Israel Folau Needs to Up His Game

This pastoral passage was written for LRBC for April 21 2019.

When Australian sportsman Israel Folau made headlines again last week for his list of types of sinner who will go to hell, I inwardly groaned. Like many Christians, I can agree with his overall position but struggle with the way he presents it.

When I looked at what he actually said for myself, I saw the added difficulty of how selective media can be in how they report. The bits eliciting the most offense become headlines while the more important parts are glossed over. As a Christian, it is awkward when you are represented in such a way that you neither wholeheartedly endorse nor wish to outright deny.

Reflecting on this I’ve struggled to work out what exactly I was uncomfortable with. ONE thing that emerged for me was how he positions his message. To me it seems that his message assumes that people have some respect for God and for Christian ethics. This might be feasible in a Christianised culture, but the habitat that is the western world is hardly that anymore.

Leaving ethnic Christian subcultures aside, mainstream western culture is increasingly multicultural and secular, and decreasingly tolerant of this approach. I think it would make more sense to engage like a missionary reaching to a foreign culture.

If one is going to insist on biblical ethics, there are at least a few other things that need to be said first. That there is a God who is the Designer and Creator of all life. That people are accountable to this Creator for their actions. Why certain actions are deemed offensive to him. What ‘salvation’ is (and isn’t), and why it’s so important. Why not only ‘repentance’ is needed but also ‘faith’, as well as what these are (and aren’t).

I think many of us might be surprised at how foreign these concepts are to a lot of people. Making these make sense to a non-Christian culture is doubtless no easy task. But it needs to be done.

I’ll give points to Folau for confronting some of the sins of the age and standing firm in the face of the consequences. I’m not even sure it’s right for me to speak as a critic from the sidelines – I don’t have any skin in the game! But I think he needs to learn to do it better.