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The Rainbow and Inclusion

The rainbow and inclusion have becoming closely associated with each other.  Perhaps surprisingly, this is not a new concept but is rooted in ancient texts the predate our current generation and in fact take us back many centuries.

“Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and all living creatures of every kind.  Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.  Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and living creatures of every kind on the earth.” Genesis 9:14-16

Pride and the Rainbow

This past month has seen Pride weekend celebrated in my hometown.  Similar events continue to happen in other towns and cities across the world.  For anyone not living in a cave over the past several years, the rainbow has become the symbol of all things Pride and of course the LGBTQ (abbreviated here for simplicity) community.

Wikipedia summarizes the intent as follows:

The rainbow flag, commonly known as the gay pride flag or LGBT pride flag, is a symbol of lesbiangaybisexual and transgender(LGBT) pride and LGBT social movements

The History of the Rainbow Symbol

While this is a fairly recent phenomenon in the history of the rainbow (approximately 1974), its adoption by the LGBTQ community is consistent with the theme of diversity, inclusion and peace between people of all races, beliefs and convictions.  In fact, its use by God as a sign to Noah following the great flood was a message to living creatures of every kind.  The rainbow does not belong to one group but to all of humanity and in fact all living creatures.

Regardless of what you may believe about God, the great flood or Noah, surely the message of the rainbow is loud and clear; it is a sign of hope, unity, diversity, new beginnings and most of all, inclusion.  This should be easy for anyone to understand and celebrate. However, that sadly is not the case.

The world’s three great religions; Christianity, Islam and Judaism all share a similar common understanding of Noah as a prophet of God and recite essentially the same story of the ark and global flood which is well known today across most cultures.  Unfortunately, it has too often been these same faiths that are responsible for the persecution and hostile opposition to the LGBTQ community that has ironically adopted Noah’s symbol of hope as an inspiration for inclusion.  This is a massive missed opportunity.

Identifying with the Rainbow

At this point it is important for me to declare myself so my foundations and worldview are understood.  I identify as a Jesus follower, intentionally not using the term “Christian” due to how polluted the term has become in recent years.  Furthermore, I am white, male, heterosexual and a compassionate capitalist. On the surface I have very little in common with those who identify as LGBTQ.  However, I don’t care.  Even with how little we apparently have in common, I find it easy to rally around the message of hope, inclusion and love.

At this point it is time to turn toward the communities of faith who lay claim to the rainbow symbol, especially the one that claims to follow Jesus.  No one group owns the rainbow symbol, the LGBTQ or any faith group, especially Christianity.  Even a cursory reading of the passage quoted to begin this post will reveal that the rainbow was a message to all living creatures of every kind.  By it’s very nature, it is a divine message of inclusion!  For those who are keen students of scripture, between verses 8-16 in Genesis chapter 9 this statement is made 4 times for emphasis.  Those students will also know that this technique is common to all spiritual teachers and was used by Jesus constantly “Verily, verily I say unto you”.  Repetition is the teacher’s way of saying “Listen carefully and get this.  It is important.”

Division or Inclusion?

There is one additional thought about the rainbow and inclusion for your consideration.  Again, I must speak from my experience as a follower of Jesus and invite others of different faiths to offer their perspective. Of all people, sincere followers of Jesus should understand the concept of persecution for beliefs and identity. Back in the first century, identifying as a “Christian” or follower of “The Way” was a stand against an evil empire and a risk to your life.  Daring to suggest “Jesus is Lord” was a direct challenge to the concept that Caesar is Lord.  This was a threat to the control and domination of the most powerful government system and oppressive empire that had ever existed on earth.  It was why so many were crucified by the side of roadways and fed to wild animals in the amphitheaters of Rome.  I find it interesting that in our day too often the term “Christian” is now associated with those who persecute and resist inclusion. This is one reason why I no longer identify with that term and choose to be known as a Jesus follower.  Oddly, in my experience it has only been “Christians” who take issue with my choice in this regard.

In closing, I choose to take pride in the rainbow (pun intended) as a symbol of hope, inclusion and peace for all people and all living creatures.  While doing so I identify with all those who have been persecuted for what they believe and how they choose to express their identity. This symbol should not be something that divides us but reminds us that different beliefs, identities and convictions can exist in peace while not bowing to, conforming or even agreeing with each other.

John Matthews

(See more on this concept in our Shunning and Social Legitimacy series)

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