NOTE: A few hours after this article was posted, Rugby Australia sacked Israel Folau. It said: “Whilst Israel is entitled to his religious beliefs, the way in which he has expressed these beliefs is inconsistent with the values of the sport.”
Israel Folau has stepped in it once again. He’s up to his chin, maybe over his head, with rubbish heaped on him from all sides. Australia’s most talented rugby player is being accused of vile homophobic attitudes after a provocative Instagram post.
His amazing skills notwithstanding, social media, newspaper columnists and (most important) major sponsors are spitting chips.
Here is what happened. The state of Tasmania yesterday passed a law which makes gender optional on birth certificates and allows 16-year-olds to change gender without parental approval. Not a few people would object to the wisdom of this. But few have as much influence as Folau, with his 121,000 followers on Twitter and 315,000 followers on Instagram.
So he commented on Twitter beneath a screen grab of developments in Tasmania: “The devil has blinded so many people in this world, REPENT and turn away from your evil ways. Turn to Jesus Christ who will set you free.”
He followed this up with an even more inflammatory post on Instagram:
Those that are living in Sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him. _______________ Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these , adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 KJV _______________ Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Acts 2:38 KJV _______________ And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Acts 17:30 KJV _______________
Folau was tactless. However, he is not being paid for his tact, but for scoring tries (fourth highest in history). We ought to cut him a bit of slack.
First, in Folau’s bad books is a whole range of sinners: “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters”. Why are his critics focusing only on the hurt feelings of homosexuals? For Christians, homosexual acts are sins, but atheism and idolatry are far worse. In the lead-up to Australia’s May 18 Federal election, the number of lies told will be enough to send half of Parliament to Hell. Where is the tsunami of sympathy for politicians?
Second, I imagine that most of his critics think that Hell belongs in fairy tales. So aren’t Folau’s ravings meaningless tripe? Why fret about them?
Third, Folau is not a theologian and he doesn’t express himself with the precision that this sensitive issue requires. But it is orthodox Christian teaching that acts of adultery, theft, fornication and homosexuality are sins and that if we die without repenting, it is possible that we will go to hell. Good on Israel for calling a spade a bloody shovel.
Fourth, Folau is being accused of sinning against the 11th Commandment, “Thou shalt be inclusive”. For a Christian, clarity about moral issues is compatible with being inclusive. There is no reason why a Christian cannot be good friends with homosexuals or atheists or alcoholics. Or with politicians, for that matter. Love the sinner and hate the sin, as the saying goes. In any case, as Folau has pointed out before, Christians can easily fall into any of these sins. And do. But when that happens, their faith invites them to repent and not to despair.
If Folau is booted out of Rugby Australia, someone suggested to me that he should run for Pope the next time there’s a vacant spot in the Vatican. Not a great idea. He’s married, his command of Latin is pretty shaky, and he’s not a Catholic. Besides, tattoos are not a good look for a Pope. But there’s a germ of a good idea there. Clarity about moral issues is welcome – as evidenced by the 18,000 likes (and counting) on Folau’s Instagram post — as long as it’s accompanied by charity.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.