Embattled rugby star Israel Folau has sparked a new controversy. In a sermon yesterday, the 30-year-old athlete and devout Christian said the bushfires and drought ravaging the Australian states of New South Wales and Queensland are God’s punishment for the recent passage of same-sex marriage and abortion laws.
The sermon, given at Sydney’s Truth of Jesus Christ Church—which is led by Folau’s father, Eni—drew backlash from Australian politicians but support from at least one Christian group. During the past few weeks, four people have died in blazes throughout eastern Australia, and drought conditions are making firefighting difficult.
What Israel Folau Said About the Bushfires
Folau said, “I am speaking to Australia. … They have changed that law and legalized same-sex marriage, and now those things are okay in society, going against the laws of what God says.” He continued: “Abortion—it’s okay now to murder and kill infants, unborn children, and they deem that to be okay.”
Folau read from Isaiah 24:5-6 (KJV), which addresses God’s destruction of the Earth:
The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants there of; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore have a curse devour the earth; and they that dwell there in are desolate. Therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned up, and few men left.
He then said, “This Scripture is speaking to Australia. You have changed the law and changed the ordinance. Look how rapid these bushfires, these droughts, all these things that came in a short period time. You think it’s a coincidence or not? God is speaking to you guys, Australia, you need to repent and you need to take these laws and turn it back to following what is right by God, what God says in his Word.”
Referencing Sodom and Gomorrah, Folau added, “What you see out there in the world, it’s only a little taste of what God’s judgment is like. The news now are saying that these bushfires are the worst they’ve ever seen in Australia; they haven’t even seen anything.”
Critics Condemn Israel Folau’s Comments
Folau’s remarks led to swift rebuke by Australian leaders. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, an evangelical Christian, defends the former athlete’s right to free speech but calls Sunday’s comments “appallingly insensitive.”
Morrison says, “[Folau] is a free citizen. He can say whatever he likes, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have regard to the grievous offense this would have caused to the people whose homes have been burnt down.” The fires have destroyed at least 300 homes, and Australia recently experienced its hottest summer on record.
Anthony Albanese, leader of the Australian Labor Party, calls Folau’s words “pretty reprehensible.” “Some people might not want to give his comments any more oxygen than they deserve, and I get that,” he tweets. “But for people in leadership positions, it’s on us to reject this rubbish. To call it out. We’re so much better than this.”
Even radio host Alan Jones, who has previously supported Folau, now advises him to “button up.” Jones, who once called the athlete “a lovely human being,” adds, “Someone’s got to say hang on, look, these are difficult times for people…and we’re not going to be in the business of making those sorts of comments which really are, quite simply, silly.”