You may or may not have noticed, but over the last week there has been a fair bit of uproar in the media about Israel. Not the one in the Middle East, but the Wallaby. Israel Folau.
Israel is a Christian, has played Rugby League, Aussie Rules, and is currently in the national team for Rugby Union. Last year he received a lot of negative press because he said he would be voting ‘no’ in the Same Sex Marriage plebiscite. This year, after being asked on one of his social media accounts what “God’s plans for gays is”, Israel replied with the standard Biblical teaching “Hell, unless they repent of their sins and turn to God”.
As you might imagine, that did not go down well, with most of the Wallaby’s sponsors expressing disapproval and reconsidering their sponsorship and an expectation that Israel never express an opinion like that again. Rugby Australia has refused to discipline Israel, but has also made it clear that he is not to express this opinion again. Aside from the predictable outcry from those who think Israel’s position is barbaric and must be censored, this issue continues to fester in the media.
It continues to fester for a number of reasons. First, our society has no settled way of handling different opinions any more. The impulse of many people is to censor and shout down people with different opinions – not to debate or live with differences of opinion.
Second, there is an absolute rejection by many that religious beliefs should be allowed to influence a person’s public behaviour. This is particularly the case with Christian beliefs – remember a muslim member of the Australian Cricket team being allowed to opt out of wearing a sponsor’s logo because of religious convictions about alcohol?
Third, we are seeing a confusion in our corporate and sporting arenas over exactly how much control a company or employer can have over an individual’s life and public statements. Qantas and other sponsors certainly feel that their money entitles them to more than just advertising (and favourable comments about their products). They also expect that players and others not be allowed to contradict corporate views well beyond their products. We see this also with companies having firing and not-hiring based on social media posts and opinions in a number of areas. More and more people are supporting the economic destruction of those with views they disagree with.
Finally, there is no clarity around exactly what can be said by people, in what forums, and what sanctions can be applied to those who you disagree with. This is becoming more stark with companies like Facebook and Google continually altering their algorithms which put websites and articles before us, and many Christian organisations complaining that the last change by Facebook has seen traffic to their posts reduced by huge amounts.
Christians need to recognise these changes and uncertainties in our society, and be prepared to face them. Certainly to challenge those that are unfair, and contribute to the discussion around involving setting standards for our society. But more than that, Christians need to be certain of the hope they have in Jesus, and the value of putting Jesus before anything else – job, finance, social approval, even freedom should it come to that.
Ten years ago, no-one could have foreseen that Qantas would be moving to censor and gag rugby players from expressing personal opinions. We need to consider that in the future it may well be banks, supermarkets or oil companies which make these moves against Christian teaching and opinions. After all, Qantas has gone from being disparaged for shipping maintenance jobs off-shore to being the darling of the press for its stand on same sex marriage. Why wouldn’t the banks, in their current public relations pit, seek to do the same?
Take the time to read Izzy’s explanation of his statement, his belief and his faith in Jesus – https://www.playersvoice.com.au/israel-folau-im-a-sinner-too/ – and ask yourself if your faith is made of the same stuff, and based on the same person – Jesus. If it is, look at what is happening to Israel and be prepared. If its not, then look to the one Israel looks to – Jesus, and build your faith and relationship with him.