(Today’s post is by Renee P. of southern California. A technical writer, Renee describes herself as a former fundamentalist and recently converted progressive Christian.)
In fifth grade I enjoyed being at a Christian school where love and peace abounded. I found favor in being obedient and striving for a world beyond this one. I loved the structure, conformity and ‘do unto others’ expectations of the school. I loved improving my penmanship, spelling tests, memorizing all fifty states, being one of the best Bible verse looker-uppers.
I gloried in all of it. I loved learning. I loved God. Life felt safe and happy.
It did, that is, until one Friday morning in the school’s chapel, when they showed a movie that movie that caused me to fear for my soul in a way I never knew I needed to.
Thief in the Night is about what happens on earth after the pre-tribulation rapture—that is, after all the Christians have been taken up into heaven, leaving behind all those who failed to accept Christ when they had the chance.
Looking back on it now I see what a hack B movie it is. But as a highly impressionable nine-year-old I was no film critic. One particularly vivid scene from the movie that terrified me featured a little girl my age (that’s her above) who comes into the kitchen to ask her mom a question. A pan of green beans sits unattended on the stove. The girl calls for her mother. There is no answer. She calls again. No answer. Finally, fearing the worst, she begins to scream.
But it’s no use. Her mother has been raptured up to heaven. She is left behind.
The movie goes on to depict all the doomsday prophesies—complete with the anti-Christ taking power, and, in the form of embedded microchips or barcodes on their hand or forehead, the Mark of the Beast being put on all those remaining on earth. No one missing the Mark of the Beast can purchase anything at all: no food, no gasoline, no nothing. The dreaded New World Order has arrived.
The little girl and a handful of other repentant sinners refuse the mark, realizing that accepting it means making a pact with the Devil. They are forced to scavenge off the land and hide from the police who now rule the state. Those who reject the Beast and his mark are put to death by guillotine. The movie’s closing scene zeros in on a woman’s head. With the sound of a whooshing blade the screen goes black.
For months after seeing the movie I couldn’t, even for a moment, be left alone at home. I became anxious and panicky whenever my mom or dad didn’t answer my calls to them from upstairs: fearing the worst, I would rush downstairs, tears in my eyes. I was wholly and completely terrified that at any moment God was going to abandon me and subject me to a life of separation from my parents—and then send me to hell. My mom called into a local Christian radio program seeking advice for how to calm and soothe my fears.
It took time and a lot of reassurance, but I eventually stopped have anxiety attacks about being left behind.
But then you know what happened? Years later those horrible childhood fears of being completely isolated and abandoned by everyone I loved returned to me. Why? Because I realized that (despite all my prayers and efforts not to be) I was gay. And being gay, I had always learned, was a blatant sin.
And what is a blatant sin, but a blatant invitation to be left behind?