Recently, parishioners burned a Rainbow Flag in Chicago. They felt justified to take matters into their own hands because they recognized that the ideology represented by that flag challenges the truths upheld by the Church. So they did something about it.
And now one priest is paying the price.
The Rainbow Flag in the Church?
Does a rainbow pride flag belong in a Church? I think the only way we can really answer that is if we know a little more about what the flag means, but also a little more about what the Church has to offer. I personally think that if people knew more about what the Church teaches, they might not be so eager to introduce that type of symbolism. But are people (including Catholics) open to growing in their understanding of the Church?
Surely, by now, most everyone has heard of Courage International, a Roman Catholic Apostolate for people who experience same-sex attraction and who strive to uphold the virtue of chastity. Surely, by now, most everyone ought to know that those who have come home to the Church despite having same-sex attractions experience the truth that the Church is not a place of hate or condemnation. Surely, by now, people have come to recognize that the Church loves all people, regardless of the journey they have taken thus far.
Surely, people have had the chance to learn that all people are invited to live a life of chastity, regardless of whether they are married or single, and that chastity is not the same as abstinence or celibacy (or monogamy, for that matter). Surely, people have had a chance to understand that chastity involves self-control and self-discipline for a greater outcome later on. This, in effect, is no different from what we uphold as “good” in the realm of athletic training.
Surely, by this time, everyone ought to know that Courage (and the Church overall) does not call people to change from gay to straight, isn’t trying to get people to be dishonest with themselves about the attractions they are experiencing, and isn’t trying to impose shame on account of experiencing these attractions. Surely, by this time, everyone ought to know that the experience of any particular attraction is not a sin in itself (which is not to say that the existence of particular attractions is not due to sin, original sin or personal). And, surely, by this time, everyone ought to know that all people, regardless of attractions experienced, are called to align themselves to the God-authored truths of our universe—which the Church does not invent, but upholds.
The Church invites people to ask questions that can aid their journey towards deepening self-honesty, so why do so many people seem to turn away from the Church on matters of sexuality? Several Catholic school chaplains have told me that they disagree with Church teaching on sexual morality. Are they a minority? I truly don’t think they are, based on my experience so far. It seems that Catholic faithlessness is necessary for rainbow symbolism to thrive in Church environments. For some, this may be the answer to the “problem” of belonging to a Church that doesn’t seem to want to “change with the times.”
Their hearts may be motivated by good intentions, but what are the fruits of this symbolism? In my own experience, I witnessed after-effects that included a shift in language, which brought with it a shift in awareness, which brought with it a shift in expectations (of myself and others). This, in turn, influenced how I came to see the world. And the ideology that the rainbow flag symbolizes caused me to believe that the world was far more compassionate than the Church. Today, I see it as the complete reverse. In fact, I used to think the Church was rejecting me, but I now see that I was rejecting the Church.
With so much at stake, given that people engage in life-changing pursuits on account of how they perceive the world, it would only be prudent to ask some big questions. A little self-reflection is all it took for me to see the real ideological meaning behind the rainbow symbolism.
In order to discover what the flag really meant, however, I first had to find answers to these two even bigger questions: Were those who were advancing this rainbow symbolism causing me to become more inclined or less inclined to self-identify and possibly define myself as “LGBTQ”? Furthermore, as a self-described theist, was this symbolism causing me to become more inclined or less inclined to believe that “God created me this way” in terms of particular appetites experienced?
Over the Rainbow
These questions matter to me because I am one of the many people who have left “LGBTQ” identities behind. My pursuit of a chaste life allowed me to find great joy. I now see how my sense of identity and self-understanding determined my definition of fulfillment and led to many of my most consequential decisions. Today, however, while pursuing chastity (and temperance, among other virtues), I experience the greatest joy when I give the gift of my sexuality back to the Lord. This was not possible until I was introduced to the idea of sexuality as a gift and rejected the widespread notion of sexuality as a commodity. This, in turn, helped me to abandon sexual/romantic pursuits in order to re-discover my value and worth as defined by Christ who taught me how to unite with him by dying to self and to my desires. The ideology underlying the rainbow symbolism rejects these very fundamental moral principles that are responsible for the peace I experience today.
The Greater Meaning
When I see people talking about the meaning of the rainbow symbolism, I see two seemingly contradictory messages. One end of the spectrum speaks of inclusivity while the other end prefers to affirm a particular type of identity. The problem is not that these two sides exist, but rather that it is typical that only one side seems to be presented depending on the circumstances.
What I don’t understand is how the rainbow symbolism can be presented primarily through the lens of inclusivity, whereas in different circumstances, such as when a flag is burned, the purpose suddenly changes to primarily representing a group of people. If the ultimate objective of this symbolism is to encourage people to affirm an identity, then wherever it is presented as a symbol of inclusivity, it is being used dishonestly (whether people realize the dishonesty or not is another question).
I can empathize with people who experience same-sex attraction because I once self-identified as gay and then transgender. This is why my own experiences allow me to see what others who are drawn to the rainbow flag might miss. I think it is worth our time to take a closer look at what that flag is really conveying. Though it may be uncomfortable at first, I think it might help lead to a greater understanding.
If not that, then at least a bit of clarity. Lord knows, we need some of that.
(Photo credit: Presbyterian church in Washington, D.C. / Shutterstock)