Dear Churches, Please Keep Your Rainbow Flags Flying

Dear Churches, Please Keep Your Rainbow Flags Flying June 30, 2023

Dear Churches,

Please keep your rainbow flags flying.

As June ends, many progressive churches are putting their rainbow paraphernalia back in storage. But those whom the Church has demonized need to see these symbols of welcome. 

For those who suffer bullying, the rainbow can symbolize belonging. Those afraid to explore or live into their full selves can find hope under the rainbow’s arch. Right now, children and adults shudder in fear of condemnation, worrying that they are broken. Some are forced out of their homes or expelled from their families for their sexual orientation or gender identity. They need to see where they can find security, affirmation, love. For them, the rainbow is a lifeline.

Welcoming the marginalized is the Church’s first mission. Showing that we welcome human beings and human love across the bright, beautiful spectrum of diversity is essential to following Jesus, who breaks down the barriers of human divisions. Along with Black Lives Matter signs and land acknowledgement statements, churches should prominently display symbols of welcome for the queer community. Always.

Living the Gospel means loving the marginalized.

Of course, a church that flies a rainbow flag will receive societal backlash. Accusations of politicization and taking sides in the “culture war” will fly. Churches that visibly welcome the queer community inevitably make themselves more vulnerable.

But this exactly is what following Jesus is. Becoming vulnerable in order to stand in solidarity with the vulnerable. Building Beloved Community beginning with those whom society has excluded, shunned, or left behind. While welcoming all, followers of Jesus are called especially to reach out to the marginalized, including the queer community. 

Flying a rainbow flag is not virtue signaling. It’s living the Gospel.

“Gospel” means good news. And the good news is that God is Love and God made every human being in the image of Love. Love excludes no one, delights in everyone, and seeks the joy of all. 

The only way to love God is to love one another.  Reading scriptures, singing hymns, listening to sermons — none of this is “worship” unless it teaches and strengthens love for everyone.

Unfortunately, the Church is not widely known for unconditional love. For many, it is a place of strict rules and harsh judgment.  It has made war in the name of the Prince of Peace, followed divine embrace with dehumanizing exclusion, and turned good news into bad news. Undoubtedly, the Church has a long way to go to live into its mission to magnify Love to the world. 

Flying a rainbow flag is a tiny step in the right direction. But it is a necessary step. The queer community has suffered condemnation, demonization, harm and abuse so often at the hands of the Church that a direct, visible sign of welcome is absolutely vital. It assures that this church is a true sanctuary for those who may not be safe at another. 

The Church has a responsibility to heal its damage.

Beyond being a necessary, visible sign to ensure the safety of the vulnerable, a rainbow flag adorning a church is a symbol of repentance. 

The Spirit calls on all churches to repent for the sins of the Church universal. The Spirit calls us to work to heal the anti-Christ damage done in the name of Christ. This includes wounds inflicted by the Doctrine of Discovery’s brutal legacy of genocide and slavery. It includes the history of patriarchy which still leaves women vulnerable to subjugation. And it includes the brutal spiritual, emotional, and physical abuse of the queer community that comes from a dangerous hermeneutic (interpretative lens).

The Spirit does not call anyone to repent of sexual orientation or gender identity. But it does call us to repent of cruelty, violence, and hatred. Repentance means turning around, seeing from another point of view. The Spirit calls us to repent of prejudice, see the full human dignity of one another through the lens of love, and work toward healing and restoration. 

Part of this work is healing the hermeneutics of condemnation by directly addressing the “clobber texts,” as Fr. James Alison describes those verses used to bash the queer community. Explained in context, they can easily be shown to have nothing to do with loving relationships. If churches made a dedicated effort to defang these verses, some of the rationale behind queerphobia would lose its momentum.

But healing the Church’s damage to the queer community must go far beyond theological interpretation. Churches that openly welcome the queer community can be literal shelters for queer youth disowned by their families. They can work to meet their material as well as emotional and spiritual needs. That’s what Jesus did and what Jesus calls the Church — his body on earth — to do.

The Body of Christ is Queer.

So to all the churches that have flown your rainbow flags this past month, thank you! I ask you to keep them flying (or put them back up) throughout the year. This isn’t just about welcoming queer members into the Body of Christ but recognizing that the Body of Christ is already queer, as Jude Jones so eloquently expresses. It is made of the entire beautiful, colorful spectrum of humanity. The body of Christ is male, female, nonbinary, transgender, genderfluid. 

God is Love and rejoices in honest, tender, compassionate expressions of love, whatever the gender of the lovers may be. And rather than condemning any form of human love, the Church would do better to show much more love especially to those the world condemns. 

Be that church unafraid to show love to everyone all year long.

Thank you and may Love bless you,

Lindsey Paris-Lopez

Image: Photo of Sand Point Community United Methodist Church by Joe Mabel via Creative-Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.

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