Somewhere over the rainbow: Reading the Pride symbol as a queering of the Bible
The rainbow is God’s recognition that all life is sacred.
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By Ciarra Milan Jones
Genesis 9:13–16 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. 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.
June is Pride month, one of my favorite seasons of the year. It is a time of self-recognition and communal celebration. A time of self-love and collective embrace. How can one not help but smile when watching so many people joyfully embrace the beauty of their authenticity?
This month — and possibly throughout the year if you live in a part of the country that is outwardly Queer affirming — as you walk around you will see businesses, homes, and apparel bearing the rainbow flag. The rainbow flag is famous for its symbolic representation of Queer affirmation and celebration, and some Queer people will find this display affirming and endearing.
The rainbow has a complex, unique and full history, but I want to examine it here as a Queer Biblical promise. (Queer folks stay with me if you can, I know reading about the Bible can be trauma, but I promise, I got us. However, if you need to step away for your own health, well-being, and in the name of self-love, I hope that you do.)
I also want to be mindful that for many Queer folks, when businesses propagate the flag as a way to exploit us for money, it does not feel like a display of radical inclusion but rather a violent exploitation of our marginalization. It is a show of “solidarity” that constitutes a slippery slope, with capitalism insidiously linking patronage to allyship. Further, it should be noted that for many QTPOC the rainbow flag is not enough, and can also function as a symbol of exclusion due to the fact that many Gay liberation movements ascribe(d) to anti-Black and and anti-Brown sentiments.
I grew up as a devout Pentecostal. I spent my teenage years fervently reading Biblical text. Even beyond religiosity, I found and continue to find the Bible fascinating. This one sacred text builds and destroys nations; it fosters communities and fissures homes. In many ways, it is a foundational text of white supremacy and also functions as a canonical book of liberation for Black people from chattel slavery into our contemporary moment.
Yet, though plenty of marginalized communities work to reframe the Bible as a site of freedom, for many Queer folks of color it remains a site of rejection due to its historic misuse and misreadings. It is intriguing then, given the history of violent homophobia in the mainstream Christian church that the rainbow serves as one of the most recognizable symbols of LGBTQ identity. However, a closer reading of the rainbow in its Biblical context works to reveal its inherent Queerness.
According to the Bible, following God’s elimination of all humanity save Noah, his family, and an arc full of animals, the rainbow was placed in the sky as assurance that catastrophic waters from the heavens would never again be used to decimate all of humanity.
I am not your momma’s theologian and, as a result, I will bluntly claim that God’s choice to eliminate all of humanity as a result of human sinfulness was a bit rash and also hella petty. However, the subsequent commitment to never again commit genocide can be read as a function of Gods renewed Queer framework concerning their understanding of the expansiveness of the human experience and human behavior.
Biblical text positions humanity as perfect until knowledge entered the world by way of Eve’s craving of natural fructose. I interpret God’s hasty annihilation of humanity as a moment of deity-in-crisis. Eve’s action not only thrust humans out of a certain kind of relationship with God, but also pushed God out of relationship with God’s self. Suddenly God needed to contend with Their divine-identity separate from that of controlling humanity. Suddenly humans were no longer God’s by design, but God’s by choice and choice alone.
I know, some people reading this will say, “God is perfect, God could NEVER experience an identity crisis.” I hear you, but, if we are made in God’s image and experience pain, loss, and confusion, then so does God. Eve’s action shook the very foundation of God’s self-image. So God restarted humanity only to realize that humanity, in its new multiplicity and complexity, remained beautiful, and that it was God who needed to reframe Their way of understanding the sacredness of humanity, not humanity that needed to bend the will of God.
The rainbow is God’s recognition that all life is sacred. The rainbow is Queer for it serves as a symbol that none shall be cast out for being who they are. The rainbow is God’s Queer promise that so long as one’s heart is beating, they are worthy to live life fully, not beholden to rigid judgement. The rainbow is a divine-Queer promise of belonging, one that signals God’s reformed understanding of honoring authenticity and human expansiveness.
I consistently return to Genesis to read about the rainbow. Something about it interpreted as a promise strikes me as deeply profound. Virtually all Biblical accounts require that one exercise a whole lot of faith in order to believe that these various instances of divine intervention occurred (at one point the Bible mentions a talking Donkey and I just don’t know about that), but the rainbow regularly appears in our contemporary lives. Thus, I cannot help but pause and smile at God’s promise to honor the sacredness of life when I encounter one.
Queerness is divine because Queerness carries the promise of the rainbow in perpetuity. Those of us who carry the identity of Queerness with pride know intimately what it feels like to be rejected on the basis of our truth. Adorned with self-love and divine energy, we carry the mantle of God’s promise. Our bodies are a Queer-promise that none who encounter us will ever be turned away for revealing themselves to us in their authenticity. We are the rainbow, radically committed to living expansively, and a safe haven for all those who fear that their truth cannot coincide with social acceptance.
Ciarra’s writing explores race, education, religion, and sexuality. You can find her writing on Huffington Post, Medium, Black Youth Project, and the Tempest.