Pride Month has concluded with its profusion of rainbow flags celebrating sexual liberation and autonomous individualism. Corporate America was among its chief celebrants, with many rainbowing their logos. Government buildings, which should only showcase state emblems, went rainbow. And of course liberal Protestant churches further amplified their rainbow commitments. Many liberal Protestants complain of USA flags in or around sanctuaries as idolatry but affirm rainbow flags unironically. Look for annual July 4 sermons and blogs against American flags, just days after Pride Month hoopla.
Rainbow culture can be found almost exclusively in Christian-shaped societies throughout the West. Rainbow flags and logos aren’t common in historically Islamic lands, or in Hindu or Confucian or Buddhist shaped cultures. Sexual liberation and pride contravene historic Christian teaching of course. But Christianity teaches human equality and the importance of the individual. The Gospel proclaims freedom, rightly understood, against coercion. It also affirms human creativity. Rainbow and pride culture reject orthodox Christianity. But they are ungrateful descendants of it.
Tom Holland, author of Dominion, How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, notes that the “secular” West is suffused with Christian shaped assumptions. And the culture war is often a Christian debate over the meaning of human equality and freedom. The Christian-shaped West rejects state and religious coercion as found in Islamic and eastern societies. But the West is divided over how to understand human equality. The ostensibly post-Christian West equates freedom with expressive individualism and liberation absent some traditional moral restraints. Besieged traditionalists of course insist true freedom depends on human dignity premised on moral restraint and divine creation.
The imposition of rainbow ideology is often blamed by traditionalists on “elites.” Obviously there’s truth there on advocacy by corporations, universities, and government, amid efforts to stigmatize if not silent dissent. But it would be wrong exclusively to fault cultural elites while romanticizing the “populist” sentiment of the general population.
Polls show support for rainbow ideology is wider than just rich urbanites. Corporations would not tout it if not perceived to be in their commercial interest. Universities would not tout if concerned parents of students and alumnae donors would object. Government would not tout if more concerned about voter reaction. Even much of flyover country including religious traditionalists have passively acceded to the rainbow even if not directly flying it themselves.
Some hardcore rainbow opponents have looked to authoritarian societies as the desired corrective. Orban’s regime in Hungary, recently downgraded by Freedom House’s ranking as only “partly free” after being “free” for 30 years, is often cited for its resistance to the rainbow. Russia, far more authoritarian, is sometimes often celebrated for its defiance of rainbow ideology. Of course, Saudi Arabia and Iran, among other theocracies, could be cited for their criminalization of the rainbow. Few in the West see Islamist rule as the antidote for rainbow rule.
The more effective antidote to rainbow ideology is remembrance of the original rainbow from the Book of Genesis: “Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” After the Great Flood, God offered grace and mercy to Noah under a new covenant premised on faith and good living whose fruit would be human flourishing.
Liberty in the Christian-shaped West ultimately traces to this rainbow covenant. We as humans are not completely autonomous. We don’t create ourselves. Our identities are not completely self-generated. We are free but only so long as we recognize Who created us in His image, which elevates us above the other creatures who filled Noah’s ark.
This rainbow is truly good news, truly liberating, and is truly the basis for human dignity, prosperity and peace. For a society to benefit not everybody must believe in this covenant with God and His rainbow. But many must believe and follow, and the narrative, at least broadly understood, must leaven the wider culture and shape society’s master narrative.
The contemporary rainbow of corporations, universities, government and popular culture, with some liberal Protestant churches tagging along, is a distorted descendant of the original rainbow. It imagines human happiness, equality and liberation through self-empowerment, pride and radical autonomy.
But the transcendent goods they seek can’t be found at the end of the proud human rainbow but only under the arch of the eternal divine rainbow, which offers riches beyond measure to all who shelter under it and look to it.
Originally published on Juicy Ecumenism
Mark Tooley became president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) in 2009. He joined IRD in 1994 to found its United Methodist committee (UMAction). He is also editor of IRD’s foreign policy and national security journal, Providence.