The NRL is the latest promoter of inclusion to exclude people of faith. On Monday the Manly Sea Eagles unveiled their newest jersey, with the gay pride colours splashed across the front.
I have little interest in the game of Rugby League, although I did live through the scrummage of Sydney for 4 years. When it comes to preferencing football codes, for me NRL ranks some below quidditch (sorry, I meant, quad ball!). Having said that, stories like the one coming out of Manly this week are happening across Australia in schools and workplaces, as well as in sports. This is simply the latest high-profile example of what is now going on in many pockets of societal life, work, and play. I regularly hear stories of children being urged and manipulated into wearing coloured ribbons and supporting organisations, and workplaces forcing special days and causes onto staff.
The 7 Manly players informed the club that they cannot wear the rainbow jersey on account of their religious beliefs. This isn’t a decision that they or any players should be forced to make. After all, the fact that Muslims, Christians, marrieds, singles, gays and others can already wear the normal jumper is a sign of inclusion. But we are no longer living in that world. Professional sport now comes attached to all kinds of amendments and attachments.
The public reaction has been mixed, and the media have jumped all over it. Manly’s coach, Des Hasler, was put in the unenviable position of facing the media yesterday. I thought he did a sterling job given the circumstances. On behalf of the club, he apologised to everyone and recognised that the club had handled the issue poorly (apparently no club official thought it worthwhile to first talk to players about the jersey idea and see if it would cause anyone offence). The club (whether they wish to or not) will go ahead with the new jumper for this weekend’s game and the 7 players will sit out the game.
Like a well-regulated bowel motion, Peter FitzSimons leapt to his usual tricks. Within minutes of the story breaking, he swung his rhetorical axe and called for the 7 players to leave Manly.
“The short answer for all seven should be: “No probs, and good luck with your new club!”
Yesterday, he continued, writing an opinion piece for the SMH. Even before the game starts, Fitz blew his whistle to call out anyone who might disagree with him,
“o many points, so little time. So little space, so many space cadets.’ You have been named!”
That’s good to know. Fitz views dissenters as intellectually feeble and cognitively inept. He’s smart enough to know that such insults will win praise among his followers, but it achieves little in encouraging serious dialogue.
Fitz not only detests Christianity, he doesn’t get it.
“What the hell is wrong with you blokes that you don’t get it? You are prepared to trash the entire Manly season on this issue alone? In a world where rugby league has led the sporting fraternity in making change, in making it clear that the game really is for all races, all genders, all sexualities, all religions you want to make a stand for …”
Let’s be clear, it is the football club that made the decision and assumed players would have no issue wearing the different jumper. I’m sure the 7 players love the game and their club and are desperate to play, but what Fitz fails to realise is that there is a higher code than football. For Christians, all of life is about Jesus and wanting to represent him well. If we are forced to make a decision between Jesus and football, the answer is kind of obvious.
In our age where we are supposedly sensitive toward the consciences of others, does FitzSimons really believe these players should act against faith and conscience?
It was Jesus who 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? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”
Fitz not only fails to appreciate the nature of Christian discipleship, he also misrepresents the rainbow banner.
“That is all that Manly wearing the rainbow jersey is saying. To put it in terms that might resonate, “We are all God’s little creatures, and we come in all shapes and sizes, all colours, all sexualities, so isn’t it all just wonderful!””
Wearing the jumper isn’t about solidarity, it represents conformity. Wearing the colours is very much about promoting what Stephen McAlpine famously calls, ‘our sexular age’. He says,
“the Pride story is a good news story itself. It’s an alternate gospel.”
Mcalpine is right. The pride story is a story of self salvation. Redemption is all about self realisation. Rather than the Bible’s story of us needing divine salvation from sin in ourselves, today’s culture says that I define my own value system and it’s the job of God and everyone else to affirm me.
As pop icon Taylor Swift proclaimed during a recent speech,
“I know it can be really overwhelming figuring out who to be, and when. Who you are now and how to act in order to get where you want to go. I have some good news: it’s totally up to you. I also have some terrifying news: it’s totally up to you.”
That’s today’s gospel: Be your authentic self.
The thing about the pride gospel is that it’s not satisfied with individuals arriving at their own decision, everybody else has to join the chorus, and not singing along just proves you’re a hateful awful, repressive social recalcitrant.
In the real world, I can think of same sex attracted people who’d refuse to wear the rainbow colours. There are gays and lesbians who don’t wish to promote the LGBTIQ+ movement, and who for various reasons could not in clear conscience support Manly’s decision. Of course, they won’t stick their heads over the parapet, and I don’t blame them. Why should they share their views, only to have Peter FitzSimons call them bigots?
The rainbow message doesn’t represent inclusion, it’s about capitulation. It represents doing away with traditional sexual ethics and embracing a new and unforgiving ‘truth’. Does anyone remember the Coopers’ beer incident from 2016? Two politicians sat down over a Coopers beer to talk about same-sex marriage. Tim Wilson spoke in support of changing the law and Andrew Hastie spoke against. It was a civil conversation about an important issue, and yet within hours pubs around the country were destroying their supply of Coopers beer and the company was pressured into apologising and to wave every rainbow flag they could get their hands on.
Today’s message isn’t to hum along to ‘let it be’, it is forced conversion. The Manly story is a perfect example of this. The players were given no choice other than to wear the pride colours, regardless of their personal convictions.
This isn’t just a problem for professional sportsmen and sportswomen, the pressure is real in workplaces, universities and schools across the country. HR Departments pressure employees to fall into line with the latest version of the coloured flag. School is a difficult environment for children who are convinced by Christian, Jewish or Muslim views of sexuality, marriage and family.
Peter FitzSimons continues his game plan by weirdly mounting what reads like a backhanded racist attack,
“You are mostly from the wonderful Islander community, one that is beloved in the football community and wider still. Nevertheless, there really are shocking bigots who have attacked that community through nothing other than their own bigotry. How do you not get that your actions disgust most, but please many of the very same bigots who judge people on their race?”
Is he seriously suggesting to these Islanders didn’t arrive at their Christian beliefs through their own careful investigations and deliberations, but somewhere they are victims of bigots (presumably white colonial Christian missionaries)? I suspect a retraction is in order.
A number of people have already alerted Fitz to his inconsistent views. Instead of acknowledging his mistake, he doubles down and insults people for recognising the hypocrisy in his position.
For example, a young muslim woman stood for her beliefs earlier this year and refused to wear the rainbow colours on her AFLW jersey. She said,
“As the first Australian Muslim woman in the AFLW, I have a responsibility to represent my faith and my community,
In Fitz’s mind she receives a free pass because,
“she is already progressive enough to break down the barriers to be the first Islamic woman to play in the AFLW – and to have played in the Pride round last year, albeit without personally wearing the jersey.”
Both cases are pretty much identical, and yet Fitz blows the whistle at one and not the other. Why? Because it’s okay for a white Aussie bloke to blow his trumpet against male Christians. But a Muslim woman isn’t an acceptable target. In other words, because she is a Muslim woman we can forgive her, but these 7 Christian men are beyond our grace. In contrast to Fitz’s double standards, a more consistent view is to say that both have reasonable cause not to wear the pride jumper and they should not be compelled to do so.
I remember at the time of of the marriage plebiscite, Lisa Wilkinson was among the voices promising that same sex marriage won’t change anything.
“What happened in Ireland, and Great Britain, most of continental Europe, most of the Americas, New Zealand, Canada and all the rest?
Jane Gilmour assured Aussies,
“The people advocating for marriage equality in Australia are not attempting to impose their beliefs on to any church, they are simply objecting to churches imposing their definition of marriage onto the rest of us.”
Australia’s new Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus, spoke at a Freedom for Faith Conference in 2016, saying,
“I challenge people here to demonstrate that changing the Marriage Act will lead to negative changes in religious freedom.”
I don’t think anyone really believed Wilkinson and others at the time. After all, other social commentators gladly preached a message of social change,
Auberry Perry, in The Age (Sept. 3, 2017),
“This survey offers us a conscious opportunity to make a firm stand in support of a secular government and to reject discrimination or favouritism based on religion. It’s our opportunity to say that religion has no part in the shaping of our laws. A vote against same-sex marriage is a vote for religious bias and discrimination in our legislation, our public schools, our healthcare, and ultimately, in the foundation of our social structure.”
Mauvre Marsden wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald (Oct 4, 2017),
“Yes, marriage is not the final frontier. Yes, we want safe schools. Yes, gay conversion therapy is child abuse. Yes, we want transgender kids’ agency to be respected and supported – regardless of what their parents want. Yes.”
We’re no longer living in Athens and we’re no longer invited to speak at the Areopagus. This is imperial Rome where sacrifice to the gods is made compulsory for every citizen. I can hear Fitz saying, ‘you can believe in your Christian God at home or in the private setting of your church, but out here you are obliged to follow our gods.’
In the space of a few years we have seen hundreds of organisations and corporations guilted into signing up the latest iterations of the sexular age. After all, no one wants to be called a bigot, especially as the insult is usually untrue. Public statements and policies can barely keep up with the changing rules that are determined by our moral overloads. The changes have real implications for real people. In Victoria, religious organisations have lost the freedom to employ people on the basis of the association’s beliefs. Again in Victoria, some religious conversations and prayers are now illegal. The Christian view of marriage and human sexuality is described by Victorian Education Department materials as phobic. Across Australia, businesses, clubs, and schools feel the pressure to embrace all the latest (and ever changing) sexologies.
I’m not hankering for the supposed good old days and neither am I bemoaning today, this is about recognising the space in which we now live.
Let’s be honest, when the boss at work or school principal hands out the rainbow flags and pin, the answer for Christians is clear. However, when you’re being tackled, it’s normal to feel the pressure. It’s not easy to stand up to a group assault. After all, won’t life be easier if we slip on the jumper? We’re not being asked to make a public comment, not yet anyway. And it’s just for 1 day in the year…until next year.
If you (Christian) haven’t already sorted out your convictions, now’s the time to do so. Understand your ultimate allegiance and prepare your answer.
I thank God for the Manly 7. Anyone thinking that because they are well paid professional footballers, their stance is an easy one, think again. Sometimes a high profile makes the fall harder.
And I feel for Fitz. He mocks and disdains the message that he clearly does not understand. It’s the message that means everything to these Manly players, even more than playing rugby league. Their decision may impact their future in the game (time will tell), but I suspect they understand that choosing to wear that jumper would bring an even greater cost.
What’s even more problematic than the position forced on the Manly 7, is how the public conversation is forced into a false dichotomy: either you fully support gay players and wear the colours or you are a hateful bigot. This is a false binary. No matter how often Peter FitzSimons and your HR department preach it, it remains untrue.
The life of Jesus Christ shows how he often disagreed with peoples’ thoughts, words and actions. Does his disagreement represent fear and hatred? Or is it love that drives him to say ‘no’ to us? The central message of Christianity is that God disproves of our many of our desires and decisions, and yet his love led the Lord Jesus to the cross. Christians can’t wave the rainbow flag but we can and do love our gay and lesbian friends. We enjoy playing sport alongside you and eating meals and going to concerts. There is something good and sensical, although sadly it’s becoming rare, when we can say, I disagree with you but I am nonetheless committed to your good. I think you’ve made a mistake, but I remain your friend.
Steve McAlpine helpfully explains the difference between the pride colours and wearing a jumper with club sponsors in this piece – https://stephenmcalpine.com/manly-in-babylon/?fbclid=IwAR29Az8ICNVJf_VcXSUwINDxnwTZBekk53gnkMUFHYcHGfkL1VT4as1JntM