appealing as that can be on some days.) We need broader coalitions (like the EU) not narrow nationalism in the 21st century.

One of the scariest things about the Brexit vote is that it shows that a grass roots, populist message, fueled by racism, xenophobia, and perceived economic insecurity is present in virtually all Western democracies today. And they can win! As unlikely as it might appear, Donald Trump and his brand of blue-collar, white male populism could actually carry the day come November. If we are not very, very careful and do not work very, very hard for the alternative.

The Brexit decision flies in the face of a philosophy of global cooperation and internationalism that is our only way forward in the complexities of the post modern world. It flies in the face of this wonderful little poem by Edward Markham that I have returned to again and again when faced with decisions such as led well-meaning people in the UK to vote against their own self interests. It reads like this:

“He drew a circle that shut me out,

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win,

We drew a circle that took him in!”


May we all continue to draw circles…not build walls!



Standing Up By Sitting Down

June 23, 2016

I felt the sting of tears springing up in my eyes suddenly when I heard him say it, “Sometimes you have to do something out of the ordinary. Sometimes you have to make a way out of no way. We’ve been quiet too long. Now is the time to get in the way. We will be silent no more. The time for silence is over.”

The speaker was Democratic Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, a civil rights icon, as he led a “sit in” on the floor of the United States House of Representatives, asking only for an up and down vote on some fairly modest gun control legislation. The tears came because this is hardly the first time that John Lewis has had to “sit down to stand up.”

He was chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s. He organized sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in Nashville. He became one of the thirteen original Freedom Riders. He was arrested twenty four times in the non-violent struggle for equal justice. He was beaten many times, once having his skull fractured when state troopers charged demonstrators with night sticks.

Yesterday, he said that he could never imagine, in those days, that he would one day have to lead similar sit-ins in the well of the United States House of Representatives out of frustration that the Republican leadership of that House would not even allow a vote on a bill which would simply render those persons on a No Fly List ineligible to buy firearms. “No fly, no buy.” Can you believe that anyone would oppose such a measure?

Well, they did. And Paul Ryan called this protest action a publicity stunt. The irony was no doubt lost on him that this was exactly what the racist politicians of my youth called the civil rights demonstrations which John Lewis and his colleagues so courageously led. After hours of speeches and singing by the protesters, Ryan convened the House, called for a vote on an unrelated bill and adjourned the House of Representatives until after the July 4 holiday. July 4 — Independence Day. Independence for what? Apparently Independence to carry assault weapons of mass destruction and slaughter children at will.

“Sometimes you have to sit down to stand up,” Congressman Lewis said.

“What will happen eventually,” broadcaster Luke Russert asked him yesterday. “Will you not be moved?”

Lewis looked at him through narrowed eyes, “Like a tree…planted by the waterside…We shall not be moved!”

And the tears came again.


June 22, 2016

Susanne and I just returned from a delightful trip to Canada to visit some very dear college friends. First of all, we love Canada and — even if Donald Trump were not running for President — we have thought about how great it would be to live there. Great people, beautiful country.

But this post is about friends. I have known these two couples for well over forty years. The guys were fraternity brothers (Beta Theta Pi, Gamma Xi Chapter at the University of Florida) and they were in love with their wonderful wives even then. I was dating my first wife, Pam, in those days as well and we were pretty much constant companions with the other two couples.

When Pam died unexpectedly in 2000, one of these dear friends made a special trip to check up on me and see how I was doing. Then, he and his wife came to our wedding when Susanne and I married later. They have always accepted her and the friendship has continued fun and easy and I think she enjoys these reunions almost as much as Pam would have.

The second couple I literally have not seen for most of those forty years! We visited once early on and recently have been in touch by email. But I had no idea how things would go after so many intervening years. The answer? It was pretty much like we had just seen each other! Isn’t that the way it is with real friendship? The bonds are so deep, the shared experiences so lasting that it’s really easy to pick up where you left off.

We had a beer on Centre Island overlooking the beautiful Toronto skyline, visited some Ontario wineries, laughed our way through an evening at Second City, ridiculed Donald Trump, and even broke out the guitar to harmonize on “The Sound of Silence” as we did years ago. All great fun.

Of course, Fraternities, and the entire Greek system, have certainly come under a lot of criticism in recent years and, in fact, have always had their share of detractors. Like most institutions, it is far from a perfect system but much work has gone on (some of which my friend was involved in as a national chapter executive for a number of years). Most fraternities have “cleaned up their act” (including my own at Florida) although I’m sure there is still much that can be done.

Nonetheless, I will always be grateful for the friendships I made through Beta Theta Pi and how the experience allowed me to grow up a bit and test some leadership skills which would come into use later in life.  It was an experience of “community” that I had yet to find in the church, but later would.

Whether discovered and nurtured in something like a fraternity or not, friendship is one of life’s richest blessings. The Greeks (the real ones, not frat boys!) had a word for it — “Phileo,” fondness, friendship. Along with three others (Eros – romantic love, Storge – family loyalty, and Agape – unconditional love, like God’s) it defines a quality I hope everyone experiences at some point in their lives.

Proverbs says it best: “There are friends who pretend to be friends, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (18:24)


Hate, Religion, and Guns

June 13, 2016

Hate, religion, and guns. Those are the three words you see most often mentioned as causes, or contributing factors, to the massacre at the Pulse night club in my hometown Orlando, Florida yesterday when at least fifty were killed and more than that wounded.

It goes without saying that hate was the primary motivator. You don’t murder someone unless you hate them. I don’t really understand hate. I don’t know that I have ever hated anyone. I did not hate Richard Nixon. I did not even hate Osama Bin Laden. I can comprehend how oppressed people can hate — the Jews Hitler, African Americans white racists, women their abusers.

But otherwise, I think hate is caused by a combination of ignorance and fear. Omar Mateen did not understand gay people. He did not understand that a certain small percentage of the population is affectively oriented toward the persons of the same gender. And that there are other complex orientations and affections which are quite beyond anyone’s choice. LGBT and others. Mateen therefore feared what he did not understand. And that ignorance and fear was no doubt fueled by the second contributing factor to Orlando. Religion.

Oh, we will all proclaim that Islam was not the cause of this and that, while Omar Mateen has been described as an observant Muslim, extremists like members of ISIS pervert an otherwise peaceful religion. Yes, but. But let us be honest in noting that there are violent and imprecatory passages in the Qur’an. As there are in the Bible — Old Testament and New — and in the sacred texts of many (but not all) of the world’s religions. People have been, are, and will always be motivated by violence by a selective reading and understanding of religious texts.

And, finally, guns. Of course the NRA will trumpet the fact that apparently Mateen purchased his guns legally (although with his record of abuse and terrorist associations, it hard to understand how). Some gun enthusiasts will even postulate that had those LGBT victims been packing on Saturday night, there would have been far fewer casualties. Yeah, right.

So, what is to be done? Well, if hate is largely generated by ignorance and fear, we must continue our efforts to educate the population about the “normality” of homosexuality. We have made enormous strides in a very short time but, in this as in so many things, we have a “long way to go.” Enlightening the ignorance of so many about the realities of gender and human sexuality will do a lot to dispel the fear and therefore to mitigate against hatred of people who happen to be gay.

What about religion? Given my profession and lifelong commitment as a person of faith, you will not be surprised that I do not recommend giving it all up. What I do recommend is “growing it all up.” Our religious texts are ancient documents written by flawed people influenced, as we all are, by the cultural conditions of their times. However we may wish to understand our scriptures as being “inspired” by God, we have these treasures “in earthen vessels.”

Pastors, teachers, and parents must embrace critical and scholarly study of the various scriptures in order to understand, and teach those they mentor how the texts came to be written, what the authors’ original intentions likely were, and how they might be appropriately applied (or not) in our own day. God does not condone violence. “Holy” Scriptures often do.

And what about guns? I would ban them all. There is absolutely no reason why the average person needs to own a firearm in the 21st century. Hunting is barbaric. I wish the Second Amendment could be repealed and all firearms confiscated.

Of course, this will not happen. Especially in the still Wild West America where we — alone among the nations of the world — think it is our right to own instruments that are fashioned primarily to kill. So, failing this radical solution what might we do? Require extensive background checks, work on the technology of so-called smart guns which have mechanisms that only allow them to be fired by the owner, and absolutely ban assault weapons like the AR-15 rifle used by Mateen and any “conversion kits” that allow the transformation of any less-rapid-fire rifles or handguns into ones that have such increased firepower.

If we actually banned, and even confiscated, assault weapons, eventually it might not be necessary for even the police to be armed with such merciless machinery. They certainly did not used to be. Perhaps only the military should retain the right to use them in the extreme conditions of war. It goes without saying, though say it again and again we must, no deer hunter needs an assault rifle.

So, education and common sense gun control. These seem to me the only means to begin to come against the terror and hatred which so infects our land today. Join me, as you can, in advancing those ends.

There is no time to lose.


One Who Loves Gold Will Not Be Justified

June 11, 2016

From the first lesson from scripture in the daily lectionary for this, the Feast of St. Barnabas: “The rich person toils to amass a fortune, and when he rests he fills himself with his dainties. The poor person toils to make a meager living, and if ever he rests he becomes needy.”

“One who loves gold will not be justified; one who pursues money will be led astray by it. Many have come to ruin because of gold, and their destruction has met them face to face. It is a stumbling block to those who are avid for it, and every fool will be taken captive by it.”(Ecclesiasticus 31:3-11)

I wrote yesterday that there is an interaction between “Politics and the Kingdom of God” and that people of faith should really look very carefully at the positions and policies of candidates and parties before casting their votes. The verses above from the Apocrypha are just one more example of God”s “preferential option for the poor” which one can find throughout the entire Bible — Old Testament, New, and (for those Christians who read it) the Apocrypha.

St. Barnabas, whom we remember today, is known by two things primarily. First, he was a wealthy man but apparently also quite generous since the book of Acts tells us that, shortly after he was called into the ministry of apostleship, he sold a piece of property and “laid the money at the apostles’ feet.” In other words, he was generous in sharing what he had for the good of all. Secondly, Barnabas was called a “son of encouragement” because of his bridge building efforts between the apostles and his ability to bring people together.

Very few of our politicians today are — or ever have been — poor. Unfortunately, it takes a certain amount of money and privilege to afford the kind of education necessary to be qualified for political leadership and certainly it takes way too much money to mount political campaigns. Candidates have often made a good deal of money before they every hit the campaign trail and others make money by writing books and going on speaking tours for which they are remunerated handsomely.

For example, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are, by any standards, wealthy people. The question is, how did they obtain that wealth and how did they use it once possessing it. No doubt, there will be scrutiny of all this during the next five months of the political process. To get us started, one measure of how one’s wealth has been accumulated and how is has been distributed, in our day, is the information contained on a federal tax return. One presidential candidate in this year’s race has released volumes of tax returns and information. The other has not.

Guess which is which.

I wonder why?

Politics and the Kingdom of God

June 10, 2016

A beautiful picture of Barack Obama and his elder daughter, Malia, appeared on Facebook yesterday with a caption something like, “The daughter of the first black President will cast her first vote for the first woman President.” I commented “Just in case you think we are not moving ‘in the right direction’.”

Jews and Christians look forward to a mysterious time in the future when God will establish, once and for all, something the tradition calls “The Kingdom of God.” In our more inclusive day, many are likely to refer to it as “The Realm of God” or even the “Commonwealth of God.” Let us understand these to mean the same thing.

And that “thing” is a future in which the world will finally be put to rights. When there will indeed be complete justice and everlasting peace, when the hungry will be fed and the naked clothed, when no one will take advantage of another and when sickness, pain, and even death will be no more. Jews often associate this coming blessed age with the arrival of the Messiah, Christians with what has been called “the Second Coming” of our Messiah, Jesus the Christ.

As New Testament scholar N. T. Wright reminds us often, we are not going to build the kingdom of God on our own. God will, in God’s good time, establish it. But, Wright asserts, we are to build for the kingdom of God. Get the distinction? We are not going to build the kingdom of God, but we are to build for the kingdom of God. And that means, at the very least, every effort we make here to move the world a little closer to a world which resembles that blessed future will not be lost.

When we work for justice, peace, equality, an end to poverty  and disease, we foreshadow that which God will one day establish. And we give people in the here and now a glimpse of what that final Divine Commonwealth will look like.

That is where the intersection of politics and religion takes place. When Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and others cast their votes in a political season, what they should be thinking about is how closely the positions, policies, and proposals of the various candidates and parties resemble those “kingdom values” already enumerated — justice, peace, equality,  healing, human flourishing and abundant life for all.

No one political candidate or political party can be identified as having a monopoly on those values. But, as people of faith, it is our responsibility to compare their positions and platforms with the qualities of God’s Reign.

And, to vote accordingly.