for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…
God will wipe every tear from their eyes.
There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain,
for the old order of things has passed away.”
These last few weeks have been heavy with grief and death: The shooting during a Lunar New Year celebration in Los Angeles, the heinous murder of Tyre Nichols at the hand of police, and the killing of indigenous environmentalist Tortuguita by a SWAT team in Atlanta. Gun and state-sponsored violence wreak havoc once again in our midst. And many of us are tired, feel helpless, and even become numb. Every incident, it seems, comes with the same pattern: public outcry, prayers and thoughts, call for reforms, criticism of the reactions of the oppressed, calls for peace, nothing changes. Cynics might call it a well-rehearsed theater – only that this is not a stage but real life. And real people are dying.
Biblical writers are familiar with what it means to live in an empire that oppresses and kills some of its members. John of Patmos, the writer of the Book of Revelations, lived in a time when state authorities persecuted him and his young church. In this context, he shares his vision with the readers and finds comfort in the drastic language of his apocalyptical writing. The Greek word "Apocalypse," meaning revelation or disclosure, is understood quite literally: John’s words reveal that the current structure, the old order of things, is not working – at least not for the persecuted. And he responds to it with a vision of a God who comforts and wipes away every tear, who creates a new world on the ruins of the old.
Many modern readers struggle with the imagery of revelation, but the message of apocalypse has been a source of hope for many oppressed people throughout the centuries – including queer people. When you are "queer" or marginalized, when you are diametrically opposed to the "order of things" just by who you are, the unraveling of this order can carry hope. When you are outside of what is “normal,” you might realize that the “norm” is excluding and harming people. Once you have revealed this truth, it is hard to go back to normality – and you might not want to. There is a reason that the word “queer” was reclaimed from the hands of homo- and transphobes. Queer people noticed that there is strength and wisdom in “queering” the status quo, in being in a position that is opposed to the mainstream.
Too often, queer people with relative privilege, who are, for instance, white, affluent, and/or able-bodied, are afraid of going down this road. It can be tempting and easy to fall prey to the siren call of privilege and comfort. We forget our own history of persecution, exclusion, police violence, and state surveillance. The logic is: “if we assimilate enough, we will be safe.”
Yet, as Christians, especially queer Christians, we are called to embrace the "apocalypse:" to face what unjust power structures have been revealed and to build a new community upon the unraveling. Jesus was an apocalyptical preacher, and we are called to follow him and to work towards his new kin-dom. So, when faced with these unfathomable tragedies and injustices of these last weeks, we are invited to trust in the vision of a new earth and a new heaven and to unravel the old order of things. Not just the order of sexuality and gender but every order of unjust power.
Many of our open and affirming statements mention not only LGBTQ identities but also categories like race, nationality, etc. It is rooted in the understanding that one cannot be separated from the other. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us. It points to the truth that we are fundamentally connected as human beings, and death and violence should always affect us. It also speaks to the fact that systems of oppression are interconnected, that they arose codependently, and that many of us do not live one-dimensional lives: People are disabled and bisexual, black and trans, poor and non-binary. Tortuguita, for instance, was an indigenous environmentalist, but they were also queer and non-binary. That’s why any understanding of justice cannot think one-dimensionally: if it does so, it ceases to be true justice.
Following Jesus’ call of revelation and transformative justice can feel scary, especially if you have been quite comfortable in the "old order of things.” But as the Bible reminds us: “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” (2. Tim 1:7). I truly believe that with the spirit of God we can move on the path of unraveling – or, to put it in other terms: the path of abolition. Let us not get stuck in the same performance over and over again, but let us think anew. It starts with imagining a new heaven and a new earth, following in the footsteps of John of Patmos, looking honestly at what is at hand and what could be. Here are three ways to guide you on this journey:
- Ponder the following questions and talk to your friends about it: How can you imagine a community where we don’t need guns, the police or prisons? What could be different ways of relating? How could we find new ways of making sure all members of the community are cared for and safe?
- Learn more about abolition within the UCC context and find more resources and maybe answers to some of your questions here: https://jointhemovementucc.org/about/
- If you are part of an Open and Affirming Church, think about expanding that vision: How can you move from just “welcoming people into” the current structure to becoming a “community for all by all?” How can your community ensure that people of all different intersectional identities feel safe, supported, and seen?
The Rev. Michael Streib engages and supports local congregations in creating greater inclusion and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people within the various settings of the church and community. Contact Michael to: Request...