Israel Folau plays rugby in Australia. He plays at quite a high level, actually, being paid around $1.6m per season. He is, however, considered to be worth every cent, not least because “he is simply superb“, “a huge drawcard among children“, and “a beloved role model in the Pacific Islander community”. He also happens to be a Christian who tweets a lot about his faith, and this isn’t going down very well, mainly because he doesn’t just tweet about Easter bunnies, tinsel trees and gentle Jesus meek and mild, but: “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.” It’s a steady stream of fire-and-brimstone stuff of salvation and damnation and how much God loves you – to the extent that if you don’t accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour, you’ll surely burn in hell.
Now, he might tweet about sinners in general being dispatched to the lake of fire, but there’s one category in particular to which he is causing some disquiet (clue: it isn’t drunks). And so the “simply superb” Israel Folau, “beloved role model in the Pacific Islander community”, is no longer quite so superb or beloved. He is deemed to have transgressed Rugby Australia’s 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.”
Israel Folau opposes same-sex marriage, which, of course, makes him a bigoted homophobe. He also opposes excessive drinking, unfaithfulness, lying, extra-marital sex, theft, unbelief and wafting incense over Krishna, but, well, none of that seems to matter: it his simply his belief that God made them male and female, male and female He created them, and in order to be fruitful and multiply – which is the ontology of marriage – you need to be biologically equipped and able. He has said: “I love and respect all people for who they are and their opinions, but personally, I will not support gay marriage.” But this doesn’t matter: he is a hater, and haters must be hounded and dealt with.
It seems that to play rugby at the highest levels in Australia you must subscribe to the state’s new sexual moral orthodoxy. If you don’t, you’re condemned by a neighbouring prime minster and hauled before the ruling authorities: “Rugby Australia is aware of a post made by Israel Folau on his Instagram account this afternoon,” the governing body said. “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. The Rugby Australia Integrity Unit has been engaged on the matter tonight.”
Rugby Australia has deliberated and determined that Israel Folau has committed a high-level breach of Rugby Australia’s professional players’ code of conduct. “A three-person independent panel is yet to hand down its punishment to Folau but there is a good chance they will come good on RA’s intention to terminate the 73-Test fullback’s multi-million dollar contract.” If they do so, Folau has suggested he will appeal. Former Wallabies coach Alan Jones has made it known:
“I have just had a note from Israel, he won’t mind if I’m sharing it with you because I said to him: ‘hold your head up’,” Jones said.
“He said: ‘Alan, I’m at peace mate. My head is held high’.”
Regardless of the verdict – expected in coming days – Folau is almost certain to appeal the decision, meaning another code of conduct hearing will take place.
If he loses again, the matter could be taken to the courts and it is understood Folau and his legal team will leave no stone unturned and will potentially take the matter to the High Court as a final throw of the dice.
“We sat down the other day and had a long yarn,” Jones said. “In many ways it was very, very sad. We were having a feed … and at one point he just threw his hands gently up in the air and he said: ‘Alan, I don’t know what this is about. What am I supposed to have done here’?”
“It will go to the highest court in the land if it has to.
“You mob on the board of Australian rugby and you so-called independent panelists, enjoy your triumph of the last 24 hours, because it’s going to be sorely tested in the weeks and months ahead.”
Now, it needs to be observed that not all Christians find this outcome unjust:
…heaps of wonderful Christian leaders such as Father Rod Bower have come forward entirely disassociating themselves and their religion from Folau. Within rugby ranks, Wallaby flanker David Pocock, who led the charge against homophobia the code, is a devout Christian. Willie Ofahengaue, the first Tongan to play for the Wallabies, is a devout Christian, and both of our Wallaby World Cup winning captains in Nick Farr-Jones and John Eales answer the same description.
There are dozens and dozens more. The idea that Rugby Australia was out to get Christians, right after signing Folau up again is so absurd there are no words.
And he can’t say he wasn’t warned: ‘And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake…‘ And St Paul expanded: ‘We are fools for Christ’s sake…‘ And yet: ‘…whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.’ (NB Jesus didn’t say if they hate you because of him take them to court and make them love you by invoking your human rights.)
Israel Folau’s method of doing mission isn’t going to be every Christian’s cup of tea. What exactly is the point of tweeting stumbling blocks to those who are seeking truth or being lost? Your heart may be full of love and compassion and your mouth overflowing with the inimitable and unparalleled glorious power of God, but itching ears will only hear hate. You may be inspired by the Holy Spirit and imbued with holiness to expose the avenues of Satan, but why preach in Hebrew if everybody only speaks Greek? Why labour on the iniquities of 1Corinthians 6:9-10 when St Paul showed us ‘a more excellent way‘?
Israel Folau’s net worth is around $6million. Instead of tweeting brass or tinkling cymbals, why doesn’t he invite hundreds of Australia’s rainbow community (that’s Jacinda Ardern’s term) to one of his undoubtedly large beach-fronted houses where he can show them how patient and kind he is; where he can demonstrate – preferably without words – that he doesn’t boast and he isn’t proud; that he doesn’t dishonour others, isn’t self-seeking, isn’t easily angered, and keeps no record of wrongs? He can stand face to face with his guests and, with a tear in his eye, he can whisper that love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth, but, no matter what they may think about him or his beliefs, he will always protect them, always trust them, always hope for them and always persevere with them.
And if they want to throw their Vodka-Redbulls and Cosmopolitans in his face, he can gently smile and invite them back next week for another soirée, and the week after, and the week after that.
For the harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few.