Reclaiming the Rainbow

In the recent past, there has been a clash between religious groups and  LGBTQ+ groups about the ownership of the rainbow symbol.

It is amazing how such a natural phenomenon could cause such an outcome.

There is a confectionary called ‘Skittles’ (which are multi-coloured sweets/candy), whose advertising logo is: ‘Eat the rainbow, taste the rainbow.’ I have yet to come across anyone who is claiming that this product is either promoting religious or LGBTQ+ viewpoints.

In art, rainbows are portrayed as symbols of peace and hope, in pictures such as The Blind Girl by John Everett Millais (painted in 1856) and Noah’s Thank Offering by Joseph Anton Koch (c. 1803).

This portrayal can also be observed in poetry such as William Wordsworth’s My heart leaps up:

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So it was when my heart began;
And so it is now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!...

However, the transience of the natural phenomenon is captured in John Keat’s poem Lamia, especially after the scientific description by Isaac Newton that deconstructed its mystery:

Do not all charms fly
At the mere touch of cold philosophy?
There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
We know her woof, her texture; she is given
In the dull catalogue of common things.
Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine –
Unweave a rainbow.
The rainbow can be seen in many cultures as it is viewed as a matter of beauty and its historical difficulty in explaining the wonder:
·         In Greco- Roman mythology, it was considered to be the pathway made by the messenger Iris between heaven and earth.
·         In Chinese mythology, the rainbow was the slit in the sky sealed by the goddess Nüwa, who used stones of five different colours.
·         In the Hindu religion, the marvel is called Indradhanush, which means ‘the bow of Indra, the god of lightening, thunder and rain.’ An alternative Hindu viewpoint is that it is the bow of Rama, the incarnation of Vishnu.
·         In the Arabian peninsula, it was considered to be the bow of the god Quzan.
·         In Armenian mythology, it is a belt of Tir, a sun god.
·         In Norse mythology, a rainbow is called Bifröst Bridge as it connects the realms of Asgard and Midgard, the homes of the gods and humans respectively.
·         In Irish legend, leprechauns are supposed to secretly bury pots of gold at the end of a rainbow.
·         In the dreamtime mythology of the Australian Aborigines, the rainbow snake is the deity that is associated with water.
·         In Amazonian cultures, rainbows have been associated for a long time with the spirits that cause harm, such as miscarriages and (especially) skin problems. In the Amuesha people of central Peru, diseases are called ‘the rainbow hurt my skin.’ There is a tradition of closing your mouth at the sight of a rainbow in order to avoid disease, which appears to pre-date the Incan empire era.

In more recent days, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints (also known by the name Mormons), Joseph Smith, stated that the second coming of Christ would not occur in any year in which a rainbow had been seen.

In the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, on tablet eleven, the rainbow is ‘the jewelled necklace of the Great Mother Ishtar,’ which she lifts into the air as she ‘will never forget those days of the great flood’ that engulfed her children.

The epic tells the story that Ishtar arrived and lifted her necklace of great jewels that her father, Anu, had created to please her. She said: ‘Heavenly gods, as surely as this jewelled necklace hangs upon my neck, I will never forget these days of the great flood. Let all the gods except Emil come to the offering. Emil may not come, for without reason he brought forth the flood that destroyed my people.’   

Although the rainbow flag has been assumed by the gay pride and the LGBT movements since 1978, it was not the first time that that an organisation has used the colours as a banner. It has also been used by:
In the German Peasants’ War in the 16th century, as a symbol of the Cooperative movement
·         As a symbol of peace, especially in Italy
·         To represent the Tawantin Suyu, or Inca territory, mainly in Peru and Bolivia
·         By some Druze communities in the Middle East
·         By the Jewish Autonomous Oblast
·         To represent the International Order of Rainbow for Girls since the early 1920s

 The use of the wonder has also been used in other situations. An example is that, in the 1990s, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Nelson Mandela described the emergent South Africa from the period of apartheid as the ’rainbow nation.’ They were describing the country as belonging to everyone, regardless of colour, tribe or language.

As can be seen, the rainbow has been utilised as a symbol of unity and in a number of situations.

It cannot be ringfenced by any one group, as some have particularly regarding LGBTQ+ or people who are over-zealous  and think that they have act on their behalf.

There was the instance in 2017 where the National Trust (an organisation in the United Kingdom that conserves historical houses and gardens) made volunteers at one property work away from the public because they refused to wear rainbow badges and lanyards in support of an LGBTQ campaign, as part of its Prejudice and Pride 50thanniversary of homosexuality being decriminalised in the country. The Daily Telegraph newspaper declared that; ‘It is pernicious to insist that volunteers who give freely of their time to help preserve the nation’s heritage should participate in this campaign or be banished to the backroom tasks, and thereby, implicitly branded homophobic.’  (‘National Trust U-turn over LGBTQ badges at Felbrigg Hall,’ 5 August 2017,, ‘National Trust volunteers hidden from the public if they decline LGBT rainbow,’ 4 August 2017,   

It was not the only instance in 2017 as Jaelene Hinkle, a player with the United States football (soccer) team, decided not to play in games where her team wore rainbow shirts  (jerseys) in support of ‘LGBT Pride’ month in June. She had previously written in 2015: ‘The rainbow was a [covenant] made between God and all his creation that never again would the world be flooded as it was when He destroyed the world during Noah’s time. It’s a constant reminder that no matter how corrupt this world becomes, He will never leave us or forsake us.’ (Eric Metaxas and Stan Guthrie, ‘Waving the Rainbow Flag on the Field of Play: Christian Athletes under Pressure,’ Breakpoint, 11 July 2017)

There is a tendency to jump upon the bandwagon to support the rainbow flag as only belonging to LGBT groups. One example is John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons (the lower legislature in Britain), who has included the rainbow in his heraldic coat of arms because of this support. Another example is the flying of the rainbow flag from British government buildings, including its embassies in other countries.

One of the faults in this is that groups within the LGBT protected characteristic have felt excluded so that they have designed their own flags. Examples are that the black and minority ethic (BME) have added brown to their ‘rainbow’ flag; transgender people have gone as far as designing their own flags (blue, pink and white strips). It does ask the question as to whether the rainbow is the appropriate symbol to represent all LGBT where there are clearly people who feel that they are excluded.

As an example that the rainbow symbol is for everyone to use, Ken Ham announced von his Facebook page that his Ark Encounter (which is an exact scale of Noah’s ark and tells of the creation narrative) would be permanently lit up with the rainbow colours. He explained: ‘We now have new permanent rainbow lights at the Ark Encounter so all can see that it is God’s rainbow and He determines its meaning in Genesis 6.

‘The rainbow is a reminder God will never again judge the wickedness of man with a global Flood – next time the world will be judged by fire.

‘The Ark is lit permanently at night with a rainbow to remind the world that God owns it and He decreed it’s a sign of His covenant with man after the Flood – Christians need to take back the rainbow as we do at the Ark Encounter.’  (Isabella Cox, ‘Ark Encounter Takes Back the Rainbow With Beautiful Light Display,’ 19 July 2017,; ‘Ark Encounter is lit up to ‘take back the rainbow’  from LGBT people,’ 20 July 2017,

This brings us back to the first recorded notification in the Bible of the rainbow, that is after the great deluge which was God’s judgement on the sin in the world. After Noah and his family were saved, God said this: ‘This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you, and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come. 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.’ (Genesis 9: 12 – 16)

It is such a simple symbol – indeed, its prisms were explained by the 17th century British scientist, Isaac Newton, a man who espoused Christianity and the Creator God. In the midst of that simplicity, God gave us His assurance that He would not bring such a terrible judgement on the world again and He gave out grace in His hand to all people, who would accept it, whatever sin they had committed. It should be noted that, in this covenant that God created, He did not say that those who reject His offer of salvation would not face final judgement, only that the finality would not be experienced in this life. (Nor did He cancel out the effects of sin in this world.)

Such is the majesty of God that writers could only use the recognisable symbol to represent it:

‘Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.’ (Ezekiel 1: 28)

‘And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling a rainbow, encircled the throne.’ (Revelation 4: 3)

‘He was robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head, his face was like the sun, and his legs were like fiery pillars.’ (Revelation 10: 3)

The examples have shown that all people are entitled to view the rainbow symbol from their perspective. As for me, when I see the rainbow flag, albeit from a British government building or on a LGBT Pride march, I will be reminded of the great Creator God who saves from immediate judgement and offers out His offer of grace whoever and whatever we are, so that we will be rescued from our sins and come into relationship with Him, for His glory.

I acknowledge the assistance of Wikipedia in writing this article, although the views are mine.