Israel Folau, one of the best players in Australian Rugby Union, has been sacked over a social media post which said that homosexuals (and other sinners) could go to hell.

Earlier this month a panel found him guilty of a “high-level breach” of Rugby Union’s code of conduct, but deferred handing down his punishment. Although it could have imposed a fine and a suspension, this afternoon the panel announced that it had decided to tear up his A$4 million contract.

As a result, Folau cannot play Rugby Union in Australia. The other codes in which he has played, Rugby League and AFL, have indicated that they will not hire him either. He is unlikely to find a job in either England and France, judging from the harsh criticism there of his remarks. He could play in Japan, but this may not suit his family.

Professionally speaking, Israel Folau has been executed. He is a dead man walking.

Because he expressed his Christian beliefs in a public forum.

The only word for this is persecution. This is not hyperbole; it is not self-pitying hysterics. It is a plain fact. This is a persecution which differs in style from the days when Christians were thrown to the lions, but a persecution it is.

Today’s Christians live in a managerial society in which a job effectively defines their social status, their self-respect and their political power. So persecution need not end lives; ending careers is equally effective. It sends Christians into a kind of internal exile.

There are many gaps in what we know about the Roman persecutions in the first four centuries of the Christian era, but some are well documented. It was not necessarily hatred of Christian doctrines which inspired them; often it was merely a desire to enforce civic unity. “Those who do not profess the Roman religion must not refuse to take part in Roman religious ceremonies,” Paternus, proconsul of Africa, told the bishop Cyprian
 at a trial in 257.

The Romans did not necessarily seek to exterminate Christianity. They just executed a few as examples to their brethren. It worked; some of the brethren apostatised. Persecution need not be intense, constant or consistent to be effective. One exemplary victim here and there shows the power of the persecutor. The “execution” of Folau sends a message to all Christians in corporate Australia, not just rugby players: believe whatever you want in your heart, but keep your mouth shut. 

The surviving transcripts of the trials of Christian martyrs followed a pattern which is being repeated today. The judge, or governor, appealed to the Christian to be reasonable and stressed the insignificance of offering sacrifices to the gods. The Christian refused. The judge, expressing heartfelt regret at the obstinacy of the criminal, sentenced him or her to death.

This is eerily like Rugby Australia’s treatment of Folau. Here are the crocodile tears of chief executive Raelene Castle as she explains why the all-time top try scorer in Super Rugby history has been sentenced to professional death. “We want to stress that this outcome is a painful situation for the game,” she said today.

And it’s all Israel’s fault, by the way.

“Rugby Australia did not choose to be in this situation, but Rugby Australia’s position remains that Israel, through his actions, left us with no choice but to pursue this course of action …”

Like Rugby Australia, the Roman authorities were inclusive. Whether you worshipped Mithra, Jupiter, Cybele, Isis, or Jesus was of no concern to them – as long as you paid homage to the government-approved gods. Back then, it was the Emperor or the local deities. For Rugby Australia, it is LGBT acceptance.

Sydney is not the only place where Christians are being condemned to professional death. In Ontario this week, a court of appeals did much the same for doctors opposed to euthanasia. According to the judgment, they must refer the patients to a doctor willing to perform euthanasia – or leave their profession. The three judges were brutally frank. Oncologists who refuse to perform euthanasia can go into hair transplants. Cardiologists who refuse to perform euthanasia can go into sleep medicine. The message to pro-life students is crystal clear. Forget about medicine completely; try child care or flipping burgers.

The effect of this case, if it is affirmed by a higher court, will be to drive Christian doctors out of medicine in Canada. It opens up a new chapter in the persecution of Christians – by snuffing out careers rather than lives.

Both Israel Folau and the Christian doctors will probably appeal. The livelihoods of believing Christians in the workforce in Australia and Canada may rest on the outcomes.

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet

Michael Cook

Michael Cook likes bad puns, bushwalking and black coffee. He did a BA at Harvard University in the US where it was good for networking, but moved to Sydney where it wasn’t. He also did a PhD on an obscure...