Last week, Australia’s highest-profile rugby player Israel Folau tweeted a paraphrase of an unpopular Bible verse. This week, he finds himself barred from our national rugby team and the NRL.
Izzy’s fame has kept his story in the nation’s headlines. But he’s only the tip of the iceberg. Many Aussie Christians face an ugly and growing intolerance simply for holding to beliefs that hardly raised an eyebrow a generation ago.
The same day the Folau story went viral, I received this unrelated message from a concerned friend:
“I work in a health team and we’re doing lots in the diversity space. The thing that really lacks however is respect for Christians and the Christian faith.
“Frequently in training for LGBTI we kept having to listen to negative statements about the church… I don’t feel safe to voice my views as a Christian or even defend Christianity because of backlash from my workplace and these trainers.
“Any suggestions for how to deal with it?”
If you can’t see how hostile western society has become towards the Christian faith—even in just the last few years—then you’ve probably been asleep. Worse still, you might be woke.
Speaking of woke, some readers didn’t like that I took a stand for Christians in my previous post about Folau. It would be more like Jesus, they suggested, if I stood with those not from my tribe.
On this, I agree with them. One of the remarkable things about Jesus—and Christians through the ages—is a selfless care for the plight of others, even enemies.
But it’s also like Jesus to speak against injustice wherever it’s found.
Moreover, it’s in everyone’s best interests to speak against injustice wherever it’s found. As Martin Luther King Jr. famously said:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
With that in mind, here are four reasons everyone should care when Christians like Israel Folau lose their freedoms.
It’s basically one-way traffic in the media—not just on the Izzy saga but in most stories that are broadcast about the Christian faith.
Without question, the church has its fair share of sins to atone for and plenty of trust to regain—especially after the recent child abuse royal commission.
But for the last decade, if you had only mainstream news sources to go on, you’d think most people who follow Jesus were kooks, bigots or paedophile priests.
Forget that four of Australia’s top five charities are Christian, or that religious Aussies give 50% more to charity than their secular counterparts, or that 91% of Australians describe the impact of their local churches as either neutral or positive.
If followers of Jesus were portrayed with more fairness and accuracy in popular culture, maybe less people would cheer when a Christian like Izzy has his freedoms taken away.
Until then, and as long as the caricatures continue, sticking up for the underdog—in this case, yes Christians—would be a very Australian thing to do.
I don’t think Izzy’s post was tactful. But I also don’t think he was trying to single out people in the gay community. He was actually sharing very mainstream Christian beliefs about sin, heaven and hell.
As Chris Kenny writes, other high-profile NRL and ARL players
“have sullied those codes with ugly exploits including sexual assault, public drunkenness, drug-taking, violence, explicit videos, bestiality pics, hallway defecation, group sex and heaven knows what else.”
Yet what has spelt the end for Israel Folau’s career is a public expression of his Christian faith.
In other words, this quite recent secular doctrine known as ‘inclusion’ isn’t exactly what it sounds like. Many groups that were excluded in the past are now welcome in mainstream society, and that’s great.
But ironically, some that used to be welcome are no longer—chief among them, followers of Jesus.
This should be cause for a rethink. Rather than celebrating Izzy’s exclusion, maybe it’s time we Aussies had a chat about an inclusion that genuinely is what it sounds like.
Otherwise we’re just repeating the mistakes of the past but inflicting them on a different subculture.
I believe in a secular public square. By that, I don’t mean a society where religion isn’t welcome—I mean a society where all ideas can be discussed with civility and none are given special treatment.
Having said this, there’s something about our freedoms that most Australians don’t know.
Democracy and its associated freedoms are, for the most part, a legacy of Christian belief. The foundation texts of our political system like The Magna Carta, Lex Rex, The English Bill of Rights and the U.S. Declaration of Independence were written mostly by Christians from a Christian milieu.
Medieval catholic lawyers are a responsible for natural rights which eventually developed into human rights. Reformers of the 16th century redefined the dignity of the human person and set the stage for the idea of individual freedom.
These are revolutionary ideas—enjoyed by very few in history. On them we’ve built the freest, safest and most generous societies on earth.
The West might now be secular, but it owes a deep debt to the Christian faith. Which is why shutting down any public expression of the Christian faith will be a big loss for everyone.
It’s not just MLK who sees justice as an ‘an inescapable network of mutuality’.
George Orwell, author of the eerily prophetic 1984, said:
“If you encourage totalitarian methods, the time will come when they will be used against you instead of for you.”
You may despise Israel Folau’s religious views. You may even despise him. But in the words of George Orwell once more,
“If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
If we value our own freedoms, we must value the freedoms of those we don’t particularly like.
If we don’t, 1984 might be closer than we think.