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Israel Folau, Hell, And Australian Politics

Israel Folau, Pentecostal Christian and Australian rugby star, is being persecuted for his faith (Rugby Australia screengrab)

I don’t know about you, but politicians are almost the last people I turn to for theological opinions. But that’s not how Australian progressives and the news media (but I repeat myself) roll this election week in Oz. I kid you not, the lead story here, days before national elections, is whether or not gays are going to hell. From the Sydney Morning Herald:

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has hit back at Opposition Leader Bill Shorten in an argument over whether gay people will go to hell, after both leaders fielded questions about Christian faith and gay rights.

Mr Morrison accused Mr Shorten of a “cheap shot” over the question on Tuesday and made it clear he did not believe that gay people would go to hell, one day after giving a less direct answer to the question.

Shorten is the Labor Party leader who is trying to gin up anger at Morrison for being less reflexively woke on gays than he ought to be. Scott Morrison, a moderate conservative and practicing Pentecostal, supports the gay marriage law.

Reading this Guardian piece, it appears that on religious liberty, Morrison is something less than a profile in courage and consistency. Excerpt:

In 2016 Morrison claimed that opponents of marriage equality also face “hate speech and bigotry”, equating their experience to that of LGBTI Australians.

Despite his electorate of Cook voting 55% to 45% in favour of same-sex marriage, Morrison mounted a conservative rearguard action calling for greater protection of “religious freedom” in the marriage bill then abstained from the vote in parliament.

Still, if the choice is between a conservative who is an inconstant friend to Christians and to religious liberty, and a progressive who positively wants to drive us out of the public square, well, that’s not much of a choice at all, is it?

Of course Morrison’s squishiness is not good enough for many on the left, who want to drive from public life anyone who suspected of not being sufficiently enthusiastic about LGBT issues. This entire issue has come up in Australian politics because one of the best rugby players in the country, a Pacific Islander and Pentecostal Christian named Israel Folau, publicly quoted a passage from the New Testament listing homosexuals as among those who will not inherit the kingdom of heaven.

If there’s any sort of person I’d be less likely to consult on theological matters than politicians, it would be professional athletes. But the Folau controversy has become huge here. Folau, a big athletic star here, stands to lose his professional career because of the stand he has taken. Excerpt:

Israel Folau has revealed how he resisted the “temptation” of a peace offering from Rugby Australia that would have allowed him to resurrect his playing career.

The Wallabies star described his fallout with the governing body as “challenging” and spoke of being tempted by the “opportunity” to rekindle his career with the NSW Waratahs and Wallabies during a Sydney church address.

The fundamentalist Christian faces being sacked by RA after being found to have committed a high-level code of conduct breach for an Instagram post that said hell awaited “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers” and others.

An independent three-member panel is expected to announce Folau’s sanction this week after deciding the controversial posts left him open to having his four-year, $4m contract torn up.

But, in a video of him speaking at a church service on Sunday afternoon, Folau insisted the process was not finished and the “outcome is yet to be known”.

“Potentially I could get terminated, which means that there’s no more playing contract and therefore no more finances or money coming in,” he said from the lectern. “It would be the first time it has happened to me in my life.

“All the materialistic things I have been able to have over the last number of years are slowly being taken away from me. It’s been really challenging but also it’s been encouraging to myself to see what my God is actually doing.”

Watch Israel Folau. He’s being put to the test — and so far, he’s passing. He reportedly refused $1 million to walk away from the sport, even though the 30-year-old’s career is almost certainly over now. If he is willing to surrender his career, and his wealth, for the sake of standing up for the Gospel, then he will be a model to the rest of us Christians. I say that even though I think it was wildly imprudent for him to post that Bible verse to his Instagram. But he did, and I believe that he should have a right to do that without sacrificing his career. There is nothing liberal about a society that seeks to ruin a man professionally for expressing unpopular religious opinions.

Though is was about politics, not religion, I felt the same way about American quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his controversial stance on the National Anthem. Here’s a big difference, though: Kaepernick’s views were not popular with many NFL fans, but are quite popular with cultural and corporate elites. Nike built a major advertising campaign around presenting Kaepernick as a cultural hero. Folau’s views, which one imagines are also unpopular with rugby fans in highly secular Australia, are viewed by political and business elites as toxic.

You can always tell who has the real power in a society by who, and what, you are not allowed to talk about. In Australia, you have white political and corporate elites working to destroy the livelihood of a Pacific Islander who is a conservative Pentecostal. This is what you call “punching down.” Folau’s final fate will be announced by a rugby board this week — but a Tongan pastor says other Pacific Islander players (who are heavily represented in professional rugby, and most of whom are conservative Christians) are frightened, and may leave the sport in solidarity with Folau.

Bottom line: Israel Folau has violated secular liberalism’s blasphemy code. His career must be burned at the stake — all in the name of progress. The left is openly Orwellian, demanding that in the name of “inclusiveness” and “diversity,” a Tongan athlete who is a fundamentalist Christian must be denied the possibility to practice his craft. Whenever you hear anyone speaking about “inclusiveness” and “diversity,” you may be confident that you are about to hear a left-wing justification for exclusiveness and homogeneity. There are few people in public life today more intolerant than LGBT advocates and their allies — and no one more effectively intolerant, because unlike Tongans and Pentecostals, they hold positions of real cultural and economic power.

UPDATE: In an earlier version of this piece, I said mistakenly that Scott Morrison has hedged on the existence of Hell. In fact, that was his opponent. I have taken those lines down, and I apologize for the error.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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