On 10 April 2019 one of the all-time best rugby players in the world, Israel Folau, made a post on his personal Instagram social media account. This post was a picture that said: "Warning, drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolaters, hell awaits you, Repent! Only Jesus saves."
This image was accompanied by words from Israel: "Those that are living in sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him."
He also posted Galatians chapter 5 verses 19-21 of the Holy Bible. As a result, the next day Rugby Australia announced their intention to terminate his $4m four-year contract.
Rugby Australia alleged that Israel had committed a "high-level breach" of the Professional Players' Code of Conduct over his social media post and recommended that his contract be terminated. Israel launched a challenge which led to a disciplinary hearing where his contract was indeed terminated, and he was permanently banned from playing a game of professional rugby in Australia ever again.
Persecuted for causing "Offence"
Israel's post faced open attack, ridicule and widespread criticism in the media, with his views labelled as "Hate speech", "homophobic", "selfish", "bigoted", and more.
Israel held resolute in faith and made this comment after his contract was set to be terminated: "...As Australians, we are born with certain rights, including the right to freedom of religion and the right to freedom of expression. The Christian faith has always been a part of my life and I believe it is my duty as a Christian to share God's Word. Upholding my religious beliefs should not prevent my ability to work or play for my club and country."
Israel has now mounted a legal challenge to the decision in an Australian court.
The chairman of Rugby Australia, Cameron Clyne spoke recently on the matter as reported on ABC News: "We've made it very clear to the players they are not being silenced. They are absolutely free to express their views on their faith and other matters, but the threshold is those views, or views on any other matter, cannot cause offence."
We can see that the measure for rugby players to be fired from their jobs is if their personal out-of-work comments (including religious views) cause anyone "offence".
This is an exceedingly broad and dangerous category, as the very nature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that it offends many. Galatians chapter 5 verse 11 reads: "And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased."
The Gospel is offensive because people do not want to accept that they are sinners in need of a Saviour, and speaking the truth of sin is offensive to the world. As Christians, we speak the truth in love as we do not want any to perish.
Mr Clyne went further to say: "So, I do accept that some people are not happy that this is the case but...in almost every company in Australia he would have been dealt with in the same way."
The suggestion that any company in Australia would have fired Israel Folau for what he did is a warning to all Christians. Mr Clyne was asked how much of the decision to terminate Israel's contract was commercial and how much was moral, and he said: "The game doesn't exist without sponsors."
One of Rugby Australia's primary sponsors is Qantas, whose chief executive Alan Joyce is gay and campaigned for same-sex marriage in Australia. Mr Joyce told Rugby Australia it would be "shame on you" if something like this ever happened again. This raises the question of how far corporations should be campaigning for or enforcing moral issues, especially those which influence or curtail religious freedoms.
The truth will prevail
Let's consider what Israel Folau actually did. Israel spoke the truth from the Bible. Whether people like it or not, that is the true and correct teaching of the Scripture. The image paraphrased from a few verses, but these are widely known and are the word of God: 1 Corinthians chapter 6 verses 9-10 reads: "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God."
Another is Revelation chapter 21 verse 8: "But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."
Israel shared the truth that those who continue in these behaviours without repentance and accepting Jesus Christ will go to hell forever. Israel spoke of the love of Jesus and a call to repentance from sin. There was nothing wrong with what he said, and it was entirely truthful according to the Scripture of the Holy Bible.
An example of faith and courage
Now people may take issue with the method by which this was communicated, and some Christian leaders have criticised Israel. However, by obscuring the truth of the Word of God, or not speaking it out for fear of offending others, we are disobeying Jesus Christ. Luke chapter 9 verse 26 says: "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father's, and of the holy angels."
If we can be fired from our jobs for quoting the Bible on social media, then a strong example has been set in Australia against the Christian faith. If we take the standard of Mr Clyne, that if sharing our faith causes anyone "offence" we can be rightly terminated from our jobs, then we are in a dangerous situation for freedom of religion and freedom of expression.
Israel Folau did not vilify, nor did he incite hatred or violence against any group. He spoke the truth of the Bible and made a call to repentance and turning from sin, and the acceptance of Jesus Christ. Without speaking about sin then there is no Gospel, because without repentance there is no salvation. As Luke chapter 13 verse 3 says: "I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish."
So, we have two clear examples set from this dispute in Australia. The first is that if you speak the truth of sin from the Bible in this day and age you can face job termination, being banned from sports, and open vilification in the guise of "tolerance".
The second is the example set by a strong man of God who refuses to deny the truth, even if it cost him a $4m contract, his career and right to play professional rugby in Australia, his sponsors, and the emotional pain of choosing between the sport he loves and his faith in God.
Israel Folau is a persecuted Christian and his strength is an example to all Christians in Australia. We should pray for him and the outcome of this matter, as it has serious consequences for Christians in this nation.
Courtesy of Press Service International