It’s rare that my two passions overlap so dramatically.
Reading Gary Ablett’s Instagram post describing his “like” of rugby superstar’s Israel Folau’s controversial homophobic interpretations of the Bible, it’s hard for me to get upset at anything the footballer said.
That isn’t true for my reading of Folau’s positions, however.
Here’s Ablett’s post –
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There has been a lot of coverage about Israel Folau’s post this week. It saddens me and my family to see how the coverage of this story has played out. I want to make it clear that I love ALL people regardless of race, religion, gender or sexuality. I have always admired how strong Izzy is in his faith, it is not easy to share faith in the public sphere, and this is why I initially 'liked' his post. I understand that liking this post appeared offensive and this is why I chose to remove my 'like' from the post. As a Christian, I believe that God sent his one and only son Jesus to die on the cross so that anyone can come to have an intimate and personal relationship with him. This is the core message behind why I believe we celebrate Easter. I also believe that we are all sinners, that no one including myself is exempt from this and this is why Jesus died for us so that we could all be forgiven by God. God is a loving God and I pray that everyone will come to experience that same love as I have. Happy Easter everyone!
I’m an American by birth and residence, but I’ve come to understand the disdain the average Australian has for Christianity.
It’s a far piece from how my own nation treats Christ and his gospel, although I fear that many – if not most – of my countrymen misuse the Bible for their own non-Christian purposes, which gives our faith a bad name right there.
And then we export that bad name around the world. Yay, us…
Folau is cast by the public and media as a spreader of archaic and politically incorrect beliefs, but then we happily take the four-day vacation based on the death of the man whose beliefs he’s spreading. At best, that’s hypocritical.
That very contradiction has fascinated me ever since I started getting more than my feet wet in Australian culture. The fact that Christianity was poo-poo’d so consistently was one thing – but then one of the first topics that came across my feed was the discussion about whether it would be sacrilegious to play an AFL game on Good Friday.
In the US, the only folks who won’t play on certain days because of their religious beliefs are Christian-based schools (BYU comes to mind) where Sundays and holy days are set aside for the Lord and no school-activities are allowed to take place on those days.
There are NBA triple-headers on Christmas day – the Easter weekend looks no different from any other spring weekend sports-wise – and the only reason a player might take Ash Wednesday off would be because he got too drunk on Mardi Gras night.
From all the concern over Good Friday sport in the AFL, I misinterpreted that to mean there was a greater depth of religious observance in Australia than in the US. And I was wildly mistaken.
For those of you unsure about the actual arguments that Folau and Ablett are bringing to the public, let me give you a theologian’s analysis of the topic of homosexuality in the Bible.
First, my credentials:
Besides writing for The Roar, I also run “Act II Ministries”, a Christian ministry and blog based on the original teachings of the apostles starting in chapter two of the Biblical book of Acts.
I’ve been a theologian with a focus on eschatology since the Lord saved me a decade ago. My salaried career for 34 years was teaching music in secondary schools, and many of my graduated band, drama, and music students are either homosexual or transsexual. This is a topic I’ve studied at length.
Here’s what the Bible condemns: homosexual acts. Despite Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where he tells Christians that even thinking about murder is murder, thinking about adultery is adultery, and so forth, homosexuality is always defined in terms of its acts, not its thoughts, even when it’s most roundly condemned.
Interestingly, too, in almost every spot in the Bible where those acts are condemned, there’s a parallel set of verses condemning *heterosexual adultery* in equally harsh terms. And adultery shows up much more often overall, including in the Ten Commandments – ‘thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s wife’ – and in the Sermon on the Mount, as mentioned above.
Yet those commands somehow manage to fall on deaf ears within most Christian communities, as they probably hit too close to home for many, while the ‘scarier’ sin of gay or lesbian sex brings out the fear and condemnation among those who forget that the primary commandment of Christianity (besides to love and honour our God) is to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. (Mind you, Jesus *does* condemn homosexual acts, but it’s one of many sins condemned by the Messiah.)
And exactly as Ablett said in his post, the primary tenet of Christian life is that we are all sinners, whether it’s through homosexual acts, adultery, or any of a host of other possibilities.
That’s why we need Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, and that’s why we celebrate his birth through Christ-mass, and especially his sacrificial death through Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter. (That’s the underlying meaning of John 3:16, which he pictures alongside his Instagram text.)
A Christian accepts the gift of His sacrifice on our behalf by obeying his commands to the best of our ability, and that means loving our neighbours as we do ourselves.
Ablett has been careful not to offend non-Christians with his Christianity, and that’s a difficult road to walk. Folau has chosen a very different road with his public stances against not only homosexuals as a class – which I would argue is not only prejudicial but in strict terms not even Biblical, for reasons I’ve described – but also against certain Catholic practices and the construction of the Christmas and Easter holidays, which indeed originated as combinations with “pagan” celebrations of winter and spring, respectively.
I believe, by the way, that the secular origin story of those festivals doesn’t make them less important as Christian holy days, but rather it provides an opportunity for Christians to welcome non-Christians into the fold twice a year to spread their faith. “Come to Easter service, and we’ll eat some chocolate!” “Come to Christmas service, and then we’ll open some presents!”
Folau would undoubtedly comfort himself in the fact that the Bible tells Christians to expect push-back, even persecution, from those who live “according to the world”. Unfortunately, it also warns us not to revel in persecution because we do the wrong thing, too.
And sometimes, it’s hard from inside your convictions to tell one from the other.