Australian Rugby Star Faces Termination for Posting Bible Verses on Instagram
Australian international rugby star Israel Folau is on notice. He has until 3 p.m. Wednesday to issue a formal response to claims that he committed a "high-level" breach of the players' code of conduct by posting a paraphrased Bible verse on Instagram. Rugby Australia has threatened the career of this Wallabies superstar over posts considered anti-gay.
"Israel has 48 hours to accept the sanction or have the matter sent to a code of conduct hearing," Raelene Castle, CEO of Rugby Australia (RA), said in a statement. Folau, who is the fourth highest scoring Australian international rugby player, allegedly "committed a high-level breach of the Professional Players' Code of Conduct warranting termination of his employment contract."
The "high-level" breach involved an Instagram post in which Folau referenced Galatians 5:19-21. He posted a graphic that paraphrased the passage, reading, "WARNING: Drunks, Homosexuals, Adulterers, Liars, Fornicators, Thieves, Atheists, Idolaters HELL AWAITS YOU Repent! Only Jesus Saves."
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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.
Castle, the RA CEO, insisted Folau was not being published for his religious beliefs. "This is not a religious discussion, this is a discussion around the employee-employer relationship," she told The Guardian. She said the rugby player was unapologetic about the posts when she spoke with him last Friday. "That left us with no option but to move forward to the position that we've taken."
Folau had been warned about a similar post last April, in which he said that God's plan for gay people was "HELL... unless they repent of their sins and turn to God."
Responding to criticism, the rugby star wrote an article on Player's Voice last year, explaining his position. Suffering with an injury, he posted James 1:2-4, which begins, "Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials." In the comments on that post, someone asked him about God's plan for gay people. Folau responded by paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which warns that "the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God," and that "men who practice homosexuality" are part of the "unrighteous."
In his article, Folau confessed to committing some of the other sins listed in that passage, and shared the mercy and grace he found in Jesus Christ.
"I believe when Jesus died on the cross for us, it gave us all the opportunity to accept and believe in Him if we wanted to. To enter the kingdom of Heaven, though, we must try our best to follow His teachings and, when we fall short, to seek His forgiveness," the rugby star wrote.
Importantly, he responded to claims that "I am homophobic and bigoted and that I have a problem with gay people," saying, "This could not be further from the truth." Folau recalled having "fronted the cover of the Star Observer magazine to show my support for the Bingham Cup, which is an international gay rugby competition for both men and women. I believe in inclusion. In my heart, I know I do not have any phobia towards anyone."
He concluded by saying "I have faith that God's path is the right one and that path is outlined in the Bible. I will keep sharing that." The rugby star added, "God loves each and every one of us. He just doesn't love the sin we live in."
Castle and Rugby Australia seem unwilling to understand this complex position. The CEO expressed frustration that Folau was sharing the Bible's perspective on homosexual activity despite the warnings last year.
"It was made clear to Israel in writing and verbally when I met with him last year that any social media posts or commentary that in any way were disrespectful to people because of their sexuality would result in disciplinary action," Castle said. "Despite this, Israel has chosen to ignore this warning."
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said Folau's post would make it impossible to pick him for the national team, which is preparing for this year's World Cup in Japan.
"Getting out in that disrespectful manner publicly is not what our team’s about," Cheika said on Monday. "When you play in the gold jersey, we represent everyone in Australia – everyone. Everyone that’s out there supporting us. We don’t pick and choose."
While Folau's Instagram post accurately summarized Galatians 5:19-21, the rugby star arguably should have shown more tact in sharing the message. Homosexual activity is sinful, but people with same-sex attractions and who identify as homosexual or gay can still accept Jesus Christ and live celibate lives following Him.
When the Bible encourages Christians to share their faith, it also advises them to do so with gentleness and respect.
"But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that when you are slandered, those who revile your good name in Christ may be put to shame," the Apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:15-17.
Folau was right to share the Bible verse, but he arguably should have been more gentle about it. Listing "homosexuals" as hell-bound seems to condemn everyone who experiences same-sex attraction, even though that is not Folau's intent or the intent of the verse. Christians need to be careful not to condemn people while delivering the message that homosexual activity is sinful.
After all, as Folau himself noted so well, every Christian is a sinner, and we are only saved by the grace of God. Gay people are no worse than us, and we hope they too may experience God's redemption.
Follow Tyler O'Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.