• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ

Bill Ralston: Only fundamentalist Christians should be hurt by Israel Folau

Israel Folau. Photo/Getty Images

Israel Folau’s social-media post might condemn the Wallabies to Rugby World Cup hell, but the rest of us should ignore him. 

Hell awaits me. Israel Folau told me so. It’s not his warning to homosexuals that’s making me nervous about hades, but the stuff about drunks, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters.

I have certainly been known, infrequently, to have had one shandy or two too many. There has been a fib or two over the past several decades, and I have found fornication can be fun, but only with the wife. Atheism is a little too much hard work; I’ll settle for agnosticism. And, as an extreme admirer of rugby, I confess to idolatry.

Which is basically why I am sad to see such a talented but proselytising young footie player getting the boot out of the sport. Worse, even rugby league won’t have him, which is a little like having the gates of hell shut in your face.

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

What does Australian rugby expect? Folau is a committed, evangelical, fundamentalist Christian. Of course he is going to abhor sins such as those he so painfully enumerated on Instagram.

Frankly, I would be more inclined to ban him from rugby for merely using Instagram, with its sickly sweet sea of egotists always popping up with smug selfies of themselves. His unfortunate post can hardly have surprised the Australian Rugby Union. Folau’s account features more than 400 pictures of mainly scripture and happy-clappy religious truisms.

His Instagram bio states he is “Living for Jesus Christ” with the hashtag #TeamJesus. I guess if he can’t play for the Wallabies, he can turn out for Team Jesus next Saturday, instead.

There are hundreds of thousands of Christians who share Folau’s beliefs. Hello, “Bishop” Brian Tamaki. Like Folau’s, their condemnations are wrong but, heavens above, let’s exercise a bit of Christian charity and forgiveness and ignore them. After all, their attitudes reflect what the clergy have been saying for the past couple of thousand years and it is only in more recent, sinful times that they have become anachronistic.

I’ve asked several of my gay friends how they feel about Folau’s eight Instagram commandments. Most simply rolled their eyes. They know what the God squad think of them already. “Who cares?” seems to be their common response.

Well, the Australian Rugby Union obviously cares because it’s firing him for it. Is it an overreaction; an attempt to compensate for rugby’s macho past? The tragedy from a Rugby World Cup perspective is that Folau was the Wallabies’ great hope. With him gone, the Aussies will inevitably blame any defeat they suffer at the hands of the All Blacks on his absence.

I guess what he posted could be seen as hate speech but, seriously, these days, does anyone take offence at being told they are “destined for hell”? As an agnostic idolater, I am not worried or offended. I doubt if the gay community is, either.

First, he did not advocate violence, he did not ridicule or abuse in a conventional sense. He simply posted a religious warning that any of those eight groups of folk were going to hell. To be hurt by that, you would have to believe in hell in the first place.

Second, to be injured by the admonition, you would have to believe he is right, which means you are a fundamentalist Christian yourself, so show him some charity.

I watched Folau blow apart the Blues’ defence the other weekend. It was poetry in motion; painful, but sublime to watch. So he’s a God botherer. Ignore that. He’s a brilliant player.

This article was first published in the April 27, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.