Israel Folau has gone from being one of the best players in Australian rugby, to an outcast. How did this happen?
On 10 April 2019, Folau quoted the Bible on his own Instagram page. Because the post mentioned homosexuals, it looks like he is being terminated from his livelihood of playing professional sport, will miss playing in the Rugby World Cup later this year and is being persecuted across Australia, the UK and New Zealand.
When Tasmania passed new legislation making gender optional on birth certificates, Folau commented on Twitter, “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”. And He posted the following on Instagram.
There was an image stating: “Warning – drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolaters – hell awaits you. Repent! Only Jesus saves”.
There was a statement: “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.”
And three passages were quoted from the Bible:
“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21NIV).
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
“In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).
Rugby Australia intend to terminate Folau’s contract, because they say the post is a breach of their inclusion policy which states: “Rugby has and must continue to be a sport where players, officials, volunteers, supporters and administrators have the right and freedom to participate regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race or religion and without fear of exclusion. There is no place for homophobia or any form of discrimination in our game and our actions and words both on and off the field must reflect this”. They claim Folau’s post is a breach of the player’s code of conduct because “he cannot share material on social media that condemns, vilifies or discriminates against people on the basis of their sexuality”.
The decision about Folau’s future is being made today. The accusation is that the post “condemns, vilifies or discriminates against people on the basis of their sexuality”. They say “The content within the post is unacceptable. It does not represent the values of the sport and is disrespectful to members of the Rugby community”.
Media commentators are calling it “hateful”, “hate speech”, “harmful”, “homophobic”, “anti-gay comments” and “offensive”. A sponsor said, “These comments are really disappointing and clearly don’t reflect the spirit of inclusion and diversity that we support”. This persecution was swift and severe. And the attack has been relentless. In the name of inclusion and diversity they will not tolerate and include Israel Folau! There is no tolerance today towards outspoken Christians!
This is not surprising. Both Jesus and Paul were persecuted for teaching the Christian faith (Appendix A). Paul was imprisoned and Jesus was executed. So it’s unsurprising that the Christian message given in the Bible isn’t tolerated today.
Jesus told His disciples: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first … If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (Jn. 15:18, 20). And Paul told Timothy that “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).
The Christian message
The Bible says that all people are sinners and they are all heading to eternity in hell unless they repent. That’s why God sent Jesus to earth. By taking the punishment we deserve upon Himself, Christ has made a way for people to be reconciled to God. So people must be warned. And that’s what Folau is doing.
Some people are upset about his reference to hell. Hell is the judgement for sinners who refuse or ignore God’s free gift of eternal life. The Bible is full of references of the punishment of the wicked (Rom. 2:5-12; Gal. 6:7-8; Heb. 10:29-31; Rev. 20:11-15). Hell is mentioned 14 times in the New Testament (Mt. 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15; 23:33; Mk. 9:43, 45, 47; Lk. 12:5; 16:23; Jas. 3:6; 2 Pt. 2:4). It has more references to hell than it does to heaven. And Jesus Christ often warned about hell and the judgment to come.
Folau quotes Galatians 5:19-21 that lists some sins. The people who practice such sins are not believers and are bound for hell (eternal punishment). This message is repeated in Corinthians, “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10). The Bible says that some lifestyles are sinful and displeasing to God.
Did you know that tolerance is a Christian idea (Appendix B)?
This is an example of selective tolerance. There is no tolerance to outspoken Christians. And an example of selective inclusion. There is no inclusion for outspoken Christians. How is rugby showing its “inclusiveness” by excluding an outspoken Christian?
What’ s wrong with sharing our Christian beliefs in public? Suppose a person went to a doctor and the doctor discovers they have a deadly cancer, but he sends them home, telling them that they are healthy. That’s not loving. They are refusing to share a life-giving truth. Or suppose you see a child playing on the street and a big truck hurtling their way, if you cared at all, you would yell, scream, jump up and down and do all you can to save them. The most loving thing we can do for sinners is to tell them the truth about sin, hell and Jesus.
It’s been noted that Folau’s actions suggest he’s more inclusive than his critics. Despite his personal views, he’s still happy to play with the many rugby players who are gays, drunks, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists or idolaters. And note the contrast in how Israel Folau is being treated compared to Tiger Woods! It reminds me of Jesus and Barabbas.
This is an erosion of free speech and free religion. Can we have real democracy without freedom of speech and freedom of religious belief? Christians are the only ones attacked for their religious beliefs. It’s spiritual warfare.
It reminds me of the thought police in the novel “Nineteen eighty-four” by George Orwell who persecute independent thinking and spy on people’s private lives. Are we becoming like a totalitarian state with a high degree of control over citizens and no tolerance of different views? Could this trend lead to parts of the Bible being classified as discriminatory hate speech that’s not inclusive? If this eventuates, parts of the Bible could banned from usage in public and be restricted to private use.
Of course, sharing Christian truth will always offend some people. Jesus alienated people because He spoke truth. And the truth about ourselves is confronting.
The Bible teaches that Christians should obey governing authorities because they are instituted by God (Rom. 13:1-7). But when the Jewish religious leaders told Peter and John “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus”, they disobeyed because “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 4:18-19; 5:27-29). So the Bible allows disobedience if the authority orders them to sin or to compromise their loyalty to Jesus Christ. If there is a conflict between the will of an authority and the will of God, then believers give precedence to the will of God.
No matter what happens at the code of conduct hearing today, Israel Folau says, “It’s obviously a decision that’s in the process right now but I believe in a God that’s in control of all things. Whatever His will is, whether that’s to continue playing or not, I’m more than happy to do what He wants me to do. First and foremost, I live for God now. Whatever He wants me to do, I believe His plans for me are better than whatever I can think. If that’s not to continue on playing, so be it. In saying that, obviously I love playing footy and if it goes down that path I’ll definitely miss it. But my faith in Jesus Christ is what comes first.”
What a great example of a follower of Jesus!
Appendix A: Persecution of Paul
Paul described the persecution and suffering he endured when he shared the Christian message to sinners as follows,
“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).
Appendix B: Tolerance in the Bible
Tolerance is a Christian idea. It says, “I disagree with what you’re saying, but I allow you the right to say it”. The Bible calls Christians to do more than merely tolerate our neighbors. We’re called to love them.
– “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt. 5:44).
– “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Lk. 6:27).
– “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Lk. 6:31).
– “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lk. 10:27).
– “do good to all people” (Gal.6:10).
– “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col. 3:12).
– “be ready to do whatever is good … slander no one … be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone” (Tit. 3:1-2).
– “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Pt. 3:15).
But the Bible says that there is no other way to God and heaven than other than through Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). So the Bible is intolerant about sin and the way of salvation.
Christians are to tolerate other people, but be intolerant towards the postmodern idea that all religions lead to God or that everyone’s beliefs are valid. We don’t have to agree with their opinions. Tolerance of something or someone doesn’t mean we condone it. Of course, there are limits to tolerance, we don’t tolerate terrorism, violence, child abuse, or neglect of the elderly.
Postscript: The hearing
The hearing is being held in Sydney on 4-5 May 2019. In one of the most significant legal battles in Australian sport’s history, Folau’s team is expected to argue that Rugby Australia did not include a specific social media clause in his contract and that his posts were merely passages from the Bible and not his direct words. And Rugby Australia is likely to contend that Folau has seriously breached its code of conduct policy and its inclusion policy.
7 May 2019: “A hearing has found rugby union player Israel Folau committed a ‘high-level breach’ of the Professional Players’ Code of Conduct over controversial social media posts”.
17 May: “Israel Folau’s Australian rugby union career appears over, after a three-person panel ordered that the Wallabies star’s four-year contract be terminated as punishment for his breach of the players’ code of conduct”. “Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle said the decision had not been directly communicated to Folau”.
This post has been inspired by Bill Muehlenberg’s (Culture Watch) commentary on this topic.
Also see: What is hell like?
Written, 4 May 2019