Folau Again... Good morning and welcome to Church. It’s great to have you here especially if you’re new or visiting. We’d love to meet you after church over a cup of tea. The Israel Folau saga has managed to stay in the news much longer than most sagas. This week’s events have muddied the waters even further such that it is very difficult to remember what the core issue is. That could also be because the core issue seems to be different for different people.
Originally the Israel Folau story was about a football player who posted Bible verses on his instagram account. His employer, Rugby Australia, deemed those posts unsuitable and a violation of his contract. His employment was terminated.
A lot of people have been arguing about whether this is a form of discrimination based on a person’s religious beliefs. For some, it seems obvious that it is. He quoted the Bible, he got fired. Others claim that it was not because of his religious beliefs but rather because he chose to express them in a way that was contrary to his contract that got him fired. Those people argue that Rugby Australia have no issue with his religious beliefs, it’s his expression of them that Rugby Australia should have the right to contractually constrain.
I am of the opinion that the expression of a person’s religious belief is a key part of those religious beliefs. There is a movement within our society who think that religion should be a private matter, that a person can believe whatever they want, but others should not be affected by that belief. This is not a description of an authentic religion.
This week Israel Folau started a Gofundme page in order to raise money for his legal case against Rugby Australia. This rubbed many people up the wrong way. I must admit I found the whole thing a strange move, and perhaps an error simply from a public relations perspective. I don’t have any particular knowledge of his financial situation, perhaps this was his best course of action.
Critically however, this really changes nothing about the original issue at hand. Should an employer be able to set conditions about how a person expresses their religion? This is not an easy question to answer. I am completely convinced that a person should not be sacked for believing what the Bible says and being open and honest about it. Many people are arguing strongly that some things the Bible says are too offensive to be quoted publicly. This is a dangerous direction for our country to head.
The key thing that has bothered people most about Folaus’ choice of Bible verse is that it claims that hell is real and that people are going there. Some Christians have tried to defend Folau by claiming that he (and the verse he quoted) was saying that all sinners, not just a particular group, are going to hell. While this defence is quite true, it just doesn’t work as a defence. People are offended by the idea of hell. It is uncomfortable and at it’s very core it implies that people are bad. If people are offended that the Bible calls them sinners, there is no way around that offence.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t choose our words carefully. It’s also not to say that I think Israel Folau was wise to post the verses he posted. There is a conversation to be had about wise and gracious ways to express the gospel, but that does not change the wider political and social conversation which should continue about people’s right to religious expression. Yours in Christ Tim.