I can’t define my current spiritual beliefs with any coherence, but I keep a pocket edition of the King James Bible at my desk. These days, I pick it up not only to absorb the grandeur of the language—King James was a man of discriminating taste—but to wrestle with what it says. Perhaps because it is again a political season, with the rights of gay people up for a vote and under legal review, I read the story of Jesus and the centurion as a parable about the workings of compassion in the corridors of power: the centurion’s pity for one under his command, Jesus’ pity for an unseen stranger. Those in power feel invisible restrictions on their freedom to act; even when they mean to do good, they lose their nerve in the face of a hard-hearted world. Sometimes, though, all they need to do is speak the word.