Israel Folau’s Instagram post is an “apocalypse”. The word “apocalypse” is an ancient Greek word for a “revelation”, an “unveiling”. By putting out his Instagram post, Folau unwittingly pulled back the curtains on the state of diversity in our secular society.
Folau’s post was controversial, yes. The tone of his message is subject to fair debate. And Christians have reacted in different ways to his post.
But the more I’ve seen the reaction—or over-reaction—by many of our secular elite, the more I’ve become convinced that what he did was a good thing. If for no other reason than to expose a disturbing part of our culture.
Let me explain.
- While the presenting issue is his employment contract, there’s more to this story.
Many commentators believe Folau’s treatment is due to his “breach of the employment terms, which must in-clude observing all laws, including anti-discrimination legislation.” Folau was told not to post such offensive posts, says Rugby Australia, but he did it anyway, and so he’s suffering the consequences.
Now maybe Folau did agree not to share such material on social media. Folau is mounting a legal challenge, so the Jury is literally out.
But does the proposed punishment—being fired from Rugby—fit the alleged “crime” of his social media post?
While we might have reservations about the tone he used, Rugby Australia’s action seems rather disproportionate. Despite what some commentators have said, Folau didn’t do anything illegal. His post didn’t amount to “hate speech” as per any relevant legislation. As Associate Professor Neil Foster from the Newcastle University Law School has pointed out:
Mr Folau … did not express any hatred for homosexual persons, or for others caught up in what he (and the Bible) sees as sinful behaviour. He did not express any contempt for them, or ridicule of them. Far from automatically “condemning” them (to use one of the Rugby Australia “code of conduct” words), he said that they were loved by Jesus, could be saved and receive eternal life if they chose to “turn away from your sin and come to him”.
And so, we need to dig a little deeper to understand the full story.
- The response shows how many secular elite are driven more by emotion than by reason.
Especially when it comes to issues of sexuality.
In one sense, we shouldn’t be surprised at the reaction from many secular commentators. There is great sensitivity to any disagreement with the prevailing sexual orthodoxy. Any viewpoint that doesn’t affirm homosexuality is now routinely condemned—especially when the viewpoint is put forward so bluntly.
LGBTI advocate Sally Rugg declared that Folau’s post amounts to “homophobia” and is “anti-gay”. Fairfax’s Peter FitzSimons agreed: “[I]f saying gays are going to burn in hell isn’t homophobic, pray tell, what does it take?”
There’s a lot of emotion in their responses, but we’re emotional beings, so such emotion is understandable.
But what’s missing from the above commentary is that it doesn’t go beyond emotion: there’s no rational engagement with what Folau’s post actually said.
Folau says on his post:
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.
Is telling someone—whether they’re gay or straight—that they’ll go to hell unless they turn to Jesus an act of hate? Was Folau’s warning (taken straight from the Bible) based on contempt for those he listed? Was he homophobic, as Rugg and FitzSimons assert?
If your definition of homophobia is not affirming same-sex activity, then yes, Folau is homophobic. But by that definition, so was Jesus.
While Jesus was crystal clear about how God designed us to live (e.g. he reaffirmed marriage as the lifelong monogamous union of one man and one wo-man), he nevertheless loved those who didn’t live up to this standard.
Jesus loved the prostitutes (without affirming prostitution). Jesus loved those caught in sex outside marriage (without affirming sex outside marriage). Jesus showed loved to all people—without affirming their sinful desires and actions.
He demonstrated that it was possible to radically love people—be they gay or straight—without affirming their desires or actions. Easter is the demonstration of this par excellence—“while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
And so, calling Jesus’ message (which Folau shared) “homophobic” fails to engage or understand Jesus, or his message. Australians—both gay and straight—deserve better commentary. Our democracy needs rational, informed commentary from the mainstream media.
Otherwise we’ll spiral down into what Harvard Professor Niall Ferguson calls an “emocracy”—where emotions, rather than majorities rule, and feelings matter more than reason.
- ‘Harm’ is being redefined.
We’re increasingly told hurt feelings—feeling offended—is a form of harm.
We’re now in a place where merely offending someone is seen as harming them. Or more particularly, saying something offensive about LGBTI people is seen as harming them.
After Folau posted similar comments last year, Peter FitzSimons made the following comments:
Do you [Folau] have the first clue of the agonies [same-sex attracted young people] go through? Do you know how those agonies must be compounded by a respected figure like yourself saying they deserve to burn for all eternity? … How can you visit such pain upon them?
Folau’s comments allegedly caused “agonies”, and “pain” for same-sex attracted young people. Now, no doubt that many LGBTI people have found Folau’s post (and the Bible’s teaching on sexuality) offensive. But is such teaching genuinely harmful?
Associate Professor Neil Foster’s comment on this point is instructive: “It cannot seriously be argued that someone is harmed merely by knowing that there are others in the community who regard their sexual activity as inappropriate.” (FitzSimon’s collegue at Fairfax, journalist Elizabeth Farrely, makes a similar point to Foster.)
And it’s an important point: all of us have views, activities and beliefs that others in our society regard as inappropriate. No doubt we can feel offended (often seriously) when others criticise our dearly held views, or our identity.
I felt offended when author and scientist Richard Dawkins was given a national platform by the ABC, and proceeded to call people like me “child abusers” on national television, for the “crime” of teaching religion to my children.
Was I offended? Yes. But was Dawkins harming me? Only if I choose to dwell on it and let it get to me.
And so, by redefining what harm is, we’re being given a different vision of what society should look like:
- A view of society is being forced onto us.
It’s an ideology that corrodes human freedom and democracy.
When commentators demand Folau’s sacking for his offensive comments, they’re (implicitly) advocating for a type of society where the mere giving of offense—especially on matters of sexuality—should be punished.
That’s not a neutral view of society. It’s a view based on various beliefs and assumptions about humanity, about harm, about what homophobia looks like, and about how we should interact. It’s as much based on ‘belief’ as any religious viewpoint.
Sure, the presenting issue is whether Folau adhered to his contract. But questions around his contract wouldn’t be coming up if his posts weren’t considered offensive in some way.
Underlying this view is the belief that you cannot disagree with someone without harming them.
And so at this point it’s worth hearing from former High Court Justice Kenneth Hayne, who made this comment about giving offence:
Almost any human interaction carries with it the opportunity for and the risk of giving offence, sometimes serious offence, to another. Sometimes giving offence is deliberate. Often it is thoughtless. Sometimes it is wholly unintended. Any general attempt to preclude one person giving any offence to another would be doomed to fail …
Because giving and taking offence can happen in so many different ways and in so many different circumstances, it is not evident that any social advantage is gained by attempting to prevent the giving of offence by one person to another unless some other societal value, such as prevention of violence, is implicated.
Risking feeling offended is the price we pay for a free society.
But when people no longer feel free to raise issues (whether on social media, or personally) for fear of offending others, then we can’t discuss important (and often controversial) political and social matters, which is necessary for a free society.
- Inclusion Means Keeping Christian Beliefs Out Of Public.
No matter how they’re stated.
In this brave new world of offense being equated with harm, inclusion is equated with not saying anything offensive. And so Rugby Australia is seeking to ban Folau because he breached Rugby Australia’s inclusion policy, in which we’re told:
Rugby AU’s policy on inclusion is simple: 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 homo-phobia or any form of discrimination in our game and our actions and words both on and off the field must reflect this. [Emphasis added]
Evidently such inclusion means keeping Christian beliefs out of public sight, as they may be considered harmful toward others.
But the problem is that Christianity (and many other religions) require their adherents speak openly and publicly about their beliefs, even in the face of cultural and legal sanction (see Acts 5:29). Evidently, Folau was being faithful to that command.
And so there’s a clash: Christians, Muslims, Jews (to name but a few proselytising religions) are easily caught out by such an “inclusion” policy. It’s not a genuinely inclusive policy, as it does not welcome people’s genuinely held religious views. It means we need to hide our views, if we’re to be “included”.
A more intellectually honest wording of Rugby Australia’s “inclusion” policy would be:
If you want to play with Rugby Australia, you need to hide your deeply held cultural and religious beliefs, and don’t ever mention them in public (on or off the field). If you do, we will exclude you.
It would be better to rename this an “exclusion” policy, not an “inclusion” policy.
- Folau is a public figure—but Rugby Australia is a public institution.
Its actions set a precedent and shape the wider culture.
It’s been said that because Folau is a public figure, he shouldn’t be free to post his beliefs without consequence. For (as this thinking goes) his public profile gives his views prominence and power they wouldn’t otherwise have.
That may well be true. But are we seriously going to ask public figures to refrain from posting on issues that are near and dear to them? Should actors and other public figures have stayed silent about voting for “yes” during the Same Sex marriage postal vote? Who gets to decide what is acceptable and what is not? We’re back to the problem of “offence”.
And more to the point: Rugby Australia is also a public institution, whose actions sets a precedent and shapes the culture.
As Anglican Bishop Michael Stead has pointed out:
If a rugby player can be sacked for doing nothing more than posting on his social media page what is essentially a summary of the Bible, then it is a signal to the rest of us that we better keep our mouths shut.
How Rugby Australia handles this issue will have consequences for wider society—for good or for ill. It will shape our culture to some degree—not least by sending a signal as to what is acceptable public speech, and what isn’t.
- The inconsistency of Qantas and Rugby Australia.
Folau’s post has also showed up moral inconsistency in Rugby Australia, and their major sponsor Qantas.
Folau is clearly a man of conviction and courage—regardless of what you think about his views. But his post upset Qantas, which put out a statement in response:
These comments are really disappointing and clearly don’t reflect the spirit of inclusion and diversity that we support … We are pleased to see Rugby Australia’s condemnation of the comments and will await the outcome of their review.
And yet, this is the same airline that is partnering with middle eastern airline Emirates, owned by the government of Dubai. That’s a country in which homo-sexuality is criminalised:
Article 80 of the Abu Dhabi Penal Code (Arabic only) prohibits “personal intercourse contrary to nature” with penalties of imprisonment for up to fourteen years. Article 177 of the Dubai Penal Code criminalises consensual sodomy with penalties of imprisonment for up to ten years. [2011 ILGA report]
Evidently, it’s acceptable for Qantas to do business with a regime that criminalises homosexuality, but it’s not acceptable for an Australian Rugby Player to share a post calling for all people—gay and straight—to repent and turn to Jesus.
Rugby Australia isn’t much better in the moral inconsistency stakes. Over the years they’ve had serious issues with their elite players, including the sending of offensive texts, and being captured on video laughing about drug use. As one commentator has pointed out:
[Rugby player] Karmichael Hunt was arrested for drug use. He’s now playing rugby for the NSW Waratahs—the same team that Israel Folau can no longer train with.
Qantas and Rugby Australia aren’t exactly in a position to condemn a man for merely posting his religious views on social media.
- Is there a better way ahead for our society?
Right now Rugby Australia, Qantas, and much of the mainstream media are showing us their vision of the society they want us to live in. They’re telling us what is acceptable to say (and when); what “harm” is, and what it means to be “inclusive”. What they say and do will impact the rest of our culture.
But their view is far from “objective” or “neutral”. It’s ideologically driven (even if the ideology beneath it is unacknowledged). The reaction to Folau’s post has uncovered much of this ideology.
And so it raises an important question for the rest of us: are we happy with these ideologies driving our culture? Or is there a better way to do life together in our diverse, multifaith, multicultural society?
This article is reprinted by permission from Akos Balogh’s website www.akosbalogh.com