Israel Folau has come out and explained his recent remark on Instagram that has led to huge public controversy, and has involved Rugby Australia and their chief sponsors. It seems as though everyone has an opinion, and so it has been helpful to hear Israel speak for himself.
I appreciate his honesty and his humility. It made me think of the Apostle Paul’s words,
“The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life”. (1 Timothy 1:14-16)
I appreciate Folau’s clarification about what believes. I appreciate his unswerving faith in Jesus Christ and his trust that the Bible is true and good,
“I believe when Jesus died on the cross for us, it gave us all the opportunity to accept and believe in Him if we wanted to. To enter the kingdom of Heaven, though, we must try our best to follow His teachings and, when we fall short, to seek His forgiveness.”
He has indicated that should Rugby Australia find his views to be untenable he would resign,
“After we’d all talked, I told Raelene if she felt the situation had become untenable – that I was hurting Rugby Australia, its sponsors and the Australian rugby community to such a degree that things couldn’t be worked through – I would walk away from my contract, immediately.”
At this point in time, no decision has been made by either Folau or Rugby Australia. Last week, Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle, admitted the difficulty she is facing,
“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,”
“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.”
I think Castle helpfully summarises some of the tensions that now exist in the broader community. As a nation we are struggling to cope with societal pluralism. Sexuality has now been defined in such strong terms, that alternative views, as reasonable and loving as they may be expressed, are now perceived as evil and unacceptable. It’s reached the point that sporting codes are now making theological commentary, and assuming a position on hell. Unfolding before us is another test for Australian society. Are we serious about religious freedoms and freedom of speech, or does the rhetoric only apply when beliefs fall into line with the new sexual morality? Do we accept that millions of Australians don’t subscribe to the now popular view on marriage and sexuality, and that these Australians have a right to express their opinions? While politicians and company CEOS and sporting organisations wrangle over a position on religious freedom, it is even more important for Australian Christians to be thinking through these issues. What do we really believe? How can we best communicated what we believe? What are prepared to lose for the sake of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord?
Even though Folau’s sporting future remains uncertain, his testimony presents a healthy challenge to the rest of us Aussies who profess faith in Jesus Christ. Would we be prepared to walk away from job security? Would we be willing to give up a lucrative income? Are we ready to embrace public abuse?
I hope no one is thinking, Israel Folau can afford to make a decision to leave because he’s already earned millions of dollars and he has options in front of him to return to Rugby League. First of all, those who have more often find it exponentially harder to give it up. It is relatively easy to keep our beliefs quiet and to ourselves, and the pressure to compromise can be immense. Second, in standing by his Christian convictions, Folau is likely to face further public backlash. Third, NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg, has made it clear that Folau’s belief in hell would be unacceptable in their code, meaning that there is far from any guarantee that he could return to Rugby League.
When Jesus spoke about taking up a cross and giving up the world’s offerings, he wasn’t speaking rhetorically. Perhaps it is time for us to ponder his words and examine our own hearts and ambitions,
“Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8)