The kangaroo court has spoken. It’s no longer possible to be an Australian athlete and a confessing Christian. Yesterday Israel Folau was found guilty of a “high level” breach of his contract for last month paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 on social media.
According to Rugby Australia and major sponsor Qantas, expressing this mainstream Christian belief isn’t inclusive enough. What these corporations should explain is how tearing up Folau’s $4 million contract, simply for expressing a tenet of his religious faith, is somehow consistent with their own inclusion policies.
In the words of Alan Jones, former coach of the Australia national rugby union team:
How odd that Rugby Australia preaches ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusiveness’ when what they really mean is uniformity or exclusion.
Media personalities and other stakeholders are scrambling over each other to express their outrage at Folau’s Christian convictions.
Divisive and discriminatory beliefs [are] harmful to sport and the broader Australian community.
Ironically, she’s unable to see that her beliefs about Folau fit the same description.
This is only the beginning of the astounding hypocrisy of Israel Folau’s haters. Consider three more examples that should be making headlines.
- The Qantas and Emirates partnership
It’s 2007. Alexander Robert, a 15 year old from Switzerland, bursts into tears as a Dubai police doctor, having inspected him, insinuates that he has had consensual gay sex. In truth, he was kidnapped by three men, held at knifepoint in the desert, and raped.
UAE authorities discouraged Alexander’s family from pressing charges, and they also failed to inform him of the HIV status of one of his attackers. This is just one of a string of stories of injustice in the Emirate city of Dubai.
In 2008, a lesbian couple was arrested and jailed for a month for kissing on a Dubai beach. In 2011, two men in Dubai were given a year in jail for having sex in a car. A year later, another gay couple received a six month jail term after being seen by a cleaner having sex in a public toilet.
More alarming still is that any of these people could have suffered the death penalty, given that homosexuality is still punishable by death in Dubai.
All of this points to a staggering hypocrisy on the part of Alan Joyce, CEO of Qantas. Qantas, the national flag carrier of Australia, enjoys a formal partnership with Emirates, the flagship airline of Dubai.
Since the beginning of their six-year partnership, Joyce has voiced no concern over Dubai’s abject violation of human rights towards the gay community. Yet he was one of the first to throw Israel Folau to the lions merely for voicing his beliefs online, saying the star’s social media comments “don’t reflect the spirit of inclusion and diversity that we support.”
Sports columnist Mark Reason summed it up well when he said:
It seems very peculiar that Rugby Australia can partner with Qantas, whose sister airline is Emirates, the flagship of a state where homosexuality is a jailable offence, and yet cast Folau out into the wilderness.
Even gay activists have labeled the hypocrisy of it all a kind of “queer fascism”.
It’s tempting to speculate that Qantas doesn’t hate intolerance—it just hates Christians. But let’s be charitable and assume that they just love profit more than their own principles.
- Racial and cultural prejudice against Pacific Islanders
The untold story in the Izzy saga is the racial prejudice that Rugby Australia has shown towards its Pacific Island players. One third of last year’s World Cup team were Polynesian—most of them regarding their Christian faith as central to their identity.
One of these is “Tongan Thor” Taniela Tupou, part of the national squad, who last week took to social media with these brave words:
Seriously might as well sack me and all the other Pacific Islands rugby players around the world because we have the same Christian beliefs. I will never apologise for my faith and what I believe in, religion had nothing to do with rugby anyways.
This was after Billy Vunipola was given the sack by the UK’s Channel 4 as the face of their European rugby coverage for defending Folau’s Instagram post. Vunipola plays for the English national team but was born to Tongan parents.
The witch-hunt didn’t stop there for Vunipola. He was issued with a formal warning by the UK’s Rugby Football Union, a mark that will remain on his disciplinary record for five years and may impact the future of his career.
Over Easter, another wallaby, Samu Kerevi, quoted John 3:16 on Instagram with the words, “Thank You Jesus for dying on the cross for me. I love you Jesus”—and then spent the next few days in the spotlight trying to work out whether he should apologise for his post or stand by it.
Now that Rugby Australia has successfully torn up Izzy’s $4 million contract, they’ve won the battle but lost the war. Commentators warn of a Polynesian revolt from the national team.
Not only will this risk their own financial ruin, but it will expose Raelene Castle and Rugby Australia’s hypocrisy further as they seek to colonise Pacific Island players with their predominantly white, demonstrably narrow, queer-normative viewpoint.
- “No” voters in the postal plebiscite betrayed
When same-sex marriage was debated in the lead-up to the postal vote, many Australians of faith were genuinely concerned about the impact it would have on religious freedom in our nation— particularly freedom of speech.
While the more moderate voices in parliament took these concerns seriously, many dismissed this fear out-of-hand, labeling it a “red herring”, a “scare tactic”, or even a “trojan horse” to advance discrimination against minorities.
Labor leader Bill Shorten told a press conference that same-sex marriage posed no threat to religious practice, saying that all such talk was a “distraction” and a “seperate discussion”.
Fiona McLeod, President of the Australian Law Council, long-standing supporters of the “Yes” vote said:
Extending the right to marry to same-sex couples will not impact upon another fundamental right, freedom of religion.
Alex Greenwich, co-convener of Australian Marriage Equality, proclaimed with confidence that:
There are clear, strong and robust religious protections in the draft legislation.
Even members of the Liberal party lined up with their reassurances, George Brandis, then attorney-general, famously declared:
You can have religious freedom and you can have same sex marriage and by Christmas we’ll have both.
As strongly as I believe in the right of same-sex couples to marry, even more strongly, if you like, do I believe in religious freedom.
Where are they all now?
One of Australia’s greatest sporting heroes has had his career shredded simply for challenging the new (eighteen-month-young) orthodoxy, and they stand by in silence—or worse, join in the “crucify” chorus.
Hypocrisy doesn’t even begin to describe it.
You might dislike Folau’s faith or the way he expressed it. But regardless of your religious views, it’s a new day in Australia. Now is the time we all stand up to defend free speech while we still have it.
Kurt Mahlburg is a teacher and a freelance writer. He blogs at kurtmahlburg.blog. He has also been a pastor, studied architecture, has lived for two years on a remote island in Indonesia, is fluent in several Indonesian languages, and among his other interests are philosophy, history, surf, the outdoors, and travel.
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