The responses to Israel Folau’s comments on Instagram expose more about the people responding than do the original comments by Folau. Because of that, the issue has taken on a life of its own that is far beyond the control of the major players: Folau and his employers at Rugby Australia.

The most significant and influential players are now outraged activists and journalists (in some cases, there is no difference).

That Rugby Australia and others are surprised about his comments shows (a) how little due diligence they did on Folau when Rugby Australia signed him to a four-year contract in 2018 and (b) how little research journalists have done into Folau between latest story breaking and hitting ‘send’ on their stories.

Before we get into Folau’s latest off-field incident, let’s start with what this post is not:

  1. It’s not a discussion about the validity of Folau’s claims about God, religion, hell etc. Greater minds than ours have wrestled with this issue for thousands of years. These issues will be touched on, but only in the context of the comments from Folau where they are relevant. Some writers have chosen to use this incident to promote their atheism and mockery of religion; good for them, but it’s misplaced narcissism. If you believe in what Folau says, good for you; if you don’t good for you.
  2. It’s not a discussion about free speech. Unless Folau is summoned to explain his words before a body like the Australian Human Rights Commission, this not a free speech issue. It’s a private matter between an employee and their employer, until such time as it isn’t.

This post is intended to highlight some of the hypocrisies and issues around the controversy.

A certain box of values

First, to Rugby Australia: don’t pretend you’re surprised. This outcome was inevitable.

Folau does not hide his beliefs. His beliefs are more than what he believes, they are who he is.

Folau is a 110% committed Christian. And as every sports fan knows, you can’t give more than 110%. It’s mathematically impossible.

As a 110% Christian, he thinks certain people are going to hell because of their behaviours which are acts against God.

These are the publicly stated beliefs that have put him in hot water again.

The ‘acts against God’ definition is actually essential to this case. Expect Folau to use it. It goes to his reasoning for posting the comments that he did. They also indicate his state of mind.

The charge against him – used over and over again in the media – is that the comments were homophobic.

For the gazillionth time, these are the comments:

It’s a lot of things … but it’s not homophobic. Quite the contrary. If we are looking at intent, their intent is actually quite clear (misguided though they are): he wants to save ‘sinners’.

His comments don’t come from hate; they come from love. He wants drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars etc to be saved.

Neither was it a rant which many have claimed it to be. By definition, rants are verbal. Misusing fonts is not a rant.

And as a committed Christian, is not judging the behaviour or anyone. Folau knows what he has been taught, and what 10,000 tattoos and Miley Cyrus declare defiantly: only God can juge/jugde/judge.

No regerts!

So to be quite clear, Folau is not condemning anyone.

So far he’s not homophobic (as there is no intent) and there is no malice.

The entire case against him is built on virtue signalling and a desire to find offence.

How we got here

This story again highlights how ridiculous our media is. How hungry they are to find outrage, even when there is none.

FOlau made the offending comments on Instagram. As so many breathless articles have declared, he made them to his 310,000 Instagram followers.

They must be a committed bunch because Folau is a tedious poster. His page is d.u.l.l.

It’s post after post about Jesus. And sometimes he gets a new pair of boots.

For someone earning $1 million a year, he seems really happy about those boots. A little bit too happy.

But mainly it’s about Jesus. And he got married.

Folau is boring

Among the long-suffering 310,000 was a lurker. Waiting, wanting to be offended. Perhaps to alleviate the boredom.

Someone was waiting for Folau to overstep the mark set last year by Rugby Australia when he posted a sermon against same-sex relationships.

With great love, I wanted to share this video in the hope that people watch it and think about it. Jesus is coming back soon and he wants us to turn to him through repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38) please don’t harden your heart.

Again with the Jesus … and again “with great love”.

And this:

Warning people of eternal punishment if they continue to live in their sin isn’t judgmental. It’s called love. I won’t apologise for believing and following the word of God. May God open your eyes to what a true believer is. God bless!

This goes to the heart of his faith: if you believe you have the secret to eternal happiness and can save others, isn’t it your duty to spread the word? This is where Folau’s messages come from.

Not just this post but every post (except for the shoe posts).

This presents a problem for people seeking to use social media posts as a reason to sack people.

We have long seen social media as public.

It isn’t. Especially in the case of Folau.

Maybe social media isn’t public

As shown, there is a strong theme to his comments. Jesus. But the ‘troubling posts’ fit the pattern of his posts. No one should be surprised.

If you’re watching Peppa Pig and you see boobs, you have a right to be shocked. That wasn’t in the brochure.

If you’re watching an MMA post-match interview and someone drops the F-bomb, you shouldn’t be surprised.  That was in the brochure.

No one should be surprised by these comments from Folau; nor that he posted them on Instagram. They fit the pattern.

And they weren’t broadcast to an unsuspecting audience, like boobs in Peppa Pig.

While we see social media as public, you have to opt-in to see Folau’s comments.

Had Folau made the comments in a post-game interview there is certainly a case to be made that he was overstepping a mark.

But not on his social media account where his faith is so prominent.

Here’s the point: if Rugby Australia was so concerned about what he was posting, they should have made it a condition of his employment that he not post on any topic at any time.

The first part of the story were the comments; the second is the reaction.

The knee jerks

The first response should not have been to hit the keyboard and pound away self-righteously, brainlessly and aimlessly as did the self-righteous and aimless Peter FitzSimons:

In the wake of his latest homophobic outburst – gays, among other sinners, are heading to hell once more – Israel Folau has to go, and will go.

Quick. Clean. Gone. At least until such times as he repents.

If you need to write with italics, you’re not a good writer. It’s like a boom-tish to signal you’ve just been told a joke.

Self-righteousness was the first track in response to Folau.

The second was more popular among writers and Twitterati, whether the writer was semi-famous or not, and it was to celebrate how many boxes they ticked on Folau’s sin list. Even the normally thoughtful and considered Malcolm Knox walked this cliched path:

I can’t speak on behalf of homosexuals. But as a sometime drunk, lapsed fornicator, occasional liar and thief, speculative atheist and idolator by trade (hey, nobody’s perfect), I wonder what hell Israel Folau is expecting us all to go to.

For journalists, this topic is a, er, Godsend. It means they can write about their favourite topic (themselves) without appearing self-absorbed. And there’s no topic they love writing about more than themselves.

No wonder they love this crisis.

Knox went on …

With our current overloaded schedules of drinking, fornicating, idolating etc, we’re kind of busy. But can the hell he has in mind for us be a more fiery inferno of misery than losing whole slabs of our lives watching a referee repeatedly ask the Waratahs to repack their scrum? Can Folau’s Jesus save us from having to watch the tripe he and his mates served up against the Sunwolves? Does a worse hell even exist? It’s enough to drive you to (more) drink, fornicating, etc.

Could you imagine, after a few poor innings, Knox writing of Australian batsman and Muslim Usman Kwahaja:

Can Khawaja’s Mohamed save us from having to watch the tripe he and his mates served up against India?

Silly question.

But Jesus and Christians are easy targets, especially for sneering contempt, highlighting the virtue of the writer, inflaming the mob or all of the above. And it’s legitimised hate against Folau. this is the most torubling aspect of the reaction to Folau.

The haters

The most despicable example of propagating hate – far worse than Folau is alleged to have done – has been in the News Limited tabloids.

The papers must have trawled through social media and found the worst comments from the most marginally famous people they could find on which to hook their story.

Step forward Australian MMA fighter Tai Tuivasa.

Tuivasa said Folau needed “a hiding” in the pages of the most-read newspapers in Australia, The Herald-Sun and The Daily Telegraph. That’s some responsible journalisming right there:

Disgraced Wallaby Israel Folau has been branded a hypocrite by UFC heavyweight Tai Tuivasa, who says: “I know what I’ve seen that idiot do when he’s out and about”.

Among Australia’s most popular fighters, Tuivasa told The Daily Telegraph he crossed paths with Folau on a night out and, while refusing to go into detail, suggested the rugby poster boy was lucky to simply stumble off into the night.

Tuivasa also slammed Folau’s online rants this week about homosexuality, having initially replied to the 30-year-old himself by tweeting: “You need a hiding.”

Think about the danger of that last comment for a moment.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the story shows how poor the state of journalism is. Continuing with the story:

“I’ve seen you out blind as a skunk carrying on now you wanna be all churchy.”

Quizzed on Folau, Tuivasa said: “I won’t go into detail about what went on, but I know what happened.

“And I know what I saw.

“The guy carried on like a f … ing idiot.

“Yet now he wants to be all righteous and put on a show?

“And maybe he’s changed. Who knows?”

It turns out that Tuivasa knew Folau when both were playing in Brisbane. The year was 2010.

Folau has changed.

As Folau makes clear in this article in PlayersVoice from April 2018, I’m a Sinner Too, he wasn’t proud of his earlier activities – especially at that time Tuivasa alludes to.

In other words, the story from Tuivasa is moot – Folau admits as much to what Tuivasa hints at. And Folau has changed. Most definitely.

Folau’s article about his conversion starts:

People’s lives are not for me to judge. Only God can do that.

I have sinned many times in my life. I take responsibility for those sins and ask for forgiveness through repentance daily.

I understand a lot of people won’t agree with some of the things I’m about to write.

That’s absolutely fine. In life, you are allowed to agree to disagree.

But I would like to explain to you what I believe in, how I arrived at these beliefs and why I will not compromise my faith in Jesus Christ, which is the cornerstone of every single thing in my life.

I hope this will provide some context to the discussion that started with my reply to a question asked of me on Instagram two weeks ago [the original controversy referenced above].

Specifically talking about the period referred to by Tuivasa, Folau writes:

Often during this period I felt I was losing control of who I was and what I wanted to be. It was all ego and no humility.

But despite living this materialistic life, I still felt empty.

I would wake up on a Sunday morning and think, ‘This isn’t me’. And yet I would do it again the next week. And the week after that. It was a cycle of sin that was getting me nowhere.

The big change happened with the move to Greater Western Sydney.

With one signature, I went from the top of the NRL to the bottom of the AFL.

He started with GWS in 2011. So Tuivasa’s story is almost a decade old. In other old news, Princess Diana has been involved in a car crash in Paris. Details to follow …

Folau continues:

It was around this time I started attending a new church where I experienced God’s love for the first time in my life. That’s when I started to realise this was all part of God’s plan for me.

I had been hiding my inner thoughts and feelings from everyone around me, but God could see into my heart.

He had to break me down in order to build me up again into the person He wanted me to be. It all suddenly made sense.

I have tried to live my life in God’s footsteps ever since. I follow his teachings and read the Bible all the time in order to learn and become a better person.

Since that happened I have been at peace and enjoyed life with an open, honest heart, which is why my faith in Jesus comes first.

I would sooner lose everything – friends, family, possessions, my football career, the lot – and still stand with Jesus, than have all of those things and not stand beside Him.

Tuivasa said of Folau: “The guy really needs to shut up.”

Two points: News Limited should not have published quotations in which one man urges violence on another, and they should have put Tuivasa’s comments in context. To indicate that “churchy” Folau was not the same as the man who used to go out with Tuivasa. That would have been responsible and professional.

Folau’s PlayersVoice piece also makes it clear that the threats of Rugby Australia probably carry far less weight than they hope they do. If his latest comments cost him his career, Folau would likely walk away content that he has done the right thing, whether it makes sense to us or not. And he has had a spectacular roller coaster of a career. It has been quite an achievement.

Read Folau’s whole article. It’s fascinating.

Diversity in everything but thought

Hypocrisy abounds in this issue. Most from the diversity brigade which celebrates all diversity except opinion.

According to The Independent in the UK:

England and Saracens player Billy Vunipola has defended shamed Australian rugby international Israel Folau in a lengthy Instagram post in which he claims “man was made for woman to procreate”.

Of course, that was never going to stand.

The 26-year-old [Vunipola] will face a meeting with the Rugby Football Union over his support for Folau, who claimed on Wednesday that “Hell awaits” for “Drunks, Homosexuals, Adulterers, Liars, Fornicators, Thieves, and Atheists” in a religious-based tirade.

First, it wasn’t a ‘tirade’. That’s dramatic licence. And it’s wrong. A tirade is speech; an Instagram post is not a speech. Just saying.

Vunipola responded:

“So this morning I got 3 phone calls from people telling me to ‘unlike’ the @izzyfolau post,” said Vunipola, who like Folau is of Christian faith. “This is my position on it. I don’t HATE anyone neither do I think I’m perfect. There just comes a point when you insult what I grew up believing in that you just say enough is enough, what he’s saying isn’t that he doesn’t like or love those people. He’s saying how we live our lives needs to be closer to how God intended them to be.

“Man was made for woman to procreate, that was the goal no? I’m not perfect, I’m at least everything on that list at least at one point in my life. It hurts to know that.

“But that’s why I believe there’s a God. To guide and protect us and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

The RFU issued a statement to stress that they did not share these views and they they will meet with the England No 8 as a result.

An RFU spokeswoman said: “Rugby is an inclusive sport, and we do not support these views. We will be meeting with Billy to discuss his social media posts.”

A Saracens statement read: “Saracens proudly embraces diversity and warmly welcomes everyone to the club regardless of race, gender, religion and sexual orientation.

“Our sport is open to all and we strive for it to be free from all forms of discrimination. We recognise that people have different belief systems and we expect everyone to be treated equally with respect and humility.”

Diversity uber alles. Unless it’s diversity of thought.

A teammate of Vunipola, James Haskell responded:

This is the biggest load of s*** I have ever read. Sport has no place for this crap. Keep it to hate groups @IzzyFolau , you aren’t spreading the lords word. You are spreading hate. You are an unreal player, but a f****** misinformed bigot.

Perhaps Folau should feel persecuted. Perhaps the Northampton Saints should action against for that abuse. Those comments certainly seem to have no place at a club that purports to have:

NO DISCRIMINATION on grounds of gender, age, race, disability or religion. Everyone is equal in our eyes.

That doesn’t seem to be the case.

The owner of Toulon rugby Mourad Boudjellal has labelled Folau “a moron“. Classy.

Of course, the world’s newest moral compass Jacinda Adern had to weigh in:

Obviously on a personal level I clearly don’t agree with what he said, he is a role model and a person in a position of influence and I think with that comes responsibility.

I am particularly mindful as well that young people who are members of our rainbow community, there is a lot of vulnerability there and I totally disagree with what he said and the way he’s using his platform.

Adern may well take the comments from Folau personally. She is an unmarried mother. She’s on the list. No judgment, just saying.

Funny that she would mention his status as a role model.

Folau is a role model

Folau’s status as a role model has been referenced time and time again, as it was this morning in Offsiders (see clip, above).

Folau is a role model. His behaviour as a Christian is exactly what every sport wants. When there is a scandal in a male-dominated sport, they always revolve around two issues:

  • Alcohol (drunks), and
  • Abuse and disrespect of women (adulterers and fornicators).

So it’s funny that the NRL said it would not accept Folau back, but until very recently has been content to find a home for wife beaters and drunks. And whatever the hell Brad Fittler did in Townsville in 2009.

(If you don’t follow NRL, that’s the sport that keeps lawyers employed.)

Australian Rugby League chairman Peter Beattie made it clear the former Melbourne and Broncos star would have to continue his career elsewhere.

“Israel Folau doesn’t pass our inclusiveness culture, which is a policy strongly supported by the ARLC,” Beattie said.

Inclusiveness reigns supreme.

For the record, this afternoon a Google search of ‘NRL star arrested’ returned these results:

Yeah, Folau wouldn’t feel at home at the NRL.

It will be fascinating to see what behaviours pass the ARLC’s freshly minted morality test from now on. Knowing league, it won’t be long until it’s tested. League is currently dealing with an epidemic of players who either filmed themselves having sex and let the tape get out, or allowed themselves to be filmed having sex.

It’s unlikely Folau would cause such headaches. Folau’s problem is his piety.

What Rugby Australia said

Finally, it is worth returning to the original statement from Rugby Australia on 11 April regarding Folau’s comments:

Rugby Australia and the New South Wales Rugby Union have made repeated attempts to contact Israel both directly and via his representatives since 6.30pm on Wednesday, and at this point he has failed to communicate directly with either organisation.

Whilst Israel is entitled to his religious beliefs, the way in which he has expressed these beliefs is inconsistent with the values of the sport. We want to make it clear that he does not speak for the game with his recent social media posts.

No one would assume he does speak for the sport.  A sport which relies on gambling advertising and alcohol sponsorship probably doesn’t sit well with its most bankable star.

Israel has failed to understand that the expectation of him as a Rugby Australia and NSW Waratahs employee is that he cannot share material on social media that condemns, vilifies or discriminates against people on the basis of their sexuality.

Unless you bring your own prejudice as an overlay on Folau’s comments, along with ignorance about his religious position, he has condemned no one, he has not vilified and he does not discriminate.

Rugby is a sport that continuously works to unite people. We want everyone to feel safe and welcome in our game and no vilification based on race, gender, religion or sexuality is acceptable and no language that isolates, divides or insults people based on any of those factors can be tolerated.

This is actually Rugby Australia’s strongest claim against Folau as it is the most interpretable. But it is also so broad as to be useless. “No language that isolates, divides or insults people [on the basis of their race, gender, religion or sexuality] can be tolerated” is even more intrusive than the dreaded Section 18C. Like the NRl, this presents an interesting line in the sand.

As a code we have made it clear to Israel formally and repeatedly that any social media posts or commentary that is in any way disrespectful to people because of their sexuality will result in disciplinary action.

In the absence of compelling mitigating factors, it is our intention to terminate his contract.

Folau has not vilified anyone. He has not even been disrespectful. But lots of rugby hangers-on have, and purposely sought to misinterpret his comments to hang him and heap abuse on him.

Taken at face value, Rugby Australia will win the public relations war but lose the court battle. They have overstepped, no matter how righteous they feel.

Who else has he insulted?

As The Daily Telegraph showed on Friday, 12 April, Folau has taken his faith to the next level by preaching in his church.

Watch the sermon (it’s pretty dull, TBH, he’s not the most compelling public speaker). You get a sense of just how committed and seriously he takes his faith. He’s not a fan of Catholics. Or evangelicals like the Prime Minister. He’s not a fan of the big commercialised religious festivals like Easter and Christmas. At least, he’s not a fan of what they have become.

“Christmas and Easter, that’s man-made,” Folau told fellow worshippers.

For so many years we were caught up in the world thinking that celebrating Christmas was biblical, but when you read this passage you can see what God says about it.

Hear ye the word which the Lord speaketh unto you, O house of Israel. Thus saith the Lord, learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. [Jeremiah 10: 1-5]

For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.

They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.

When you read that passage, you can already see it’s talking about the Christmas tree.

God is clearly saying, ‘Do not follow the way of the heathen’, which is what He’s speaking of these people here, the custom, these people do it in vain.

There’s no point to doing it.

If we don’t go back to the scriptures and see what God says, we can easily fall into the tradition of man, thinking we’re doing the right thing.

There’s a whole lot of people that go to church, but they’re not following the doctrine of Christ.

The problem with a lot of people today is they don’t read the word, they go to church on Sunday, listen to what the pastor says, and that’s it. They don’t go back home to check for what the word of God says.

The Catholic Church baptise babies with a sprinkling of water over the top of their head, things like that, that aren’t even biblical.

Then he goes after the Catholic Church (but notice, Catholics don’t care):

What does the Catholic Church do? They create an image of Mary and Jesus and totally go against what God’s word is. This is what I’m talking about, the difference between man’s doctrine and tradition verses God’s word.

We as people put something up in front of him to worship.

What are we putting up in front of God that are idols? In this example I’m talking about Mary, but it could be things like money, or jobs, it could be things like our husbands or wives.

And he’s not a huge fan of TV preachers. Folau’s faith is more serious. It’s medieval.

The Streisand Effect

Folau’s comments about homosexuals and drunks going to hell should be seen in the context of the comments about Catholics and Christmas and Easter … and ignored.

Folau didn’t make the comments to a wide audience who didn’t want to hear his message; he made them to 310,000 Instagram followers who knew exactly the type of messages he was posting. If kids are following him on Instagram, it’ll be shortlived.

Whatever damage is done by his statements as a role model were not through Instagram but by publicising the message.

It’s a classic example of the Streisand Effect, which Wikipedia defines as:

… a phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the internet. It is an example of psychological reactance, wherein once people are aware that some information is being kept from them, their motivation to access and spread it is increased.

And instead of wanting to condemn homosexuals, he has sought to save them. Misguided, sure. But where’s the malice?

Make no mistake, this is a culture war issue. It’s not about free speech. but it is about the intrusion of diversity into free speech issues. That’s for another day.

The real issue is whether people like Folau can be what they are. Or are they too diverse?

Which is exactly what homosexuals have fought for for so long, isn’t it?

Author note: For the record, the author is not religious but does have a Liza [Minnelli] Australian Tour 2009 cup on his desk.