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FOOD FOR THOUGHT

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...there are lessons to be learned from his situation that will help faithful Christians navigate a hostile world.

 

Food For Thought

Since his debut in 2007,  Israel Folau has popped up in various locations on the Australian sporting landscape: first playing rugby league, then Australian football, then rugby union. In recent months however, he has drawn the cultural spotlight in a bitter dispute with Rugby Australia that even now rages on in the Federal Court of Australia.

Space here is limited, but a brief summary of the key events that brought an end to his rugby career is in order. In 2018, Folau responded to a comment on his Instagram post, saying ‘[God’s plan for gay people is] HELL … unless they repent of their sins and turn to God’. Then in April 2019 he posted a meme warning ‘drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, [and] idolaters’ to repent or ‘end up in hell’. 

As a result, Rugby Australia decided to terminate his contract for a ‘high level’ breach of their code of conduct. Folau appealed this decision internally before taking his case to the courts, claiming wrongful dismissal. The Australian Christian Lobby helped raise $2 million from the public to pay for Folau’s legal expenses, after his own GoFundMe campaign was shut down by the crowdfunding site.

While the Folau saga has become a proxy for a larger culture war, it’s important to realise that it bears little resemblance to the workplace discrimination more likely to befall Christians today. Very few of us will encounter the mix of contractual requirements, corporate sponsor pressure, and international media attention that make Folau’s case so complex. Nevertheless, there are lessons to be learned from his situation that will help faithful Christians navigate a hostile world.

The most obvious lesson has more to do with the completeness of Folau’s message than its truthfulness. Imagine the difficulty of convincing a man to ‘sell all he has and buy that field’ without telling him of the riches hidden therein. Escaping hell’s torments can be a strong motivation, but this motive often degrades over time compared to the fullness of the love of God and blessings he brings. 

Bridget Eileen, a same-sex attracted woman who has embraced celibacy for the love of Christ, said ‘I never chose to be celibate. I chose to follow Jesus. And Jesus brought me into celibacy the way a teacher leads their student to their homeroom. I followed him there. And he made me desire to be there.’1 She contrasts this with the ‘white-knuckle’ approach of many Christians, who are taught to view celibacy – rather than Christ – as their ticket to heaven.

It’s painfully obvious, however, that Folau could have delivered the truth as faithfully, masterfully, and beautifully as Jesus himself, and he likely still would have lost his job. The backlash from his posts has arisen from a culture that’s not only hostile to Christianity but also profoundly religiously illiterate. Far beyond simple ignorance of biblical stories or of God’s redemptive plan, the average Australian is fundamentally oblivious of what religion is.  Because our disagreements are rooted in such elementary questions, no presentation of the Gospel – however eloquent – will sate the ravenous secularism of our culture.

In the end, then, the lessons to draw from the Folau saga are the same as always: ‘Put not your trust in princes’ (Psalm 146:3); ‘[speak] the truth in love’ (Ephesians 4:15); and ‘be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching’ (2 Timothy 4:2). Take up the burden of Ezekiel who was told ‘… you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear … be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house’ (Ezekiel 2:6). Above all, be prepared to ‘count all things as loss’ – including lucrative careers! – compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ.

1  Bridget Eileen, “Why Celibate Gay Christians Don’t Need to Fear Hell” (29 May 2019),
    www.meditationsofatravelingnun.com/celibate-gay-christians-dont-need-fear-hell

Dale Christensen is a member of the Heidelberg West Church of Christ in Melbourne.     dale.christensen.a@gmail.com

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