Monthly Archives: May 2018

21 reflections on the Israel Folau controversy

By Stuart Lange May 3, 2018

On both sides of the Tasman, in both public and social media, debate has been raging for several weeks about rugby star Israel Folau’s answer to the question,

…what was gods plan for gay people??


HELL… Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God.

Many commentators have expressed outrage, accusing Folau of hatred, bigotry, and homophobia. Others have been shocked by the intense anger, hostility and intolerance expressed towards Folau, and have worried about our society in relation to the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech.

Against that backdrop, some 21 reflections:

1 Folau was not expressing hatred, but his belief based on the Bible

2 For most Christians, obeying the Bible is very important to them, because they see the Bible as the Word of God

3 It might have been better if Folau had answered something like “It is God’s plan that everyone should turn to God, and be forgiven and find new life through Christ”, and had left it at that.
4 Repentance and hell are part of what the Bible teaches, but are not necessarily the best place to begin a conversation

5 God does not hate people. The Bible teaches that God loves human beings so much that he sent his only Son to die for us

1 John 4:9
Romans 5:8
John 3:16

6 With regard to sexuality, the Bible teaches that we are created male and female, in God’s own image

7 The Bible teaches, and Jesus affirms, that God’s intention for human sexual relationships is loving faithful marriage between one man and one woman, and that all sexual relations outside of that context fall short of God’s intentions

8 The Bible does not quite say what Folau said, but he was correct in understanding that the Bible does not endorse homosexual relationships

9 The Bible does not single out homosexual relationships as the only sin, but as one sin among many others – and most sins mentioned in the Bible have nothing to do with sexual behaviour, but include such things as unbelief, blasphemy, idolatry, pride, drunkenness, temper, greed, injustice, and violence

Mark 7:21-23
Galatians 5:19-21
1 Corinthians 6:10
Romans 1:18-23,28-32
Ephesians 2:1-3
2 Timothy 3:2-5

10 Jesus did not explicitly mention homosexual behaviour, because everyone in Jewish society knew it was strictly forbidden in the Old Testament law. But in working among Gentiles, the apostle Paul addressed the issue several times, because homosexual behaviour was common in Graeco-Roman society

1 Corinthians 6:9-11
Romans 1:24-27

11 The Bible does not say anything about sexual orientation, but only about sexual behaviour, and sexual orientation in itself should not be regarded as sinful

12 Sexual fulfilment in marriage is one of God’s good gifts to humanity,  but it is possible – and very common – for people of any age or orientation to live a life of celibate singleness, and some of them likewise see that as a calling and a gift from God

13 There is no biblical basis for cruelty, name-calling, prejudice, or hating anyone, and Christians who have done such things should repent of it

14 In general, Christians do not hate people with a gay lifestyle, but simply disagree with them on that

15 Christians are called to love everyone, but to love people we do not need unconditionally to accept everything they think, say, or do

Matthew 22:37-39
Galatians 6:10
1 John 4:11

16 To disagree with something as a matter of religious moral conscience is not the same as active discrimination

17 An ambivalence about same-sex relationships is not some unusual view of a tiny majority, but is held by a great many people and cultures around the world, and until a couple of decades ago it was mainstream in western societies too, and it remains mainstream in some cultural minorities who are very much part of New Zealand society

18 Some Christians in New Zealand see accepting gay relationships as reflecting biblical imperatives of love and justice, and thus put aside the specific Bible teachings about sexual morality – but that does not appear to be the majority view

19 Christians need to recognise the reality that the societal moves to normalise gay identity and relationships have become widely accepted, and are pervasively reinforced in public and social discourse, and that various anti-discriminatory measures are now enshrined in law

20 Christians should express their convictions wisely, sensitively, and respectfully, and with grace, in a way which reflects Christ and the Bible, and which avoids anything that can be misunderstood as “hate”

James 3:17
1 Peter 3:15-16
Colossians 4:6

21 Our society, media and law-makers need to be very careful that in New Zealand the cause of tolerance does not become dangerously intolerant, that freedom of religion and freedom of speech is not curtailed, and that the wider freedoms of society are not tragically diminished.


What Can We Learn From The Israel Folau Incident?

The Israel Folau controversy captured the media and social media and still rumbles on. I’m sure you know the details. In a reference to his recent injuries, Israel posted, on Instagram, a graphic contrasting our plan (plain sailing) with God’s plan for us (multiple obstacles and ups and downs) and quoted James 1:2-4: Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, because the testing of your faith produces endurance…

One respondent asked “what was gods plan for gay people??” and Israel Folau answered, “HELL… unless they repent of their sins and turn to God”.

The outcry ensued, with people, including commentators in the media, calling him all sorts of names and asking for sanctions, including not allowing him into New Zealand etc.

Rugby Australia chose not to sanction him but talked about inclusivity and the need for respect when players speak out.

Israel wrote a fuller explanation entitled “I’m a sinner too” which included his own testimony, his explanation for his Instagram post and a willingness to walk away from rugby if the controversy was causing too many problems for Rugby Australia.

He has since posted a link to a video by David Wilkerson calling people to repent and, at some points, mentioning homosexuality.

Clearly many are outraged. Some Christians feel that Israel was unwise. Others disagree with his stance altogether. Still others agree with him.

Was he right in what he said?

In his later post, Israel has referred to 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 which says, “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (NIV).

That passage does not single out homosexuality. There are many sins that will keep a person out of the Kingdom of God. But homosexuality is mentioned as one of those.

It is also true that God wants everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4-6, 1 Peter 3:9) so it is possible to say that God’s plan is the homosexual’s salvation, recognising that, for those who do not repent, hell is the prospect that awaits them. Israel’s post held out the possibility of repentance and turning to God as the alternative to hell. It could be argued that he could have made it more positive but it is hard to argue that he was wrong in what he said. We should note that 1 Timothy 2:4-6 talks about there being only one mediator between God and mankind, Jesus who gave Himself as a ransom for all people, and 1 Peter 3:9 says God wants people to come to repentance.

Was he right in the way he said it?

Social media is a notorious medium, especially for controversial topics. We should all consider if Instagram or Facebook or whatever is the best place to engage in a conversation like this. Using only a few words also does not allow for subtlety. A brief response can look harsh. Was it wise using upper case letters for hell? Probably not.

As has already been stated, Israel Folau could have stated the positive prospect of salvation more strongly.

There are probably many things that can be learnt from this incident about Christian wisdom in responding especially on social media but also in other contexts. It is often advisable to pause before responding and to seek wisdom from others about both the content and the style of the response. An ungracious response on the issue of homosexuality runs the risk of hurting people struggling with same-sex attraction and outraging the majority, in an age when homosexuality is not just accepted but ardently defended.

On the other hand, Christians should not be intimidated into silence. Any statement in line with the biblical teaching is bound to elicit an outcry and it takes prophetic courage to speak the truth.

What are we to make of the response?

Israel Folau has experienced severe criticism and been publicly condemned. Should anybody be treated like that? It is reminiscent of putting people in the stocks for public abuse. He has been called bigoted, intolerant, homophobic, nasty etc. etc. etc. His response shows that he is none of those things and has actively promoted gay rugby. He says believes in inclusion.

Some people see the irony but it is lost on others. Those who are calling for inclusion and tolerance explicitly call for him to excluded and demonstrate their intolerance.

There are huge questions around freedom of speech and it seems that, for some, that means “You are free to express your opinion as long as you agree with me.” It is very clear that some believe that certain views should not be allowed in the public square. It is worrying when segments of society are so determined that other segments should not be heard and that only what is politically correct should be permitted. That is very obviously not freedom of speech.

Raelene Castle, the CEO of Rugby Australia, has said that this has been the most difficult situation of her career “and that’s because there is no black and white answer. On one hand it’s a human rights issue but on the other hand, you’re dealing with freedom of speech. Someone is right to express their views – whether it be religious or otherwise – the test continues to be whether that’s done in a respectful way.” At least she understands the tension.

This incident shows, yet again, that these are difficult days for Christians. God’s values are not what is currently politically correct and the reaction can be vicious. It requires of us great wisdom. Jesus was full of both grace and truth (John 1:14). We are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Our conversation is to be always full of grace, seasoned with salt so that we may know how to answer anyone (Colossians 4:6). We are called to walk a tightrope.

And let us continue to pray for Israel and Maria Folau. Even if they might have done it better, they have shown that they are people of faith, integrity and huge courage. And they are our brother and sister in Christ. Israel’s original post (James 1:2-4) is more relevant now than when he posted it.

Peter Cheyne