What’s in a Rainbow?
On the back of “Pride Month” and with the latest controversy involving the Manly Sea Eagles Football Club jersey, the rainbow is a prominent and popular symbol in today’s society.
This symbol of LGBTI+ pride has been around literally as long as I have been alive. Back in 1978, at the request of the first openly gay politician in California, Harvey Milk, the gay artist and drag queen Gilbert Baker designed the first rainbow flag. Baker explained, “Our job as gay people was to come out, to be visible, to live in the truth, as I say, to get out of the lie. A flag really fit that mission, because that’s a way of proclaiming your visibility or saying, ‘This is who I am!’”
The flag’s original eight colours were not accidental. Baker meant for each colour to symbolise something of their own. Hot pink was for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for art, indigo for harmony, and violet for spirit.
As a graphic designer and someone who likes a bit or marketing, I’ve got to say, it was an inspired choice. The rainbow is vibrant and happy and full of diversity. It has “every colour of the rainbow” and it communicates that same message – everyone is welcome and all our differences just make the world more beautiful. From a marketing perspective, it’s brilliant.
It’s no wonder then that this symbol has only grown stronger over the last 44 years. Now corporations use it to show that they are one of the “good guys”, restaurants use it to show their support for LGBTI rights, and as we’ve seen this week, Rugby teams incorporate it into their uniforms to express their values. As Manly coach Des Hasler explained, “The intent of the rainbow colour application of our jersey was to represent diversity and inclusion for all, utilising the symbolic colours of pride to embrace all groups who feel marginalised, face discrimination and have a suppressed share of voice. The jersey intent was to support the advocacy and human rights pertaining to gender, race culture, ability and LGBTQ movements.”
So the symbol of the rainbow may mean different things to different groups. For some it is a public expression of loyalty, for others it is about compassion and solidarity with various marginalised groups and for others it may be just about supporting inclusivity in general.
Scott Penn, the owner of the Manly Sea Eagles recently told the Herald from New York of their choice to use the rainbow on their jerseys, “It was never just about pride. It was about saying we want everyone in the game and making them feel they can get involved.”
Despite this claim, many people naturally can’t divorce the symbol of the rainbow flag from its intended origin. It is, and will always be, a symbol of gay pride. It represents being proud of and celebrating sexual diversity outside of heterosexual desire and sexual activity. And “pride” is the word that is specifically used to reject any sense of shame or guilt or sin associated with homosexual sex.
This is why Christians have a problem with the rainbow symbol. The Bible teaches that sex is God’s good gift to humanity and that God has told us how and with whom it should be expressed. God also teaches us how it should not be expressed and this includes any sexual activity outside of marriage between a man and a woman. This is why homosexual sex is consistently condemned throughout Scripture as sinful and why Christians who are committed to faithfulness to God’s Word, can not endorse, let alone celebrate it.
It doesn’t mean Christians should hate or reject or not show compassion or kindness to those who experience same-sex attraction. Not at all. Hatred and a lack of kindness is also condemned in Scripture. But neither can we ignore God’s Word on these topics and our love for people compells us to be honest about sin. As possibly the most famous bible passage on love states: “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:6)
For many Christians, the rainbow symbol is an expression of delighting in something that God calls evil, and to do so would actually be a rejection of the greatest of Christ’s commands – to love.
This is most likely why those seven Manly rugby players could not in good conscience wear the new jersey with the rainbow symbol. Maybe the owner of the club is being honest when he says “It was never just about pride.” but it’s definitely partly about pride. And Christians should never be proud of sexual sin, either our own or someone else’s.
It is difficult though. As I have said, the rainbow means different things for different people. A Christian may say “I can’t wear the rainbow because if I did, that for me would be unloving” and all the world will hear is “hate hate hate”. As Jackie O recently commented on her popular KIIS FM breakfast radio show: “You hate gays that much that you won’t wear a rainbow.” For many people, to refuse to wear the rainbow is a symbol of lovelessness.
It reminds me of that episode of Seinfield where Kramer refuses to wear the AIDS ribbon.
Christians do not want to communicate hate. We do not want to communicate rejection or a lack of inclusivity in sport or a whole range of fields. But we also don’t want to communicate that God does not care about sexual sin. Or indeed that we take pride in it.
So in the end all we can do is try to be clear. We do not wear the jersey. We do not put up the rainbow flag. We do not bow the knee to the golden statue. But we also do our best to communicate that we do love and value and welcome all people no matter who they are. And we don’t just communicate that love through a nice tweet or a Facebook post. We demonstrate love in real and practical ways. We show hospitality. We speak kindly. We offer practical help. And even if we are hated for our beliefs or our refusal to wear a rainbow, we return that hate with love.
As John writes: “Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:13-18)