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To Pastor, Afterlife Is Where We 'Learn To Live Together'

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A majority of Americans from all walks of life believe in life after death. Yet conversations about the afterlife — from what it might look and feel like to who else one may find there — often remain highly personal ones, shared with family members, clergy or others who share one's faith.

To better understand how many Americans conceive of the afterlife, All Things Considered has spoken with leaders from different faith traditions on their views on life after death.

First, an evangelical Protestant's perspective. The Rev. Gabriel Salguero, a pastor of The Lamb's Church in New York City and president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, tells NPR's Robert Siegel how faith in the afterlife informs Salguero's life and why he sees heaven as a place where diverse people coexist without the tensions that sometimes divide them on earth.

Interview Highlights

On what he expects heaven might be like:

The faith of my childhood ... talked about a heaven where there was no sickness, no disease, no hate, no crime, no evil. And I very much still cling to that eternity of heaven where we as people have learned to live together, despite difference and despite our cultural backgrounds. So whether that's a distant place beyond the galaxies or a renewed earth where the kingdom of God and the reign of God is, I think that's what's most important. ...

Revelation has these beautiful images — and of course ... I interpret most of it metaphorically, right, not literally — it talks about us eating and playing and singing and chatting and having relationships. Jesus, when he talks about preparing a place for us, you know, he often talks about us talking and eating after the Resurrection in the New Testament narratives. The first thing Jesus does is actually ask for food in his resurrected body. He says, "Hey, where's the bread, where are the fish?"

So I think it's a vision of a corporal reality where we finally learn to be reconciled with God and each other.

On his views on ethnic or racial identity and the afterlife:

What Revelation says, particularly in chapter 7, ... says, "From every tribe, nation, and tongue." I don't think eternity does away with difference. I think we're going to see people's race, culture, in eternity.

What I think it does is it reconciles it. Where it says, "I'm Hispanic, I'm Latino." And I'm going to see African-Americans, and I'm going to see whites, and I'm going to see Asians in heaven. And I think that phenotype will be there. I would be saddened if difference was obliterated in eternity. I think they're just going to be reconciled and we're going to learn, finally, to live together. ...

I think what God is calling us [to], and particularly as a Christian, is right relationships. And for me that's done through the person of Jesus Christ. A right relationship with God here on earth, and also in eternity. So I'm gonna see people from across the geographic spectrum, and across the racial/cultural spectrum.

On how belief in eternity can inform life on earth:

I think that the calling of eternity, for me — and even as I preach to my parishioners, which is a very multiethnic congregation — what I tell them is, that the view of eternity should serve as an ethical imperative. Or, in the words of Jesus of Nazareth in his prayer, "Let your kingdom come, let your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

So heaven, ... the view of eternity, is a template for moral relationships here on earth. It's a calling to our higher angels, if you will.

On how he would live his life if he didn't believe in eternity:

If there were no eternity ... I think the teachings of Jesus would be enough for me. He lived a moral life. He told us, "Love our neighbor, forgive our enemies, bless those who persecute you." That's enough. That's the highest teaching I've ever encountered.

But, fortunately enough, it's not an either-or, but a both-and. There is an eternity, from where I sit, and the teachings of Jesus are enough.

All Things Considered is collecting stories all week about what you think happens when you die. To join the conversation, please use the comments below or send a message on Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook using the hashtag #nprafterlife.

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