Standing with Israel Folau

What fate do sinners deserve?  Death, and eternal separation from God. Hell, in fact.

That has been the teaching of the church as long as there has been a Christian church.  It seems to have been the teaching of Jesus –  he who, as the church teaches, was God incarnate, living among us.  Perhaps the idea of Hell isn’t well-developed in the Old Testament, but the connection between sin, death, and separation from God goes all the way back to the first chapters of Genesis.

And, as the church teaches, since all have sinned, and all have fallen short of God’s glory, the fate each of us deserves is that eternal separation from God, eternal punishment (as it has often been framed) and Hell.  I deserve it, you deserve it, Israel Folau –  the Australian rugby player – deserves it, his critics deserve it.   It is the common destiny of all mankind.  Were it not for God’s redeeming grace and mercy, extended to those who repent and turn from sin to God.  Not that we ever succeed in putting off sin in this life, but growing in grace, in an awareness of our sinfulness, and of our desperate need for his mercy to the penitent.

I’m not a big fan of rugby, and particularly not of Australian rugby, so I know little of the on-field talents of Israel Folau.  I don’t know much either about he lives his life off field, but I’m enormously admiring of his courage in making a stand for orthodox Christian truth –  in his initial Instagram response, which sparked so much adverse reaction, and subsequently, with more time to reflect, in print and in what we read of his dealings with the Australian Rugby Union.

Perhaps I’d have worded things differently, but his straightforward answer to the question “what was God’s plan for gay people?”: “HELL…..Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God”, expresses the simple truth for all of us, for all have sinned.   Perhaps his expression is more Arminian than we should really be fully comfortable with – after all  ‘no one can come except the Father draw him”.  Perhaps –  if this is indeed his view –  he might have explicitly distinguished between impulses/attractions, and actions, although arguably it is implicit in his wording.   The attraction might be a consequence of the Fall, of the pervasiveness of human sin, but most would argue that it is the action, or the fostered illegitimate desire, that creates individual guilt, and the need for repentance.  I might admire my neighbour’s car, house, or wife –  but when I covet them, and take steps to acquire them, I actively put myself outside God’s plan and law.  I need to repent.  If I wilfully persist in my sin, I put my eternal destiny in jeopardy.  There is nothing in Scripture, or church teaching, that makes homosexual sin any worse than any other sin, but there is nothing that excuses it either –  any more than any other sin.

This isn’t new teaching.  Anglo society –  the foundation of Australia and New Zealand –  was shaped by Christian teaching for perhaps 1500 years.   Not much more than 30 years ago, male homosexual activity was not just sinful, but an offence under New Zealand criminal law. I don’t have a strong view on whether such conduct should be criminalised –  some sin is, some isn’t –  but the law is a teacher, for good and ill, and in traditional Christian teaching (and the way most other societies have organised themselves) homosexual desire, and conduct, is disordered desire.  It shouldn’t be condoned.

Of course, in the modern West the prevailing ideology not only condones such conduct and associated desire, but celebrates it.  Amid the decades-long sexual revolution in the West, no one  –  no modern society –  celebrates adultery.  And if pre-marital sex has become all too common –  including its worst manifestations, the hook-up culture – even it doesn’t excite so much official and semi-official celebration as now surrounds homosexuality.   I’m pretty certain no rugby player would be in half as much trouble had he tweeted that the adulterer exposes him (or her) self to Hell, unless they turn to God and repent.  And yet from the same passage in I Corinthians

Or do you not know that the unrighteous<a id="fb1-2" style="background-attachment: scroll; background-clip: border-box; background-color: transparent; background-image: none; background-origin: padding-box; background-repeat: repeat; background-size: auto; color: #72abbf; text-decoration: none;" title="Or wrongdoers” href=”https://www.esv.org/Revelation+22:15;1+Corinthians+6:9–10;Galatians+5:19–21;Ephesians+5:5;1+Timothy+1:9;Hebrews+12:14/#f1-“>1 will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: xneither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,<a id="fb2-2" style="background-attachment: scroll; background-clip: border-box; background-color: transparent; background-image: none; background-origin: padding-box; background-repeat: repeat; background-size: auto; color: #72abbf; text-decoration: none;" title="The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts” href=”https://www.esv.org/Revelation+22:15;1+Corinthians+6:9–10;Galatians+5:19–21;Ephesians+5:5;1+Timothy+1:9;Hebrews+12:14/#f2-“>2 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

The prevailing ideology not only wants to up-end traditional teaching and practice, normalise such conduct and desire, but shun anyone who won’t accept/embrace (or at very least keep quiet) about their disagreement, about their allegiance to a much older –  but ever new –  truth.

In this case, it is money attempting to speak –  sponsors’ money.  Major sponsors of Australian rugby, notably Qantas, seem to want Folau silenced.  One can only imagine how they’d treat one of their own employees who made a comment on social media similar to Folau’s traditional Christian teaching.   For a mere employee silence might not even be enough: there are more and more reports of companies pressuring staff to actively subscribe to the new agenda, participating in activities actively designed to promote sin and prohibiting anything akin to conscientious objection.

I was interested in Folau’s new, and much fuller, article articulating his perspective.   Here is how he begins

People’s lives are not for me to judge. Only God can do that.

I have sinned many times in my life. I take responsibility for those sins and ask for forgiveness through repentance daily. 

I understand a lot of people won’t agree with some of the things I’m about to write.

That’s absolutely fine. In life, you are allowed to agree to disagree.

But I would like to explain to you what I believe in, how I arrived at these beliefs and why I will not compromise my faith in Jesus Christ, which is the cornerstone of every single thing in my life.

Bravo.  What a courageous man.  An example to the rest of us to consider, when/if we face a similar test.

As he writes of that I Corinthians passage

In this case, we are talking about sin as the Bible describes it, not just homosexuality, which I think has been lost on a lot of people. 

There are many sins outlined in that passage from 1 Corinthians and I have been guilty of committing some of them myself.

No man or woman is different from another – if you sin, which we all do, and do not repent and seek forgiveness, you will not inherit the kingdom of God.

He goes on to recount his conversations with the Australian Rugby Union

After we’d all talked, I told Raelene if she felt the situation had become untenable – that I was hurting Rugby Australia, its sponsors and the Australian rugby community to such a degree that things couldn’t be worked through – I would walk away from my contract, immediately.

Perhaps in the short-term it is relatively easier for him (than for many others) to take such a stand –  he has lucrative offers to play rugby elsewhere, and the ARU is unlikely to want to lose one of their few staff.  But we can only take a stand in the situation we actually face.  And I guess Folau knows that the rapidly expanding intolerance around holding and expressing traditional Christian beliefs on (homosexual) sin isn’t likely to be something he can escape from permanently.  But he has had the courage to take a stand, and ground his stand in Scripture.  Fellow believers can pray for him, give thanks for his courage.  But perhaps also we need to be willing to take a stand, with Israel Folau.  This post won’t be widely read, but it is a small act of identification I can make.  In this, I stand with Folau (and his wife).

None of which means I don’t have a modicum of sympathy for sponsors, and outfits like the Rugby Union.  Qantas long forfeited any sympathy –  they’ve been pro-active aggressive players in the promotion  and normalisation of homosexual life and conduct.  But most aren’t in that category.  Whatever the personal views of many involved, they’ll be caught in the swirling vortex of massed “public” or social media opinion, seeking out whom they may next destroy.  Customer boycotts –  sponsor boycotts –  are a real threat.  Management of public companies, for example, might argue that they have no choice –  a fiduciary responsibility to shareholders perhaps interpreted as doing nothing that might risk a boycott.   On the one hand, it is reason to be wary of widely-held public companies –  unable to take stands for anything except what the mob demands.  And on the other hand, that the real problem is less individual firms or non-profits, but the increasing intolerance of wider society for the expression of attitudes with which the majority now (so recently) disagrees.

Perhaps it was never that much different, just that the boot is now on the other foot.  If so, I can only urge tolerance, while recognising that perhaps no society can really tolerate for long too much difference on issues that go to the heart of humanity, society and religion.  And, as Folau – again quoting Scripture reminds us –  as Christians we are called to take up our cross, be willing to follow Christ in the way that led him to die, and to count it as blessing when we are persecuted for Christ’s sake.  It is always easy, on any individual day or event, not to take a stand.  But do so long enough, and you (or I) will risk losing your (my) footing, your (my) ability to take a stand, and eventually perhaps our claim on God’s grace and mercy.

But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

 

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2 responses to “Standing with Israel Folau

  1. Pingback: On Scott Kuggelign and New Zealand Cricket | Among Traditions

  2. Pingback: Faith first for Folau | Homepaddock

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