The persecution of Israel Folau…

Back in the 1950s and sixties homosexuals were ridiculed and persecuted. Now, people who dare to criticise homosexual lifestyles are ridiculed and persecuted.

It’s time we got over our zealous mission to protect the sensibilities of homosexuals. The battles for homosexual acceptance were waged decades ago and by the end of last century the war was won. However, not everyone was won over and nor will they ever be.

Israel Folau, one of Australia’s most talented rugby players, thinks homosexuals, among others, are going to hell. But he’s not the only one who wants to continue the war. Mainstream media seems to be of the view that to respect and accept homosexuals is no longer enough, you have to venerate them.

Persecuting Folau for his beliefs is both stupid and unjust. Stupid because it makes him a martyr. Unjust because taking away a man’s living because of his beliefs will never pass the test of fairness in any decent democracy.

Folau’s Rugby boss justified the sacking, (from all rugby) by saying Wallabies teams have to be seen to represent all Australians, which is hardly a realistic goal. However, last year when Folau’s religious beliefs became something for the media to chew over, he was one of 38% of Australians who did not agree with homosexual marriage. How many of them believe homosexuals are going to hell is anyone’s guess. Who would dare speak up now? Nevertheless, Folau clearly represents a considerable portion of the population.

When people like Folau say homosexuals and other sinners will go to hell, most of us treat such comments as foolish, primitive and amusing. We, the majority of New Zealanders and Australians,   are at best Sunday Christians. The closest we get to being Christian is trying to live up to Christian principles. Most people dumped many of the fantastical Christian beliefs generations ago.

Not Folau. He is concerned that most of the people who go to church don’t heed the words of God, the words their faith is based on, but just go to church and go home again as if the bible is  irrelevant. He has a point. We are not believers, and seeing the way the media has virtually ignored all but one of the issues Folau raised, widespread scepticism about the word of God is clearly taken for granted.

Most of us don’t really care what Christian fundamentalists say. They do not exercise power.  We have the power, to ridicule their beliefs if we wish, as light-hearted comments on National Radio demonstrate. It probably offends the hell out of the fundamentalists, but what are they going to do about it? Relieve us of our livelihoods?

One of the excuses for the persecution of Folau is that he’s a high profile role model. This suggests that it’s acceptable for role models to state their belief in public if we agree with them, but not otherwise. That, to say the least, is worrying.

Billy Vunapula, one of England’s top rugby players and also a Christian, clicked ‘Like’ on Folau’s social media statement. He probably didn’t have a clue what he was letting himself in for. Billy, “I don’t hate anyone!” has been dragged before England’s ruling rugby body to lie, squirrel out an apology, or stand by his beliefs and join Folau and Muhammad Ali in losing his livelihood.

Remember Ali refusing to fight in Vietnam? “No Vietnamese ever called me nigger” he said. And that true, but extremely embarrassing statement was politically intolerable.

As an atheist I’m aware that Israel Folau has consigned me to the flames of hell. Unless I repent of course, and change my ways according to the word in God’s good book. So why is all the concern just about homosexuals? There were seven kinds of sin in Folau’s list that deserved hell.

How about we re-frame what Folau said by turning it into language we sinners understand. I’ll take just two: drunkards and liars. The first – Alcohol abusers who do not change their ways cause such serious, widespread damage in society they deserve to be harshly punished.

Well, do they? Consider this: Drunkards abuse and neglect their children. Those children grow-up to be problem adolescents and end up in prison for violent offences. Most violence in this country is caused by drunken men. Alcohol is the conduit for the majority of violent men who wake up and find themselves in prison. They make up the biggest population of inmates.  The cost of keeping these violent drunkards in prison is high, but negligible compared to the suffering of their victims.

Liars: Liars cause incalculable damage to individuals and societies and if they do not change their ways they deserve to be harshly punished. Do they? Let’s see. Millions of people all over the world are suffering and frustrated to the point of violent demonstrations because of lying, corrupt politicians. Many live in shocking slums. Yet before every election their lying representatives promise to end corruption and spend public money on the poor.

On an individual level, from conmen to conning wives and husbands lying to each other and their children, to all human relationships in fact, the pain caused by liars is common knowledge. These are serious issues. Why was the media so biased in focusing only on Folau’s views  about homosexuality? Perhaps because it is also common knowledge that we have all, Christians and non-believers, found most of Folau’s concerns too hard, or too uncomfortable to treat seriously.

I remember the family name of a man in England in the 1960s who was sent to prison for seven years for homosexual activity. Seven years! His name, ironically, was Wildblood. He was one of a group of wealthy, privileged men. Persecution was the order of the day.

The media had a wonderful time. They couldn’t get enough of it. Folau will not be sent to prison, of course, he will merely lose his living and the sport he excels at the prime of his athletic life. I suppose you could at a stretch call that progress, but it is still a violation of human rights.

Share this:
Chris Horan

Chris is a former social worker, probation officer and Family Court counsellor, living in Hawea in the South Island.