A game more fierce than Rugby

The Israel Folau controversy is highlighting a battleground more fierce than any game of rugby.

folau

Peter FitzSimons is leading the tackle count again Izzy Folau. In his latest burst, Fitzy attempts to make the point that the only issue here is one of Israel Folau breaking his contract.

“If you cock your ear to the west, you can right now hear the thundering of keyboards, as columnist after columnist, shock jock after shock jock form up thundering rants about how this whole thing is a matter of freedom of speech, and religious freedom.

Oh yes. Despite the demonstrable damage done by Folau last year by putting up homophobic posts – and if saying gays are going to burn in hell isn’t homophobic, pray tell, what does it take? – their genuine position is he should be able to do exactly the same, ad infinitum, until the game and its finances are a smoking ruin.

Because it is about freedom of speech, and freedom of religion!

I repeat, it is no such thing.”

There are some flaws in Fitzy’s game plan, as well one strong mode of attack. Let me explain.

First, Fitz is espousing the same illogic that has come to pass as irrefutable truth in modern Australia.

“Folau can believe whatever he damn well pleases, including the illogical and offensive absurdity that the same omnipotent Lord who made some of his creations attracted to their own gender will also have them burn in the pits of hell for all eternity, for their trouble.

Yes, he can believe that. But when he proselytises those views and puts it in the public domain, despite knowing the hurt it engenders, the damage it does to his employers, and the fact that he is specifically breaching commitments he has made not to do any such thing, then he does not have a legal leg to stand on.”

Fitz is saying that Australians like Israel Folau have the right to hold religious views but they must not proselytise (evangelise) or express them in public. The first reason Fitz gives for this is, “it hurts”. Folau’s message isn’t one that embraces the current sexual milieu but is likely to offend people, and therefore it is immoral for him to share his views. Isn’t that precisely what Fitz is doing? Peter FitzSimons is attempting more than outlining an opinion to his readership, he is trying to persuade us of a point of view, one which many Aussies don’t subscribe to. Fitz is proselytising as much any religious preacher, as is Rugby Australia with its current definition of inclusion.

This is part of the complexity and shortcoming with much public discourse in Australia today. There is a dishonest bent that is postured and now often assumed by those wielding influence in the public square. Peter FitzSimons is a classic example of this, but he is by no means alone in playing this game. The public battleground is not neutral and objective Peter FitzSimons and co. over and against the biased religious.  As Jonathan Leeman was argued,

The “public square” isn’t neutral, but a battleground of gods.”

“Secular liberalism isn’t neutral, it steps into the public space with a ‘covert religion’, perhaps even as liberal authoritarianism. it depends on beliefs without conclusive evidence.”

Until those who speak in the public domain admit their own religious and moral presuppositions and agendas, whether they are social commentators, politicians, or sporting associations, it is near impossible to have an honest and constructive conversation.

Second, if Folau has breached his contract, even if his contract is unjust, he is nonetheless answerable for his actions. On this point, I share partial agreement with  FitzSimons.

This question is yet to have a conclusive answer. There is reasonable doubt as to whether Folau has breached his contract. If by breaking his contract, it is alleged that Folau contravened the code of conduct, this is far from certain. The code of conduct language is subjective and depends more on one’s pre-set worldview rather than with objective facts.

Rugby officials allege that Israel Folau shared material on social media that “condemns, vilifies or discriminates against people on the basis of their sexuality.”

Is that the case? If you believe that anything other than a complete affirmation of LGBT rights is bigotry and phobic, then Folau is guilty. If however, you believe that it’s possible to disagree with some sexual lifestyles for good reasons, then the answer is no. Jesus is a famous example of someone who certainly didn’t support every sexual lifestyle in First Century Judea, and yet would we argue that he was a hate-filled preacher (Ironically, that is precisely what the Pharisees thought and we know what their game plan turned out to be)?

Was Israel Folau insensitive and lacking grace in his comments? Probably. Is that vilifying? No, again unless you think that sportsmen must fully embrace every aspect of LGBT identity discourse.

The problem is, many of Australia’s cultural powerbrokers are not prepared to admit that disagreement on sexuality issues is not necessarily hateful. Disagreement does not always equate with bigotry. But admitting this concession opens the door for conversation and persuasion and alternate views and that’s not a road which many our notable and influential secularists wish to travel.

Third, while Fitz is attempting to make the issue solely one of Folau breaking his contract, I remember only two years ago, the same Peter FitzSimons insisting that a part of  Australian Law was immoral and wrong and needed to be amended. Was he (and others) content to say, well, the Australian Marriage Act is what it is, and we need to respect that? Far from it. The Marriage Act didn’t fit with Fitz’s worldview and so he joined with others to decry the ‘code of conduct’ and demand its change.

You see, despite Fitz’s protestations, this issue is about religious freedom. It is about the gods of this age vying for influence. It is about a national sporting code (and its chief sponsor) dictating to its players what religious speech is and isn’t permissible. Whether they understand this or not, their code of conduct is a religious manual; there is written intent to influence and control the type of religious beliefs they want to see proclaimed.

Perhaps Izzy did break his word to Rugby Australia, and if so, he ought to apologise. This remains to be seen. But let’s not fool ourselves into accepting the spin that this story has nothing to do with the toleration and intoleration of Christian beliefs. Underlying the presenting case is the broader and deeper questions of whether it is right for a football code to restrict its associates from expressing their personal religious views.

One thing I do know, and it is this,  neither Rugby Australia or an SMH op-ed writer can silence or break the good news message that is about Jesus Christ. Christians will always find a way to share the most astonishing news that can convert the hardest atheist and the most committed activist for sexual progressivism. Indeed, the paradox of Easter is that it is for the very people who oppose its message.

Tomorrow is Good Friday. It is a day when we remember the One who said he is God and who came into a world that was breaking all his rules; he loved them and he laid down his life for them. Jesus’ code of conduct is more difficult, more beautiful, more imposing and more extravagant,

“at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)

The Coptic Church bombings, the Aussie Easter, and the Christian Hope

Yesterday morning we awoke to news of two Coptic Churches in Egypt that had been attacked by members of Islamic State, leaving more than 40 people including children dead, and many dozens injured.

There are groups prepared to take the lives of innocent people, self-acclaimed martyrs. They are of course nothing more than nefarious murderers following their view distorted of God. Martyrdom however is not an abhorrent idea in every circumstance. Martyrdom is the giving of one’s life to the idea that most captivates our hearts, usually with a religious connotation. There are, for examples martyrs who die for their faith in God, not through committing violence but for living in response to the love of God. In this case, the Coptic Churches in Tanta and Alexandria are now stained with the blood of 47 dead who had gathered to worship and praise the Son of God. It was Palm Sunday, the day Christians remember the Lord Jesus entering Jerusalem, his own city, where he would in a few short days be put on trial and crucified. It was the 26th attack of Coptic Christians this year.

egypt-coptic-church-bombing

Christian Post

These stories are no longer unusual occurrences, and only very few of these attacks make the news in Australia. From Turkey to Pakistan, from Egypt to North Korea, and Nigeria to Burma, literally millions of Christians face the prospect of social exclusion, imprisonment, and sometimes death.

Killing Christians is an act of evil futility because God’s love for his people cannot be broken. Death is not to be scoffed at, for it separates us from family and friends. Death is the great divider, and yet God has overcome it by the events of that first Easter.

In an extraordinary moment recorded in the Scriptures, John the disciple is given a glimpse of the reality of heaven, and there he is shown those who have suffered and died in their love for Christ:

These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  Therefore,

“they are before the throne of God

    and serve him day and night in his temple;

and he who sits on the throne

    will shelter them with his presence.

‘Never again will they hunger;

    never again will they thirst.

The sun will not beat down on them,’

    nor any scorching heat.

For the Lamb at the center of the throne

    will be their shepherd;

‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’

    ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” (Revelation 7)

My prayer this week for my Coptic brothers and sisters is that they, in the midst of unspeakable grief, might know this promise of the certainty of God’s love in Christ.

Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;

    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:34-39)

The Apostle Paul who wrote these words was not immune to religious zealots chasing after him and wanting his death. Tradition has it that Paul, following an imprisonment in Rome, was one of the multitude of Christians who were put to death during Nero’s reign of terror.

While Egypt, Syria, and a hundred other places are scrubbing the blood from their floors, Aussie homes are vacuuming little scraps of metallic paper used to wrap easter eggs. To the majority of Australians Easter is now little more than a festival of chocolate and a 4 day long-weekend. It is an excuse for a camping trip, perhaps with a little religion sprinkled into the mix. Of course, both the chocolate and the weekend are pretty irrelevant (enjoyable but inconsequential), but the historic events that formed Good Friday to Easter Sunday are not.

Many Western societies are turning our backs on Christianity, to our spiritual, moral, and intellectual detriment. After centuries of economic, political, technological and military progress we have gained the world, but lost our souls.

It is true that Christians like we in Australia, are sometimes known for beating up the persecution drum. We mustn’t overstate the case of our own experiences: it’s not a broken leg, it’s a mild sprain. It’s not a heart attack, it’s indigestion. It’s not nothing, but neither is it what many Christians around the world are experiencing. The absence of physical violence doesn’t mean however that we are not witnessing significant cultural and theological shifts; it may be not Islamic terrorism, it is post-Christian authoritarian secularism, and these changes are not inconsequential for those who are and will be affected. For example,

  • we no longer have free speech, but costly speech. If you speak up in the public square it will come at a cost
  • Many Christian families are feeling pressured to take their children out of public schools.
  • In the work place employees may be forced to subscribe to particular views on marriage and sexuality.
  • workers may be forced to choose between employment or association with the Christian organisation of which they are members.
  • Businesses that support a biblical view of marriage will suffer financial loss, and be targeted for abuse.

It is not only the mass killing of Christians that has captured international attention this the past week, a few days earlier almost 100 Syrians were killed in a chemical attack, by their own Government. The New York Times reported the story of a Father who buried his wife and two young children, whose had their lives suffocated. There are no words to describe the distressing photographs which show this man embracing his dead children.

The world needs Divine retribution and Divine forgiveness. But how can we have both? Justice and mercy, judgement and grace? In all the history of the world, and among all the ideas and actions of this world, it is the event of Easter that promises the impossible.

To understand the world in which we live, we need a hermeneutic grid that is trustworthy and good; the cross of Jesus Christ is that interpretation. The cross reveals human depravation and hope more than any event in history, and the cross also reveals the character and purpose of God like no other.

Easter has become many things to many different people, but one thing it is not, and that is, trivial. While we in the West play games with fluffy bunnies, egg hunts, and another long weekend, the world is bleeding. The real Easter does not offer banal or token offerings to confirm of individualistic pursuits, but instead reveals God who ‘so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16).

God showed love not by changing a few coloured light bulbs on a national monument or by trending a hashtag on twitter; the depth of this love of God was the substitutionary death of his only Son. God came into his own, the incarnation. He paid the penalty for human insurrection, the cross. He triumphed over the grave, thus vindicating his claim of Divinity and the efficacy of his salvific power, the resurrection.

The extent of this love of God is for the world. John 3:16 does not suggest a universal salvation, for the text makes clear that faith in Jesus is necessary and rejecting Jesus Christ results in judgement. Nonetheless, in Christ, God has expressed extraordinary love for the world. He is not of or for the West, he is not English speaking or the God of the middle class, his concern is global. The Bible describes this God in ways unparalleled in any religion and in ways more tangible, and with a good news message that is changing hearts and lives in every nation on earth.

Easter at Mentone

EasterforWeb

Easter remains an important weekend in the Australian calendar but we are increasingly uncertain what it is about. What are we celebrating at Easter?

If you live in or around Mentone/Cheltenham why not visit Mentone Baptist Church this Easter.

Good Friday Service is 10am, followed by a yum brunch

Easter Sunday Service is also 10am.

At both services we will be exploring the heart of the Easter message and it relates to Aussies today.

You don’t have to be a Christian to attend…you don’t have to believe in God either.

Interested? Intrigued?  Love to see you there