Israel “Izzy” Folau is Australia’s highest-paid rugby player and number one hope for Australia winning the upcoming World Cup in September. However, a comment about homosexuality Folau posted to his social media accounts could cost the talented rugby star and devout Christian his career. Brian Houston, leader of Australia’s largest church, has weighed in on Folau’s comments, saying the comments indicate the rugby star is judgmental and lacking in grace.
“In 40 years of telling people about the good news of Jesus, I have seen that the ‘turn or burn’ approach to proclaiming the message of Christianity alienates people,” Houston wrote in an op-ed in the Sydney Morning Herald.
The article, called “A Message to Folau: The world doesn’t need more judgemental Christians,” Houston says he admires Folau for being an excellent athlete and also “a man who won’t compromise his beliefs and is not afraid to stand up for Christ.”
What Did Israel Folau Say That Was So Bad?
The comment in question was posted to Folau’s Instagram and Twitter accounts on April 10, 2019. The post on his Instagram account includes an image reading “Warning” at the top. A list follows: Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators. At the bottom, it says “Hell awaits you. Repent!” The comment essentially paraphrases passages of Scripture such as 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Galatians 5:19-21. In the caption for the image, Folau wrote: “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 then quotes Galatians 5:19-21.
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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. _______________ Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these , adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 KJV _______________ Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Acts 2:38 KJV _______________ And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Acts 17:30 KJV _______________
Folau attends The Truth of Jesus Christ Church in Sydney, where his father, Eni Folau, is the pastor. The rugby star has preached in the Pentecostal church before and his messages have been live-streamed via Facebook. The majority of comments on videos of Folau preaching are positive support from other Christians, encouraging Folau to keep preaching and not to be intimidated by those who wish to silence him.
“Israel does not do any wrong at all,” Folau’s father told reporters. “All the words he posted up has not come from him, it’s come from the Bible,” Folau’s father concluded.
This is exactly the tack Folau’s legal team took when the athlete faced a code of conduct hearing where his posts were under review by Rugby Australia. On May 7, 2019, an independent panel concluded Folau had committed a “high-level breach” of his $4 million contract. While a low or mid-level breach would not be cause enough for Rugby Australia to terminate Folau’s contract, the high-level breach ruling has moved the organization in the direction of termination. The panel is currently deciding on the repercussions Folau should face.
A History of Speaking Out
This is not the first time Folau has faced such a close call with his contract. The 30-year-old player came close to losing it last year, also, for almost the exact same reason. In 2018, Folau posted a link to a video of the late David Wilkerson preaching on the things that lead people away from God. In the 11-minute message, Wilkerson warns about tolerance of homosexuality. Folau said he was sharing the video out of “great love.” He wrote, “Jesus is coming back soon and he wants us to turn to him through repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38) please don’t harden your heart.” This video link was accompanied by another Instagram post similar to the one Folau posted this year.
In April 2018, Rugby Australia decided not to sanction Folau for his social media posts about homosexuality, despite the concerns voiced by sponsors like the airline Qantas.
Even before this, when Australia voted to legalize same-sex marriage in 2017, Rugby Australia took an official position and said they supported the decision. The organization, which essentially oversees rugby in Australia, defines itself as an inclusive organization. At that time, Folau spoke out saying he did not agree with same-sex marriage.
Houston leads Australia’s largest Pentecostal church and agrees with Folau’s beliefs about homosexuality, but he feels the approach the rugby star is taking is doing more harm than good. He writes:
Yet, as Christians, it is equally important to look at ourselves and our own failings and imperfections. If you look at the list of sins that Izzy listed there’s not too many people he’s left out, including Christians. There isn’t a person on earth who hasn’t told a lie or put something before God (idolatry).
While sin is a real issue, the God I know and seek to follow is a God of love. He says that He did not come to condemn the world, He came to save it. And as Christians we would do well to follow the example of the founder of our faith. I believe there is a heaven and a hell but if you study scripture you won’t read about Jesus screaming to people that they are all going to hell. In fact Jesus, John the Baptist and the Apostle Paul all kept their harshest criticism for those who were religious and judgmental.