The Rainbow Flag

As many of you who listen to this podcast know, the United Church of Christ is an Open and Affirming denomination – which is to say, in part, we do not regard one’s sexual orientation or gender identity as an impediment to full participation in the ministerial or sacramental life of the church.

You probably also know that, given our Congregational polity, holding that value as a denomination does not require any of our local congregations to adopt it. They can make those decisions on their own – and they do. 

Because of that, it has become common practice for the congregations that do vote to become Open and Affirming to display a rainbow flag somewhere on their property. It is a shorthand way of saying “All are welcome here.”

The rainbow has a beautiful history in the evolution of our faith. It serves as a powerful symbol of God’s grace. You may recall that in Genesis, at the end of the story of the great flood, God had a change of heart and promised never to destroy life like that again. As a sign of God’s covenant with us, the rainbow was offered. To this day, it stands – at least in part – to remind us that God’s grace abounds.

It is no wonder, then, that when the LGBTQIA movement was looking for a symbol to speak with power about an extravagant welcome – the rainbow appeared. Not just a reminder of God’s grace, it serves also to suggest that when variety is assembled there is beauty. We are not all of the same stripe and color –and that is good.

Of late, though, the rainbow as symbol is inducing much more than a reception of glad welcome.

Many of our churches are having their rainbow flags stolen, burned, or vandalized – often with accompanying messages left in graffiti style that are, shall we say, less than welcoming.

This past weekend, the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalists were in attendance at the Boy Scouts of America annual Jamboree. Almost two years ago, the Scouting organization signed an historic memorandum with both the UCC and the UUAs acknowledging that they would remain open to all for participation.

What we have experienced, though, is something far less than the honor of their good word.

Our booth was to be called the “Rainbow Café,” and we were ordered to change the name.

We have been handing out sunglasses with rainbow colors to any who came by our booth. We have been told to stop doing that.

We have had rainbow banners on display throughout the Jamboree. We have been ordered to take them down (as of the writing of this reflection, we have refused).

Sometimes the simple expression of love and faith, of welcome and respect is heard as political speech and is resisted. This is one such time.

I am deeply saddened that the mere expression of our genuine faith, something I learned was sacrosanct when I was a young scout, is being silenced and told it is too political.

We will withstand this, as have all the churches who have waved with pride their rainbow flags – merely replacing them when stolen or damaged. So will the Spirit of the living God whose rainbow reminds us that love will prevail.

For all whose mere expression of love is often met with resistance, anger, fear, and hatred – I give thanks to God who is the source of that love. And I remind us all that we walk with bold steps the pathways of God’s choosing as we share that love with all whom we meet on this, our journey Into the Mystic.