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Israel Folau and the Hateful Intolerance of the Lovingly Inclusive

A few days ago, rugby player and Wallabies team member Israel Folau posted a quote from 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 10 on Twitter and Instagram.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce immediately claimed this was homophobic, and threatened to withdraw Qantas’s sponsorship of the ARU unless Folau’s contract was terminated.

The ARU caved instantly: “We want to make it clear that he does not speak for the game with his recent social media posts.” Well, no. He never claimed he did.

“In the absence of compelling mitigating factors, it is our intention to terminate his contract.” In other words, unless Israel Folau is willing to grovel, apologise for offending Mr Joyce, and promise never to quote the Bible again, he will be fired.

Chairman of the Australian Rugby League, Peter Beattie, has already announced that Folau will be excluded from any future NRL team.

These actions are grossly hypocritical for two reasons. I will explain why in a second.

But first, let’s note that in his letters to the church in Corinth, Paul is addressing Christians. Some people in that congregation, despite claiming to be saved and living in the grace of God, continued to act in ways which were not compatible with the Gospel.

Paul goes on to say in the next verse “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” In other words, you are a new creation. You are no longer to think or act in the ways you did.

There are plenty of things in his list to be offended about, if you are inclined to take offence. Paul mentions drunks, adulterers, liars, thieves… He is not targeting any particular group of people. He is challenging all Christians to live in accordance with the commitment and promises they have made, and the grace they have been given.

If they don’t, then as much as they persist in actions which are contrary to the teachings and example of Jesus, to that same extent, they reject the love of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul is not condemning anyone.

Nor was Israel Folau when he repeated Paul’s words. He is noting that their actions and attitudes condemn them, and calls them (us!) to repentance, so they (we!) might find and continue in abundant and eternal life. Paul and Israel Folau are not homophobic, liar-o-phobic, or thief-o-phobic. If they are phobic about anything, they are phobic about sin itself, as every Christian should be.

If you are a Christian this should not be a source of anger and offence, but of reflection and thankfulness.

If you are not a Christian it does not relate to you at all, so why would you be offended by it? People in other religions believe lots of things I don’t believe. Hindus think it is terribly wrong to eat beef. Muslims think it is an abomination to eat bacon and that anyone who wilfully does so will end in the fires of hell. Buddhists believe that if you were born disabled or caught some dreadful disease or suffered some tragedy, it is because you deserve it, and there is no point in trying to help you. I might think these beliefs are regrettable, but why should I be offended by them? They don’t apply to me.

Even more, why would I try to stop people who hold those beliefs from expressing them? To do so would be unkind, exclusive, and judgemental.

It is just as unkind, exclusive, and judgemental when Alan Joyce uses his considerable financial power to stop Israel Folau from expressing his beliefs.

This is the first point of hypocrisy. That in the name of inclusiveness and diversity, Joyce uses his power to bully, silence and exclude someone who sees things differently from him. Unless Folau recants (he won’t) he will be fired. This will affect not only him, but his family. Who is really being hateful and exclusive here?

The second is that while condemning Israel Folau, Qantas under Alan Joyce’s leadership continues to partner with the national airlines of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Public flogging, stoning, crucifixion and amputation are all accepted and practised punishments under their Islamic law. In 2014 an Asian housemaid was stoned to death in Abu Dhabi. In 2010 an 18 year old woman who had been gang raped by a police officer and five other men withdrew her complaint after the courts threatened her with flogging and a lengthy jail sentence for extra-marital sex. She was still required to serve a year in jail. Homosexual acts are capital crimes in both Qatar and the Emirates.

None of this seems to be of any concern to Alan Joyce and Qantas executives. But when a hardworking and talented young Australian of Tongan extraction quotes the Bible to call other Christians to repentance, they publicly vilify him and demand he be forced out of his job.

Fair enough? I don’t think so.