Tag Archives: homosexuality

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

Should Christians Change Their Ethics?

Unfortunately, the homosexuality issue is proving increasingly divisive. In that context, it is not uncommon to hear people say that the church must update its ideas if it is to remain relevant. Some fear that the church will have no mission as long as it adheres to its belief that homosexual acts are sinful.

On April 3, 2015 (Good Friday) the New York Times published an opinion piece by Frank Bruni entitled “Bigotry, The Bible and the Lessons of Indiana” in which he approvingly quoted someone else as saying that “church leaders must be made “to take homosexuality off the sin list.”” Of course, people have taken exception to that suggestion that Christians must be forced to abandon a biblical teaching, and many have pointed out the weaknesses of his argument.

Nevertheless, it is a recent example of the idea that the church must change.

Trevin Wax has written “Must Christianity Change Its Sexual Ethics? History may Hold The Key.” He reflects on the suggestion 100 years ago that the church must let go of its belief in miracles. That type of belief was seen as embarrassing in an age of scientific knowledge.

One hundred years later, the church is once again being rocked. This time, many Christians are calling for us to rethink the “embarrassing” parts of Christianity — specifically, our distinctive sexual ethic. After all, many of the moral guidelines we read in the New Testament were written from another cultural vantage point and are no longer authoritative or relevant today. If Christianity is to survive and thrive in the next century, many of our ancient prohibitions (sex outside of marriage, homosexual practice, the significance of gender, etc.) must be set aside.

Wax points out that it is somewhat arrogant for the declining western churches to lecture the rest of the world, which largely remains faithful to the scriptures and is seeing explosive growth in many places, on why the west alone truly understands the biblical teaching.

But history, he says, also suggests that those who do not capitulate survive and grow. The denominations that most readily agreed to abandon belief in miracles have seen rapid decline.

He asks what we are likely to see in another 100 years time and suggests:

And the lesson we learn from a century ago will probably still be true: The churches that thrived were those that offered their world something more than the echo of the times.

In other words, churches do best, not when they simply become like the world, but when they remain true to what is distinctively Christian, even when that is not popular. It shouldn’t really be any surprise that God blesses those who remain true to His word.

Peter Cheyne


PCUSA Approves Same-Sex Marriage

At its General Assembly in June 2014, the Presbyterian Church (USA) approved a change to its constitution that redefines marriage so as to include same-sex couples. The key sentence now simply refers to “two people”:

Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives.

It also voted to allow ministers to conduct same-sex marriages.

The PC(USA) constitution requires a majority of Presbyteries to agree with a decision such as this for it to come into force. On 17 March 2015, the 86th of their 171 Presbyteries agreed. That means that this is now the position of the PC(USA) and will come into force on 21 June 2015.

See the reports in the Washington Post and the New York Times.

The PC(USA) has lost 37% of its membership since 1992 including a growing number of congregations that have left to join other denominations because of concern about the PC(USA)’s increasingly liberal values. The loss of those conservative congregations undoubtedly led to the surprisingly strong vote. The redefinition of marriage was approved by 76% to 24%.

Already (29 March 2015) the PC(USA) has ordained its first lesbian couple to ministry.

At least one congregation has began the process of leaving the PC(USA). Leaving though can be expensive. It has recently cost one church $7.8 million.

The PC(USA)’s own website gives details on the number of congregations leaving, in an article called “Who’s Joining The Exodus?”.

What are the legal implications for ministers and churches that might refuse a same-sex wedding?

Unsurprisingly, the response among many Christians has been scathing. For some of the reaction, see the following.

The Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) broke away from the PC(USA) in 1973 and maintains markedly different standards. It has grown 10-fold since 1983. The PCA’s response on the same-sex marriage issue can be read here.

Thinking Christian” suggests this is not a redefinition of marriage only but also of grace and justice.

Gina Miller doesn’t hesitate to call the PC(USA) apostate.

See here some of the response – largely from within the PC(USA).

The National Black Church Initiative that represents 34,000 churches from 15 denominations has cuts its links with the PC(USA) over this issue. They have called the PC(USA) to repent, saying that they can no longer call themselves a Christian entity. “No church has the right to change the Word of God. By voting to redefine marriage PCUSA automatically forfeits Christ’s saving grace,” said NBCI President, Rev Anthony Evans.

In 2008 I had the privilege of attending the 218th General Assembly of the PC(USA) on behalf of the PCANZ. It really was a privilege. Our hosts were extremely hospitable and generous. It was fascinating observing what was a huge event. But it seemed to me that the church was strangely conflicted. It was wringing its hands about the decline of membership numbers yet still making the decisions that were driving people out. The Assembly spent a lot of time trying to build relationships with other churches in other nations but its internal relationships were being strained to breaking point.

For Rev Dr Mark D. Roberts reflections on that Assembly, see the blog The End Of The Presbyterian Church (USA)? Revisited. Helpfully, this (rather long) blog also includes a history of the PC(USA)’s decisions on this issue up to 2008.

My prediction (for what it is worth) is that the PC(USA) will decline even more rapidly following the 2014/15 decision. Keep watching.

Peter Cheyne