Christ is Coming! Eyes to the Sky!

LGBTQ equality, shattering worldviews, and radical liberation

Photo by Digital Buggu from Pexels

When I was ten years old I couldn’t look at the sky.

Clouds terrified me. School friends might point up and say, Look, there’s a fluffy sheep! I’d just shiver, squeezing my eyes painfully shut, waiting to open them to find all my friends and family gone — swept up in the Rapture.

Jesus wasn’t coming in the clouds for me —

I didn’t know I was gay then. I didn’t have the words or even the thoughts. I didn’t connect my nascent attractions with my religious terror. I was barely aware of the sweet thoughts that whispered longing for the neighbor boy into my soul.

They were part of me, like my longing for sweet corn with fresh butter and cracked pepper. I didn’t challenge my desires then. I just tasted them.

My fear of God was more intellectual. I’d grown up in traditional evangelical churches that emphasized the wrath of God; hell, and eternal torment for the “unsaved.” I’d sat through films that showcased the flames, the sulphur, the flesh-eating maggots, and the wails of the damned.

Decades before the Left Behind franchise and other rapture movies captured wider public imagination, churches often played similar films for their congregations. Someone in my church had the brilliant idea to allow small children to watch, and the images haunted me for years.

Publicity for a 1972 Rapture film that I watched in church. Gory scenes of hell filled my nightmares for years.

I was a serious, thoughtful child, but I lacked the maturity to stuff religious stories into a box labeled “metaphor.” I believed what adults taught me. I believed that unless Jesus came to “live in my heart” and spoke to me in a “still, small voice” that I was would be doomed to suffer flames and maggots just like in the movies — just like most humans who’d ever lived or ever would live.

I believed in the idea that a small group of elite, righteous Christians were God’s true children, God’s exceptional, privileged minority. But I could never could hear that small voice, no matter how hard I listened.

So I didn’t look at the sky, too terrified that the Rapture would come along at any moment, that Jesus would burst through those clouds, and that I’d be left alone with everyone else who hadn’t made the cut.

I left that world and that worldview a lifetime ago.

I needed a few years, but I eventually put religions of fear and suffering behind me. I left home, got an education, joined the military, and started a life in which religious faith played little or no role for just about anyone I knew.

Leaving childhood trauma buried in my past seemed like a good idea. So, I just forgot about it all.

Or so I thought —

I left the military, jumping out of a comfortable nest into the middle of the raging HIV epidemic in New York City. Suddenly, my sexual orientation was no longer a mere oddity to be discussed over beers with curious straight friends and colleagues who thought I was exotic and kind of cool.

My being gay became a matter of life and death.

Death and dying surrounded me, rocking me back on my heels and changing my life forever. I landed a job at a nonprofit that served men and women ‘living with HIV and AIDS.’ That was the euphemism du jour back in 1990, when everybody pretended HIV wasn’t a death sentence — even as young men attended numbing numbers of funerals.

I joined Act Up and fought with them to stop AIDS—

Act Up ‘zap’, December 11, 1989

We fought to save lives by demanding serious public investment in treatment research.

We fought to get empowering safer-sex information to people at risk. We put our physical safety and freedom at risk to get condoms into people’s hands.

Conservative religion thrust itself back into my life as we battled the Catholic Church as one of our most powerful, determined foes. They fought us tooth and nail in New York, vilifying and condemning us for our “immoral lifestyles,” lobbying to make us stop safer-sex education, and spending massively to try to prevent us from distributing condoms in public spaces.

I woke up politically —

I soon joined Queer Nation, abandoning my slightly left-of-center moderate worldview, necessary for success (and sanity) as an Air Force officer, replacing it with something far different.

I joined Queer Nation, marching with them for LGBTQ rights, soaking up ideals of diversity, equality, and radical liberation. For the first time in my life, I came to understand that oppression was the fate not just of gay men my country had abandoned to a cruel virus, but the fate of all sorts of minorities. I learned up close and personal from Black and Latino people who didn’t enjoy my privilege, and who never would.

I befriended transgender and gender nonconforming people, learning about their struggles. Ann Northrop and other fierce women in the movement, including my boss Barbara, taught me about misogyny and sexism. About patriarchy.

I truly believed we were building a better a world —

I watched tolerance and acceptance catch fire and spread. I believed that equality and liberation for all were on the march. I believed that true social justice was inevitable and unstoppable. I didn’t expect it to happen overnight, but I was pretty sure I’d live to see a world in which marginalization of minorities stopped eating at the US like a cancer.

I believed right up until November 9, 2016.

The night that Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, my worldview shattered again. I watched the evangelical religious forces of my childhood ally with a demagogue and elevate him to power. I watched him quickly champion their causes as he dog whistled to racists and white supremacists.

I watched him attack LGBTQ rights and equality. I watched him champion “religious liberty” in such a way as to put the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in jeopardy, all to satisfy the Dominionist aspirations of his evangelical allies.

Today, the evangelical teachings that terrified me as a small boy have come roaring back onto the national stage. I can no longer afford to turn my back and forget about that movement. No American who values equality and social justice can afford the luxury of forgetting who’s running the country right now.

It’s not the clouds we need to be afraid of —

It’s time to push back. It’s time to put political differences aside. Party politics and factional disputes pale in comparison to the threat we all face from a political bully determined to hand power to a minority of preachers cheering for Jesus to burst through the clouds to snatch them and their elite flocks to heaven.

We need rational leadership in Washington. We need to let progress toward equality and justice take fire again.

It’s time to fight!