Public Speech: the New Code of Conduct

Last week the national crisis was cricket, this week it’s Rugby. The cricket story concerned 3 members of the national side who were caught cheating; the rugby headlines concern an individual player who has made a statement on instagram about his religious convictions.

I don’t follow Rugby Union; I’ve grown up with AFL, the game Israel Folau once tried to play. However, one doesn’t need to understand the rules of Rugby, to grasp that the rules for public speaking have changed in Australia. Governments are yet to determine what laws and codes of conduct will be written to support the recent amendment to the Marriage Act, but sporting codes and iconic companies are making it clear where they want lines to be drawn.

 

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On his instagram account, Israel Folau responded to a question about “gods plan for gay people” by saying, “Hell…unless they repent of their sins and turn to God”.

First up, did Israel Folau say anything untrue?

Did he suggest anything that is out of sync with the Christian faith? No.

Could he have said it in a better way? I think so. Folau could have said something like, “Homosexual practices are one example of many ways in which we ignore God’s purposes. All of us, including myself, are guilty of living without regard for God and because of that we deserve hell. God  is holy and he also merciful, and that’s why Jesus came and died on the cross. The amazing thing is, by trusting in Jesus we are forgiven and the direction for life changes for the better, and we are promised a future that we don’t deserve but is God’s incredible gift to us.”

Perhaps he could have ignored the questioner who was clearly trying to trigger a response. Sometimes the wise thing to do is to say nothing. However, Israel Folau chose to speak up, and good on him for doing so. I wish he had been more gentle and nuanced with his answer, but his words were not wrong.

Christian beliefs are grounded in the Bible, and the Bible’s message about sexuality is clear and consistent.  As the Bible itself teaches, there is a trajectory within its story line, and so we are meant to read and interpret the Old Testament in light of the New Testament, and to apply meaning through the lens of Jesus Christ. That means there are Bible verses which were spoken for a particular people and time, and no longer directly applicable to us. It also means that parts of the Bible are describing events to us us rather than prescribing specific norms for today. Nonetheless, the Bible’s teaching about human sexuality, including homosexuality and of marriage, retains a moral goodness and integrity from Genesis to Revelation.

Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle has stated, “Israel’s comment reflects his personal religious beliefs, however it does not represent the view of Rugby Australia or NSW Rugby…We are aligned in our view that rugby is a game for all, regardless of sexuality, race, religion or gender, which is clearly articulated in rugby’s inclusion policy.”

There are two clear problems with Castle’s comments: First, Rugby Australia’s inclusion policy theoretically includes ‘religion’, and yet all the talk is about excluding Folau and his religious convictions, and these are beliefs which are in line with orthodox, historic Christianity and which are believed by thousands of Christian Australian who are playing sport at every level in this country. Second, there is a massive assumption being made here, that is, Folau’s comment is “homophobic”.

The policy states, “There is no place for homophobia or any form of discrimination in our game and our actions and words both on and off the field must reflect this”.

Here lies the problem. It is now taken as fact, certainly by Alan Joyce and others, that affirming the Bible’s view on sexuality is homophobic. If you agree with the Bible, you are a bigot. This is simply untrue. For example, Jesus spoke many words of disagreement to people around him, but was his motivation fear and hatred, or was it love and kindness? Did Jesus insist on calling sin, sin, because he wanted to crush people or because he wanted to save people? Sadly, there are individuals who are hateful toward people in the LGBTI community, and it is awful, and without excuse, and we Christians need to stand with you against any tirade of abuse.

Jesus once said, “the truth will set you free.” He didn’t say, the truth will agree with you, for he goes on to say, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

This goes to the very heart of Christianity, which is God who disagrees with us, and yet became incarnate, speaking and living truth, dying and rising from the dead to redeem sinners. This message may not be popular in Australia of 2018, but then again, history shows us that the Gospel has rarely been a social media success, and yet it is too good and too important for silence. There is no other God who is honest with us like Jesus, and there is no one else who loved us to the extent of suffering crucifixion for our eternal joy and good.

It is not homophobic to hold to the Bible’s teaching on sexuality. That’s not to say, people should listen to or accept this message, but calling it hate speech is false. Should Israel Folau be sanctioned for his comment? Is Qantas right to threaten Rugby Australia with their sponsorship?

I don’t agree with Alan Joyce’s views on sexuality, and I don’t like the way he has rebranded QANTAS as a gay pride flag flying company. Have I boycotted Qantas? No, in fact I’m flying with them tomorrow! What we are seeing is a major Australian company pressuring a sport to exclude a player who professes Christian beliefs. I think it would be unwise, but they might. I would ask,  is this the Australia we want to call home?

The Coopers Beer saga of last year served as a watershed (or should that be, beershed?!) moment in Australian social history, indicating that there would be a social and economic cost to anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the new morality. The art of toleration in Australia is being scrubbed out by a vocal priesthood of humanistic secularists who are intent on reframing the Australian identity and conscience. It is not only anti-Christian, it is an anti-freedom movement and is serving to diminish both religious and public non-conformity. Israel Folau is but another inevitable target of what will become many more in months and years to come.

————–

Late this afternoon at a press conference, RA chief executive Raelene Castle has said,

““This is a difficult issue when you think you are trying to combine religious beliefs, freedom of speech and inclusion, respect and the use of social media,” Castle said.

“We’re proud of the fact that he’s a strong believer and he’s prepared to stand up for what he believes in.

“We’re proud of the fact that he’s a strong believer and he’s prepared to stand up for what he believes in.

“We want athletes in our code who are prepared to do that and that’s really important.

“But at the same time, Rugby Australia’s got a policy and position of inclusion and using social media with respect.

“So that’s where we shared stories, shared ideas and shared positions and both of us recognise that what we want is a situation where we use our social media platforms in a respectful and positive way.”

There are some positives here and it’ll be interesting to see how it unfolds over the next few days, especially as to whether Qantas will turn down their rhetoric. Also interesting is Castle’s recognition of a now existing ‘tension’. Perhaps this is an opportunity for good listeners and reasonable minds to sit down and begin talking about how we can regain the art of disagreement in public discourse.

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