Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “tolerance

Selective tolerance – Folau versus Rugby Australia

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.

The Post

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).

The response

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)?

Discussion

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.

Conclusion

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”.

Acknowledgement

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


Living in a postmodern world

Our Mindset

As a fish lives in water, we live in the environment of our culture. We are all influenced by the world we live in: it shapes and influences our thinking. We all live in a community and society that has a characteristic culture and beliefs. None of us is isolated from this world. How we live at home, at work and at church is influenced by our current culture and human tradition, which is derived from the culture of previous eras. These cultures and worldviews can have both positive and negative aspects.

The word “postmodern” can be used in two ways. Firstly, to describe an era, the present period of time, which is characterised by: consumerism, many options and choices, globalisation, Google, Facebook, SMS, GPS, constant change, and superficial lives that lack depth, where the most common goal is to enjoy yourself.

Secondly, “postmodern” describes an attitude or mindset (which is a way of looking at things, a paradigm or a worldview). In this article we are mainly looking at the second meaning: “postmodernism”, which is the prevailing mindset of our society. It is largely a state of mind. As the word implies “postmodernism” has now largely replaced “modernism”, which was the previous mindset. Postmodernism is a reaction to modernism.

Modernism

I was brought up when modernism was the prevailing mindset. In the modern era, faith was placed in human reasoning to discover truth. This was an ordered view of the world where truth was objective and able to be discovered. It was the age of reason; reason largely replaced Christian faith. It was optimistic for the future: science and technology would lead to unlimited progress toward a better life because it was thought that people were basically good.

Because everything was explained by science, religious faith was viewed as being made up of outdated myths and superstition. The idea of evolution replaced the need for God. The supernatural, the spiritual world and miracles were dismissed as they were inconsistent with science, which rejected the possibility of the supernatural. So, it was thought that religion would wither.

However, modernism was a false god, because according to the Christian mindset our thinking should be God-centred, not based on reasoning that rejects God’s existence. Truth can only be discovered by basing our reasoning on God’s revelation in the Bible. Also, the human mind is flawed by sin and so it is a poor foundation for our reasoning (Gen. 8:21; Rom. 3:23). In fact, without a personal relationship with the living God, people are in a hopeless situation.

As with all worldviews, except the biblical one, modernism would ultimately disappoint. People became disenchanted with reason and science, as neither was able to deliver on their promises to solve all human problems and reshape society into utopia. Instead, there were wars, weapons of mass destruction and poverty. Consequently, the ideas behind modernism were thought to be dangerous and the modernist optimistic view of human nature was discredited. The response was postmodernism.

Today our culture is changing and postmodern ideas are driving the change. Let’s look at some of the ideas and values that people say are behind our postmodern world.

Truth and Morals

People also began to think that modernism was a failure because it oppressed the disadvantaged. For example, colonial powers erased non-western cultures. Instead postmodernists thought that all cultures are valid and they dismissed the foundations of modernism, including reason and progress. This means that they assumed that truth and morals were relative; there is no big story about history and no answers to the big questions of life; and experiences and feelings are important. We will now look at each of these in turn.

Relative truth and morality

What can you see in this image: a duck or a rabbit? This illustrates that different people can see things differently.

According to postmodernism, truth is subjective; relativeto one’s viewpoint; and relational, being perceived through the beliefs, values, and practices of the community. Consequently, truth can vary from person to person or society to society. So the Christian message (like all worldviews) is seen as being true only for those who accept it. As each person makes their own truths, these can be made up of inconsistent parts. Such truth is not objective; absolute; universal or fixed.

According to postmodernism there are no absolute mortal truths and morality is always relative. People rely on their own ideas of what is right or wrong, true or false. They make up their own mind.

No big stories

Postmodernists say they don’t believe any big story about history and reject the idea of absolute truth for the big questions of life such as how we should live, and moral, social and political claims. The reason given is to stop the oppression of minorities (who they think were oppressed by the dominant culture of modernism) such as the holocaust in Germany and mass murder in Russia, China and Cambodia. They believe that all big stories have winners and losers. That is why they support affirmative action for the marginalised such as women (feminism), homosexuals, racial minorities, and environmental protection (Modernism is blamed for the destruction of the environment). This is where the idea of being “politically correct” comes from.

Experiences and feelings

Because they believe that truth is relative, postmodernists do what they feel like doing. Instead of asking “Is it right or true”, the question is “does it make me feel good? Does it solve my problems?”. It’s self-centred and pragmatic.

Experience and feelings are more important for postmodernists than truth; they follow their feelings. Experience becomes more important than reason and images than words. Consequently, they use music, images, films, stories, plays and poems to communicate as they think people can be influenced more through their emotions.

But postmodernism is a false god because according to the Christian mindset:

  • Although some truth is relative, a significant amount of truth and knowledge are absolute. For example, morals do not change, because human nature does not change.
  • God has established moral absolutes to protect us. People will be hurt and oppressed if we ignore these. The great evils of colonial exploitation, the Holocaust, and totalitarian government would have been prevented if some moral absolutes were in place. Jesus said: love God and love your neighbour as yourself. Moral rules are a way of expressing love, even if it’s sometimes tough love. A loving attitude is essential when dealing with moral absolutes.
  • It is dangerous when feelings are more important than consistency with God’s revelation. For example, a Christian may use it to justify having a sexual relationship outside marriage.
  • A value system that teaches that truth is unavailable or oppressive, is ungodly. Instead follow and proclaim the message of truth that God gives in Scripture, which is called “the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). If we know the truth it will set us free from being enslaved to such false worldviews (Jn. 8:31-32).
  • Jesus is the source of all truth: He was “the way, the truth and the life” and “full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14, 17; 14:6).

Tolerance and Pluralism

If truth and morals are always relative, then the next step is pluralism and a new definition of tolerance.

Tolerance

Because truth and morals are seen as relative and not absolute, every culture, religion and diverse group on the planet can claim that their truths are just as valid as anyone else’s. In this sense, everyone’s beliefs, values, lifestyles, and truth claims are equal. In other words, all beliefs are equal, all values are equal, all lifestyles are equal and all truth is equal. This has led to the concept of “tolerance”.

According to the dictionary, “tolerate” means “to allow something to be practised or done without prohibition or interference”. For the postmodernist “tolerance” now means that all values, beliefs, lifestyles and claims to truth are equally valid. This is compromise, not tolerance. So not only does everyone have an equal right to their beliefs, but all beliefs are equal. By tolerance, the postmodern is asking us to give up on our faith, and tolerance replaces truth.

Pluralism

Pluralism is a word with multiple meanings, ranging from recognising diversity to accepting the beliefs of others. For the postmodernist, it is a diversity of beliefs and values. If truth is plural, and all beliefs are equally valid, without the boundaries of reason and moral assessment, this leads to a plurality of values and a viewpoint that all religions are equally valid and equally true. Consequently multiple, competing and contradictory truths are embraced.

Religious pluralism assumes that one religion is not the only source of values, truths, and supreme deity. It therefore must recognize that at least “some” truth must exist in other belief systems. So although there is no absolute religion, it leads to all religions being equivalent and to New Age beliefs.

Such postmodernism is a false god because according to the Christian mindset:

  • There is one true God who is a personal trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which is different to the gods of Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus and other religious. “Salvation is found in no one else” but Christ (Acts 4:12).
  • God has revealed Himself and His will. The result is that we can know truth even though it is not exhaustive. There is a big picture – we do have an idea of where history is going, and we do have a basis for moral judgment.

Interpreting the Bible

For a postmodern, the meaning of a text lies ultimately in the hands of its reader. No one interpretation is viewed as being superior to another as a person’s worldview influences their interpretation and they are encouraged to come up with original ideas. This means that as each person can have their own interpretation, they make their own truth and they can leave out inconvenient doctrines and moral commands. Just like in the supermarket, they can pick and choose what suits them. Also, in the name of liberation, text can be rejected because it is deemed to be patriarchal, or homophobic or has a political or ideological bias. It is then replaced by an interpretation that affirms the oppressed.

This is dangerous, because according to the Christian mindset:

  • The Bible is God’s word, not a guideline that we can interpret anyway we want to (2 Tim. 3:16). There are no controls to limit the meaning of the postmodernist’s interpretation.
  • The original meaning of the text can be lost and replaced with ideas that are inconsistent with the original meaning.
  • We need to be careful because a new interpretation can be supported by a person saying they were led by the Spirit.
  • This stops the Bible speaking to us.

Evangelism

We are to be missionaries bringing the gospel to the world around us. How did Paul do this? Firstly, when he was in Athens, Paul was distressed to see that the city was full of idols (Acts 17:16-23). So he reasoned with the religious in the synagogue and with the rest in the marketplace. He engaged the philosophies of the day. This led to him speaking at the meeting of the Areopagus, which was the city council. He began by talking about an altar in the city that was dedicated to an unknown god.

Secondly, Paul identified with those he spoke to (1 Cor. 9:19-23). Paul, recognised and adapted to the culture and worldview, except where it violated Scripture. He made himself “a slave to everyone” and respected their conscience to help communicate the gospel so people would be more likely to receive the message. As Peter said, “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 Peter 3:15).

Effective evangelism requires discerning the spirit of the age. We need to be relevant. If we’re going to connect with people and represent the good news, we’re going to have to wrestle with their assumptions and worldview. Learning about postmodernism helps evangelise in a postmodern culture. The pluralistic postmodernist is open to all interpretations, including Christianity (although they may say: it’s all right for you, but not for me). The most important factor to postmoderns when deciding what is true is not reason, but experience. Consequently, they are less likely to be influenced by what they only read or only hear. Instead they need to see and feel Christian behaviour in action so their emotions are engaged.

This means that we should make sure that people experience real Christian love and hospitality and community while they are hearing the truth about Christ. Truth demonstrated has enormous impact. Demonstrating the difference Christianity makes in a person’s life may be the best way to catch the interest of the postmodernist to whom experience and feelings are important. The fluid, ever-changing environment of postmodernity offers little support or shelter in the face of overwhelming change and almost unlimited choice. In these circumstances, people look for safe and welcoming places where they can find a sense of togetherness and safety. Let’s model Christianity that meets this need.

Summary

Modernism gave us a sense of God’s order in the universe, and elevated our ability to think and reason toward truth. It indicated what humanity can achieve, but dismissed the dark side of human nature. But, human reason alone is a false god to base our life on.

Postmodernism, on the other hand supports the marginalised and brings a sense of our finite limitations. But it tends to create an inability to have assurance about anything for certain. Also, personal experiences, feelings, interpretations and opinions are false gods to base our life on.

Modernism and postmodernism are two different mindsets. Those of us who are older will have a more modernist mindset and those of us who are younger will have a more postmodern mindset. So we view things differently. If we realise this, it should help us to communicate better with each other both inside the church and in evangelism.

Written, December 2010

See the other article in this series:
What is post-modernism and how should Christians respond to it?