“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
George Orwell may or may not have said these words, but they are true.
The drawn out and heavy-handed criticisms of leading rugby player Israel Folau prove the maxim here and now.
Some weeks ago, Folau responded on social media to a direct question about God’s plan for homosexuals. He gave a blunt statement of God’s plan for all humanity: hell, except in the case of repentance and turning to God.
For Christians this should be entirely uncontroversial. In my readings over recent weeks it struck me that John the Baptist, Jesus and Peter all opened their ministries with a robust call to repentance. It is the constant refrain of scripture that repentance must precede salvation.
Importantly, we believe this to be true about ourselves. Folau’s written response to the controversy was titled “I’m a sinner, too.”
Not long ago, these ideas would not have been so foreign in a nation with a strong Christian heritage such as ours.
Yet Folau is being relentlessly pursued as a dissident.
First his comments were denounced in the media and criticised by Rugby Australia.
Second, Qantas amped up the pressure by grumbling about their sponsorship of the Wallabies.
Third, he was hauled before Rugby Australia bosses to explain himself under the threat of sanction.
Fourth, the public were told he would be under scrutiny concerning his social media use.
The media storm, criticism from other sportspeople, and murmurings from Rugby Australia continue.
The whole saga bears the same hallmarks as the treatment of Margaret Court during last years’ same-sex marriage debate.
Armchair experts will say that Folau should have used different words. But he shouldn’t have to be an expert wordsmith or political communicator to say what he believes. Like most people, he speaks with the voice of an ordinary Australian. When that voice is shut down in the public square, you can be sure that the more articulate voices will soon face the same fate.
In the last 24 hours, other players have continued to criticise Folau and Rugby Australia boss, Raelene Castle, has been called on to answer for his beliefs again.
Folau tweeted an 11-minute sermon by evangelist David Wilkerson (see inserted video) in which Wilkerson warns of the imminent return of Christ, the reality of judgement and hell, and the need for repentance. He also warns of false teachers and false Christ’s who will deny truths like sin and judgement.
It is heavy-hitting, but essentially mainstream Christian evangelism.
For this, former Wallaby Clyde Rathbone calls Folau “a religious lunatic bent on self-immolation” and warns Rugby Australia that “tolerance of intolerance is cowardice.”
Former Wallabies Captain George Gregan said, “These beliefs that you talk about, keep them to yourself.”
Rugby Australia Boss, Raelene Castle said that Folau was “walking the line” and agreed that his comments were disrespectful because they force his teammates to constantly have to answer questions about his beliefs.
But note that all this criticism is directed at one thing: the fact that Folau is expressing a Christian identity.
Chief critics including Rugby Australia and Qantas are free to promote their political beliefs about LGBTIQ issues.
Players past and present frequently do the same and have at various times made a plethora of anti-religious statements.
It is not true that Rugby players must keep their beliefs to themselves.
Neither is it true that they must show tolerance without intolerance (as if that were possible).
It is also false to claim that players should be immunised from the beliefs of their fellow teammates. We frequently see teams standing up for political causes, including those that march under the buzzwords of diversity and equality. Look at the All Blacks recent “Diversity is Strength” campaign in which players reveal rainbow jerseys.
In fact, there is just one thing that is not allowed: God’s truth… Especially when it challenges the universal deceit of our times.
The words of Isaiah 59 jump off the page in light of all this:
Justice is turned back,
and righteousness stands far away;
for truth has stumbled in the public squares,
and uprightness cannot enter.
Truth is lacking,
and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.
Truth has stumbled in the public squares, but even more than that – if one dares attempt to bring it back he can be sure he will make himself a prey; a target to be relentlessly pursued until the collective muzzle on truth is restored.
Israel Folau has made himself a prey to the media, sporting establishment, corporate sponsors and commentariat because he spoke truth in an environment where it has stumbled and is lacking; an environment where the one who speaks up for truth is made into a lonely and defenceless prey.
Chillingly, a society vacated of truth is quickly one that is also vacated of justice and righteousness.
It concerns me gravely that the very next verse is also alarmingly relevant.
The Lord saw it, and it displeased him
that there was no justice.
He saw that there was no man,
and wondered that there was no one to intercede;
Folau is lonely in his stance. It seems there is nobody to intercede. Where are the fellow sportsmen and sportswomen who have publicly stood with him? Where are the Christian leaders who have gone to the barricades to support him? Where are the advocates who have stood in the public squares to amplify the truth and intercede for the one man who has spoken and has made himself a prey? How many of us have even tried?
I am looking, but I see no man. I wonder that there is nobody to intercede.
God seeks truth tellers. Truth tellers who speak loudly, boldly, relentlessly and yes, collectively, into the public squares. He seeks truth tellers who will intercede for those who have been made a prey because they have departed from evil.
For many of us that means boldly speaking truth in our workplaces, universities, homes, communities, schools and churches.
For others it means speaking in the media, political discourse, entertainment industry and centres of influence.
If we do not, two things are certain.
First, the light of the truth will go out. And righteousness and justice will immediately be lost. We cannot underestimate the dreadful darkness that will flood in under such conditions.
Second, God will be displeased, marvelling that the men and women of His church walk the streets and corridors of this nation, succumbing to cowardly silence, daring not to intercede for His truth.
To think that we know the answer to every human and societal need we face, yet we are so silent.
Pray for Israel Folau. Pray that many others will be moved to join him.