flagging up issues of pride

Some of our more traditionalist friends have been struggling to come to terms with Ely Cathedral's decision to fly a rainbow flag during the Ely Pride weekend. It's the kind of thing that (with an inevitable predictability) brings a reaction. On Fulcrum and on Psephizo, Andrew Goddard & Ian Paul both respond by questioning the wisdom of churches using flags and espousing any causes other than the Cross and the Gospel. It's not that it's the Rainbow Flag - all flags create 'us' and 'them' - churches shouldn't do this!
Well, that's an interesting point; I (slightly cheekily) wonder if Andrew and Ian will be wearing those divisive and non-Gospel poppies to church on November 11th?
And I am tempted to do a full analysis of their harrumphing, but really I think that at this point we all expect each others' posturing and it's not necessary. Otherwise we all get stuck in this cycle...

However, it is fair to call out fakery for what it is.

Andrew, for example, confesses problems with churches flying national flags - I guess on patron saints days - and I guess I see the point., without agreeing. But he then adds:

"These questions reach a wholly new level when the flag is not one that can even claim to represent the community as a whole but is the flag of a particular minority group within society which although engaged in positive actions such as opposition to homophobic violence and providing support networks to vulnerable young people is also, in the minds and experiences of many Christians, strongly identified with sexual immorality and hostile actions to Christians in the workplace, law courts and public square."

Well, if we in our churches were well-known for our opposition to homophobic violence, and for providing support networks to vulnerable young people rather than exploiting them, I don't think there'd be any need for us to fly anyone else's flag. That's the simple truth of the matter.

But when in an article about a Rainbow Flag, the symbol of LGBT people is described casually by a Christian writer as being "strongly identified with sexual immorality" just because, well, you know, gay people are, I might suggest that LGBT folk aren't flocking to our banner for a very simple reason. 

"God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." John 3:17

I get that my very good friends on the traditionalist side of our debates are working very hard to play their part in the second half of that sentence; but till they get the first half, it's going to be tough to be heard.

It's not up to others to make friends with us. It's up to us as Christians, as followers of Jesus, as ambassadors of Christ, to make friends with everyone and anyone we can. And calling people names and looking down our moral noses at other folk ain't going to stretch our contacts lists very far.

After Jesus declares, in Luke 4, that he is come in the power of the Spirit to proclaim good news for the poor, release for captives, recovery of sight for the blind, and freedom for the oppressed, he pushes on to say that in Elijah's time the widows of Israel were not helped. And in Elisha's time, the lepers of Israel were not helped. But Elijah helped a widow in Sidon, Elisha helped a Syrian leper. And the folk in Jesus' synagogue were not happy about his message; they wanted a Messiah who would Make The Holy Land Great Again... But Jesus had other plans.

Flying a Rainbow Flag on Pride Day says - the Spirit of the Lord is on us now; and we will proclaim good news to everyone, those from Sidon and Syria, those whom the synagogue loves and those whom it does not. 

Flying a Rainbow Flag says - we are sorry that the Christian community has so often, so loudly, so badly got the first half of John 3:17 wrong. We're trying to do better. Because the second half of John 3:17 really matters and we'd love everyone to hear more about Jesus. Please come and hear.

Flying a Rainbow Flag says - we don't think all LGBTQI+ people are sexually immoral! Hey, and if you are - God loves you too. Most of us can hardly boast of moral perfection, and we rejoice every day that God loves us. Can I tell you more about God's love? It's amazing!

Flying a Rainbow Flag says - the world has all sorts of tribes and families, and some of them are minorities made into communities in part precisely because of the thoughtlessness of the majority: yet everyone has a home in God's church. Everyone is welcome. Everyone. The Gospel about Jesus is for everyone who believes - not just for everyone who looks like they believe.

When the door is open for the rest of the world all the time, Flying the Rainbow Flag says - this Church door is open for gay people too. God loves us too. Really. He absolutely does.

Let's call fakery for what it is: these complaints aren't about a flag here are they? They're about what a flag stands for.  

Dignity. Humanity. Equality. Love. An end to discrimination and violence. 

We should fly such banners over all our churches every day and practice their values in our lives without measure and without limit. And if we did, we wouldn't be able to stop people running to march under our banner too. Till then, let's lift high the cross and let's work with those around us who share these Gospel values till we may raise up all God's children.


  1. I'm very grateful to Ian Paul who has been engaging with this over on Andrew Goddard's FaceBook page. We've had a bit of knockabout, but I also tried to make a serious point. It was this:

    Those of us who are serious about being evangelical and are gay and who find in the traditionalist arguments all sorts of holes and problems and absences, we realise that we will always be a minority and will always be writing minority theology. But minority theology matters.

    It matters because it critiques the majority who (too often) presume that simply being a majority equates with being right. Too often, being majority right on an issue trumps the rights of a minority individual. The fact is that Ian and I agree on very, very many things. We have a point where we don't - but methodologically we still work. Ian referred to a Michael Gorman Gove booklet in our FaceBook conversation, and I agree with every word of that quote: "Becoming the gospel means embodying the missional practices of love, peacemaking, reconciliation, restorative justice, forgiveness, non-violence and so on that correspond to what God has done in the Messiah." But minority theology pushes that one step further - for all of this must mean the majority consciously do this for the minority.

    You must care for me: saying that a rainbow flag is about the sexually immoral does not do this, and it does feel like I am being looked down on. Not like others are being judged - but like I am being judged.

    This is the thing with minority theology - the issue is an issue for straight people; it is life for those of us who are LGBTQI+. So we speak and work and act, knowing that much of what we do and say may only ever be a lifeline to those who have been devastated by mainstream, majority theology. But if we ask enough questions, work hard enough with our Bibles and cry out loudly enough, then some of our thinking may change the majority too. Because I am not an issue. I am a person. And a cathedral flying the flag of this particular community recognises that in a way that viscerally matters.

    I read material by Ian and by Andrew and by all sorts of writers; I have been reading these things for longer than I can remember and if the test is that the good tree bears good fruit, all I can say is - can someone give me some more Gorman? Embodying missional practices of love, peacemaking, reconciliation, restorative justice forgiveness...so that we too may have life, and that abundantly?

  2. They flew a pink flag from the tower of Keighley Parish Church when 'Africa's Friend' William Wilberforce was in town in 1827.


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