It’s been three months since Israel Folau’s sacking, but the nation’s big news outlets are still finding stories to publish about the saga. Last week, the Sydney Morning Herald carried two hit pieces on the former rugby star, and they’ve unsettled many who’ve sided with Izzy.
In an article called “Did Israel Folau actually misquote the Bible? Hell, yes“, John Tait took issue with Folau’s use of the KJV Bible, accused him of misquoting Scripture, and claimed Folau is reading modern ideas of hell into the text.
A few days later, Kate McClymont wrote, “Why the PM and most Christians are ‘going to hell’“. In it, she depicted the Folau church as an ‘isolated hate group’ that denies the Trinity, promotes end-times conspiracy theories, and is deeply judgmental towards outsiders.
It’s enough to rattle anyone who has stuck by Folau thus far. Or is it?
This is the sixth article I’ve written about Israel Folau since April, and personally, I remain unmoved by these latest ‘revelations’. The SMH has not only missed the point of the entire debate, but they’ve further exposed their own deeply illiberal motives.
Here’s why I’m convinced that Folau’s heresy hunters are full of hogwash, and why deep down, they think little of freedom.
They think freedom is only for the orthodox
From the beginning, I have defended Israel Folau’s right to free speech. But along with the majority of Christians who’ve sided with him, I’ve distanced myself from how Izzy communicated his beliefs.
You’ll never see me post anything like what Izzy did on Instagram. It was clunky, brash, and came off as judgmental—even to me, a Christian.
But the fact remains that what he posted was a paraphrase of a Bible verse. The Bible, or parts of it, are considered holy writ by Christians, Jews, Muslims, and a thousand cults besides. Moreover, this book has had more influence on the West than any other piece of literature.
If someone can’t paraphrase the Bible without losing their job in 2019, it’s not just sports stars who are in trouble—it’s our civilisation. This is why I continue to stand with Izzy, despite how wacky some of his beliefs might be.
The SMH have sought to disperse Folau’s supporters by appealing to Christian doctrine. It’s odd that a secular paper, so often hostile to Christians, is suddenly the standard-bearer for Christian orthodoxy.
It’s also odd that they assume Christians only want freedom for other like-minded Christians. Most of the vocal Christians that I’m aware of in this debate all seem to agree that the end of our precious freedoms is bad news for everyone.
The minute our society defends freedom only for ‘orthodox’ beliefs—whether sacred or secular—is the minute we abandon freedom altogether.
Maybe Folau’s church does deny the Trinity. Maybe they’re guilty of every accusation the SMH could throw at them. Still, I would repeat those words attributed to Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
There’s little point to freedom otherwise.
They gave Folau no freedom to speak
Both articles included quotes from Israel’s Instagram account—and Kate McClymont especially went out of her way to find the juicy ones.
But neither of the journalists actually spoke to Israel.
Martyn Iles is managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, the group that hosted Israel Folau’s fundraiser and are in regular contact with the Folau family. He said this in response to the McClymont piece:
“[Folau’s] alleged beliefs are largely unsourced and unreferenced. It is written by hostile journalists who have been listening to a woman with an axe to grind against Izzy’s family (who won’t identify herself and has been trying to make trouble for a while now).
“Izzy’s people asked to include a comment in the article, even if only one sentence, and were refused.”
And if you’re wondering what Folau and his family thinks about it, here it is:
“We are extremely disappointed the Sydney Morning Herald’s Kate McClymont did not seek comment from Israel, his family or his church, for her story focussed on Israel’s church and its doctrine.
The story carried a number of factual inaccuracies which could have been avoided had Ms McClymont simply followed standard journalism practice and approached us for comment.
The story appears to be based predominantly on quotes from a single anonymous source who has been acting in concert with Rugby Australia. Any suggestion that Israel would stand in judgment of another person is incorrect.”
If McClymont is so interested in what Israel Folau believes, why didn’t she just ask him?
They disregard the fount of our freedoms
In the rush to uphold the new rainbow orthodoxy, many journalists are using their free speech to shut down Israel’s—and they don’t seem to realise the irony.
It isn’t just people who quote the Bible who should have the right to speak freely. It’s also people who are hostile to it, including Izzy’s opponents. After all, freedom of belief includes freedom from belief.
But the desire to put an end to these freedoms is born of a dangerous disregard.
English philosopher G. K. Chesterton wisely said that if we come across a fence that our society has constructed, we’d do well to inquire of its purpose and origin before we rush to dismantle it.
What Folau’s critics are yet to realise is that if they successfully shut down his freedoms, they ultimately undermine their own.
Freedoms like speech, conscience, religion and association were hard won. They’re easy to lose, hard to regain, and still quite rare on the global stage.
And most relevant of all, these freedoms were deeply informed by the Christian faith that Israel Folau subscribes to.
Journalists who think little of Christianity are a dime a dozen. But they’re deeply indebted to the faith they despise.
And they’d do well to think on this before they continue their crusade against it.