The plot thickens daily for former rugby superstar Israel Folau.
Back in April, Rugby Australia, under pressure from its major sponsor Qantas, sacked him for posting a paraphrased Bible verse on Instagram. In May, a tribunal upheld the decision, allowing Izzy’s $4 million contract to be officially torn up.
Now in June, GoFundMe has discovered the power of corporate activism too. Using the fund-raising site, Israel had reached out to likeminded Australians who wanted to support him in his court appeal for religious freedom. $700,000 had been donated to his cause before GoFundMe suddenly pulled his page from their platform.
Some suggest it’s because his fund somehow promoted harassment or vilification. But clearly this can’t be the case. Anti-Folau campaigns abound on the website, including the “Israel is a knob cause”, the “F*** Israel Folau Foundation” and others raising funds for his ‘mental health issues’ or even for a rainbow sex toy to gag him with.
Others suggest that Folau’s campaign was canned because his was a legal fund. But this can’t be the reasoning either, given that GoFundMe continues to allow around 17,000 other legal campaigns on their site. This includes the fund for the fabled ‘Eggboy’ who (deserved or not) assaulted a sitting Commonwealth senator.
It seems increasingly clear that what GoFundMe has an issue with—and what Qantas and Rugby Australia before them take issue with—is the historic teachings of Christianity.
Corporate activism is a growing phenomenon. Companies are using their clout to crush any opinion they don’t like. And by all means, they’re free to: they’re private enterprises, and this is a free country.
But in doing so, they’re creating a new set of marginalised minorities. By including some groups, these corporations exclude others. They preach tolerance but practice intolerance. And the gentle giant Folau—a Pacific Islander who counts Christianity as core to his identity—is only their latest victim.
Folau’s fight is far from over. The Australian reports that GoFundMe’s decision has only hardened Israel’s resolve to have his day in court. And the 10,000 donors to his cause along with those who missed the chance to chip in are finding other online avenues to support him.
As the dust settles on this latest development, there are three questions that every Aussie Christian can be reflecting on.
Do You Really Believe?
The entire Israel Folau saga boils down to this: he lost his job for posting a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. This now infamous passage says:
“Don’t you realise that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.
“Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
It’s hard to find a crisper announcement of the Gospel in all of Scripture than the one Israel posted. So the question for every Christian is, do you really believe the Bible?
Notice that the question isn’t “Would you post this verse on your own social media account?” Certainly, there are more winsome ways to reach out to a secular world. Still, the question remains, do you actually believe what this verse says?
Can You Still Love?
It’s easy in a climate like this for us Christians to see ourselves only as an oppressed subculture. Yes, this is becoming increasingly true. But the early church had it far worse than we do, and still they found a way to love.
They were radical not only in their unwavering commitment to truth, but also in their unwavering commitment to love. Love your enemy, turn the other cheek, and bless those who persecute you are words for us today as much as they were for early believers.
21st century Christians are sobering up to the realisation that we live in a modern-day Babylon.
This makes the story of the Babylonians exile a great source of wisdom for us today. So consider the words that Jeremiah wrote to the Jewish exiles in Babylon:
“Work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7)
God isn’t calling us to start a revolt. He wants us to work and pray for the peace and prosperity of Australia. As Timothy Keller puts it, God calls us to be a “counter-culture for the common good”.
Will You Speak Out?
Keep in mind though that this doesn’t mean we just fall in line with what the mainstream culture demands of us.
If we truly long for peace and prosperity in Australia, then surely we want to see our civilisation’s hard-won freedoms continue to flourish.
Israel Folau lost his job for being a Christian: for believing and expressing a central Christian conviction. If someone with a profile as high as Izzy’s can be fired for his faith, anyone can. The only difference is that everyday religious people won’t have any fame to leverage for their cause.
Now is the opportune time for Christians to speak out.
For some, this might mean swallowing our pride. It’s not sexy today to stand for ‘conservative’ causes—especially not Christian ones. Political bias, like political silence, is tough to shake.
But if we truly believe in freedom for all to practice their faith, then speaking up now is the right thing to do.
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