I’ve been on holidays for the most recent round of the Israel Folau controversy, ironically in the Pacific islands where Folau is a real hero. I’ve been an observer as all and sundry have commented. 

I have sympathies with the thoughts of church leaders like Brian Houston and others which amounts to, "you catch more flies with honey than vinegar", but can’t help feeling we church leaders have been quick to throw Folau under the bus, publicly disciplining him without first having privately discussed things with him (Matthew 18).  I suspect that while Folau’s comments might be naïve, there is more going on here.

Israel Folau

Australia's IsraelFolau runs in to score their first try in a game against England at Twickenham on 24th November, 2018. PICTURE: REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo/File Photo

 

"Western culture’s morality is now defined by one-word slogans - equality, inclusivity, tolerance, diversity – that are shrilly shouted on social media at anyone wanting a conversation. Each of these terms, in and of themselves, represents something good and wholesome, but as Aristotle said, 'Any virtue carried to an extreme becomes a vice'. Ideas become ideologies when we idolise them."

I also have sympathy for others like Alan Jones who point out how this is an over-reaction and part of our culture wars for which Folau is the patsy.

I have concerns over Folau’s influence in this space and the impact on young, particularly Pacific islander youth, who may be struggling with their identity. Twitter isn’t the place for such discussions, but I can’t help but think that Folau is the somewhat unwitting innocent pointing out that the emperor has no clothes. The emperor being the current morality of popular Western culture, as represented by Rugby Australia and their sponsors. 

Western culture has been on a quick transformation away from its Christian moorings. While some of this might be a corrective to a church that has itself forgotten its groundings and relied instead upon privilege and place, the moral revolution has been about as deep and thoughtful as the paleo diet. 

Western culture’s morality is now defined by one-word slogans - equality, inclusivity, tolerance, diversity – that are shrilly shouted on social media at anyone wanting a conversation. Each of these terms, in and of themselves, represents something good and wholesome, but as Aristotle said, "Any virtue carried to an extreme becomes a vice". Ideas become ideologies when we idolise them.

These ‘values’ are incredibly hard to live and implement in reality - this is why such cases end up in court. How do we balance competing rights, religious freedom, truth and mercy? This should be obvious when you consider that a desire to be inclusive of all is ironically expelling the most genuinely religious player of all. Western culture, Rugby Australia, has not begun to think through their new morality at all. We have adopted an ethic based on the fear of being outed on social media, and it has no substance. The emperor has no clothes, and Folau’s tweets have pointed this out. 

Rugby Australia should also ask itself: when a morality is motivated by money - ie what your sponsors will do, can it even be called morality? Perhaps Folau missed the most pervasive and relevant sin of all in his tweet, "love of money". 

In this discussion, let’s not forget that many of today’s heroes - Mohammad Ali and Martin Luther King, Jr, come to mind - were yesterday’s villains because of the moral stands they took. I pray Folau lasts long enough to become a hero.  

Folau’s tweets also reveal that Western society has no idea about the Christian message. We have this naïve view that God has two lists like Santa; the naughty and nice list. We just have to be good enough to find ourselves on the ‘nice’ list by not being as bad as real sinners. Folau’s tweet revealed who the real sinners were - as others have pointed out, Folau’s list caught just about everyone in it, but that didn’t seem to matter. It might have been better for Folau to swap "sexually promiscuous" for "homosexual".  Jesus would tweet "lust" and "anger" 9Matthew 50 because the Gospel actually declares that all of us are on the naughty list (Romans 3:23). All, period. All of us are "in danger of the fire of hell" (Matthew 5:22).

If you understand the Gospel, you would understand that this is the best news in the universe! No longer do I have to pretend to have it all together. No longer do I have to be burdened by perpetual striving and religious regulations. I can let go of being perfect. I can own my mistakes, failures and brokenness, and fall into the loving arms of God. It is He who saves me, not my hyper-avoidance of sin.

The irony here is that Jesus battled the most with the religious Pharisees of his day. They were the self-declared, self-righteous, hyper-vigilant, moral police of the era, what the world has rightly despised in the church. Now the world, or the elite, has taken that role.

When I was growing up, it was the comedians who dared to speak the unspeakable. Now that the comedians are in control, we have Israel Folau. I believe we need nuance on what the Bible means by ‘homosexual’, for the Biblical Greek terms are not equivalent to our modern ideas, but that’s the point. Let’s think through, discuss, admit nuance, and show grace in our morality, for what we have now in the West is too shallow to support a robust society.