Why It Isn't Biblical To Fight About Rainbows.


Hello my friends,

With June being Pride Month, I thought it would be wise for us to think together about some of the rhetoric we have heard and will probably hear again during this month from those who claim to follow Jesus.

Unfortunately, hostility continues to be growing towards the LGBT community, much of which is led by people claiming to follow Jesus. I recently wrote a newsletter on that very topic, which you can read here.

As you have probably seen, part of this hostility manifests itself online in the form of claiming that the rainbow belongs to God alone and should not be used by the LGBT community.

So, today I want to think about rainbows with you and how God’s use of them in Genesis 9 has profound implications for how we Christians should respond wherever we see rainbows in our culture today. I hope it is at least some small help to you as you think about and navigate conversations about this topic during the month of June.

But before we dive into that, here’s a few resources to consider:

-If you haven't yet checked out the BEMA Podcast, I highly encourage you to do so. It is such an enlightening and inspiring look at both the Jewish and Eastern perspectives of the Bible. It profoundly helps to understand scripture in the way it was written, especially what we call the "Old Testament." For today's newsletter, the most relevant episode from BEMA is called, "Bow in the clouds."

-Here is a really fascinating article I have shared before about the history of translating "homosexuality" within the Bible. If anything, it is needed food for thought. Has Homosexuality always been in the Bible?

-I'd also like to again recommend, UnClobber: Rethinking Our Misuse of the Bible on Homosexuality, by Colby Martin.

-I'd also recommend reading Changing Our Mind: Definitive Edition of the Landmark Call for Inclusion of LGBT Christians with Response to Critics, by David Gushee. It is a great primer for thinking not only about this issue more deeply but to better understand the criticism of it as well.

*If you are planning on intentionally reading/listening to something regarding this topic for the month of June, let me know.*

Okay, onto today’s content.

Why It Isn't Biblical To Fight About Rainbows

Over the past few years, we’ve seen tremendous backlash to corporations and their embrace of the LGBT community in their advertising and merchandise, most notably Bud Light and Target. Although corporations like Target have been celebrating Pride Month for years, with the recent vilification and demonization of the LGBTQ community, especially from political leaders, the backlash is becoming increasingly hostile. Resulting not only in online bullying, but personal harassment, injury, and even death within the LGBT community.

This is as deeply troubling as it is heartbreaking.

It is so hard to see so many who claim to follow Jesus be so easily swayed by toxic political rhetoric against another group of people.

It is also so hard to realize how much fear and hostility was already present among those who claim to follow Jesus that could be provoked by such toxic political rhetoric.

These things are two sides of the same coin.

I just can’t hep but imagine how American Christians would respond if another religious group was acting in the same way politically as we are seeing from so many who claim to follow Jesus act today.

What if people from another religion mounted a backlash against Hobby Lobby, forcing it to remove its blatantly Christian merchandise?

What if people from another religion worked to have the laws from its God posted in our schools and courtrooms across the nation?

What if people from another religion demanded that individual healthcare decisions abide exclusively by its definition of morality by law?

What if another religious group demanded all Americans abide by its standards of gender roles and human sexuality?

What if people from another religion claimed that the United States was founded on its principles alone and demanded its laws be influenced and upheld by its sacred text?

Imagine the outrage that would cause among the American Christian community, and for good reason. Yet, why can’t so many see how outrageous this is within Christianity itself? It seems to be so contradictory to Christ’s call to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Matt 7:12).

Sadly, I think this can only come from religious and political entitlement.

One of the most damaging things the myth of a Christian nation has done is to convince so many Christians that God has given us the United States and no one else. Combine this belief with the equally entitled notion that we are the only ones who perfectly know absolute truth, it naturally leads to the conclusion that only our religious group defines morality correctly and so we have exclusive rights to how everyone else should conduct themselves regarding marriage and human sexuality. No matter if they are "Christian" or not.

This mentality leads us to concerted efforts to not allow others to live according to beliefs that might differ from ours by law, all while ironically claiming to believe in “freedom.”

More over, there are over 200 different sects of Christianity within the United States alone. All with their own unique theology and interpretations of the Bible. It takes a great deal of arrogance to claim that only your sect or your individual interpretation of scripture is the only "true" one by which everyone else, even all other Christians, should obey.

One of the ways we see this theological entitlement is regarding rainbows.

Just the other day, someone sent me an angry message repeating rhetoric I have heard far too often. “The LGBTQ community hijacked the rainbow!”

We can quickly hear what this kind of phrase is implying, right? The word “hijack” is defined as: “the unlawful seizure (an aircraft, ship, or vehicle) in transit and force it to go to a different destination or use it for one's own purposes.”

So this kind of phrase is implying that the rainbow was “owned and operated” by someone else from whom the LGBTQ community “hijacked” it for its own purposes.

So who "owned" the rainbow first then?

Interestingly, rainbows play just as big a role, if not bigger, in other religions and mythologies in the world and throughout history. Many predating Abrahamic faiths not to mention Christianity.

The rainbow flag also first appeared historically as a symbol of peace as early as the 16th century and has been used by various movements to bring about reconciliation and cooperation.

In the 1990s, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Nelson Mandela described the newly democratic South Africa as a "rainbow nation", alluding to its diversity and multiculturalism.

Rainbows also appeared on home windows worldwide during the lockdowns brought on by the covid-19 pandemic. People would paint them on their windows alongside messages of hope.

I first learned about "rainbow babies" during my ministry, which is a baby born to a mother after experiencing pregnancy loss.

Rainbows are also used to represent those with neurodiversity. I had a follower of mine tell me in a public comment that a random Christian man screamed at her because her neurodivergent son was wearing the neurodiversity rainbow on his shirt. He didn't even stop to read the shirt.

I could go on and on here, but my point is that the rainbow has been used as a symbol to represent numerous things to numerous people and groups. That is the way symbols work. To say that only one religious group has exclusive rights to the rainbow is not only to ignore history and the myriad of other groups who use the rainbow as a symbol, but it is to also severely lack in religious humility. Are we Christians going to appoint ourselves as gatekeepers over anyone who doesn't use the rainbow to represent what we think they should?

My sad suspicion is though, the reason many are only getting mad at one group for how they use the rainbow actually says more about how they feel about that particular group than it ever will about how they feel about rainbows.

What about the Bible?

What really convicted me about all this fighting and hostility towards the LGBTQ community was how God actually used the rainbow in Genesis 9! Allow me to explain why.

Context

You see, in the ancient world, almost every civilization had a flood story in their creation account. From Egypt, to Babylon, to Mesopotamian, and many more, a flood narrative played a central role in their creation accounts. One of the most famous is the Epic of Gilgamesh, which predates the writing of the creation account in Genesis.

Given how almost all the ancient creation stories share a flood story, many speculate that some flood related event had actually occurred in the ancient world and these narratives were their way of trying to make sense of that event.

These other flood narratives would have been so familiar to Abraham and the generations after him. It would have been the stories they were raised with and the stories that shaped the way they saw the world around them.

In almost all the other ancient creation accounts, the “hero” either had to placate, manipulate, bribe, or defeat the god or gods in order to stop them from destroying all of humanity completely. Some even built a large boat to save all the animals as well. The gods in those narratives were violent and vengeful and it was up to the hero to stop them.

So, as Genesis is being written, two prevailing ideas are permeating the ancient world: 1) a global flood happened. 2) God or the gods had a role to play in causing it to happen.

Yet, what is so profound about the Genesis account is that while all the other gods are against humanity and have to be placated or manipulated or bribed, the God of Genesis partners with humanity, even makes a covenant with humanity and promises to never destroy life in such a violent way again.

It is a major departure from all the other flood accounts in the ancient world.

What was the sign of this covenant from God? God said, “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.” -Genesis 9:14-15

You will notice that God actually says this three times in this passage, showing the seriousness of this covenant. You will also notice how this is a sign made by God for God. It isn't a covenant that humanity has responsibility to remember and cary out. No, humanity is the party who benefits from this covenant. Whenever the rainbow appears, God says, “I will remember my covenant between me and you.”

But here is where it gets really moving and profound. There isn’t a word for “rainbow” in the Hebrew language. In this passage, the Hebrew word isקֶשֶׁת” which just means “bow.” It occurs over 70 times in the Hebrew Bible, all of which refer to bows, arrows, or archers. Some of the older English translations of the Bible, like the KJV, even use “bow” in Genesis 9 rather than “rainbow.”

God is setting down God's bow in the clouds.

This profoundly paints the picture of God laying down God’s weapon against the world. God is disarming God’s self.

Not only that, but what shape do rainbows take? Think about how a rainbow looks when you see it in the sky. If it were an archer’s bow, where is the arrow pointing? It is no longer pointing towards the earth, but towards heaven. Not only is God laying down the weapon of destruction, but God is essentially saying, “I will take the destruction upon myself instead.”

We can see all sorts of symbolic connections here to Jesus, who is God incarnate, taking on all the destruction and harm of the world upon himself through the cross, establishing the “new covenant” (Luke 22:20) just as the God of Genesis had promised in this old covenant.

This context is always so deeply moving and convicting for me.

When we consider this context, it is easy to see how so much of the rage from Christians towards the LGBT community and its use of the rainbow is actually violating what God intended by the rainbow in the first place. God made the rainbow as a symbol of nonviolence. It is a symbol of peace. It is a symbol of solidarity with all humanity. It is a promise to handle things through a relationship of solidarity and love, rather than through wrath and destruction.

When we Christians act in hostile and vengeful ways towards the LGBT community, claiming the rainbow belongs only to us and "our God," we are using the rainbow in the exact opposite way God intended. We are using it to try to control everyone else rather than ourselves. Ironically, this causes us to actually be the ones who are hijacking the rainbow for our own purposes.

May it not be so with us!

Instead, imagine if the intention behind why God made the rainbow in Genesis 9 was the posture we Christians took whenever we saw a rainbow in our culture. What a flood of peace that would be.

Now I'd like to hear from you!

What are your thoughts on what I have written here? What would you add to this conversation? Feel free to respond to this email and share your thoughts with me.

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As always, I really want to thank all of you for reading and for all the ways you support me and this project every single week. I'm thankful for the ways we are building this together and hope it creates a lasting, positive change in our world along the way!

I sincerely appreciate you all,

Ben

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Rev. Benjamin Cremer

I have spent the majority of my life in Evangelical Christian spaces. I have experienced a lot of church hurt. I now write to explore topics that often are at the intersection of politics and Christianity. My desire is to discover how we can move away from Christian nationalism, religious fundamentalism, and church hurt to reclaim the Gospel of Jesus together. I'm glad you're here to join the conversation. I look forward to talking with you.

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