31 May 2019

What I’d say to Israel

photo credit: Getty

As widely reported, ARU winger Israel Folau, recently had his $4million rugby contract torn up after posting the following words on his private Twitter account: 
“Warning Drunks, Homosexuals, Adulterers, Liars, 
Fornicators, Thieves, Atheists, Idolaters 
Hell awaits you. 
Repent! Only Jesus saves” 
Trolling through the rest of Israel’s feed, I can see he has a deep and genuine love for Jesus. Yay! But from this post you might also conclude he has a disliking for people - especially people on his naughty list. If I were Israel’s pastor I’d have loved to have had a coffee with him about how he leverages his influence and how he understands and frames the gospel.  I’m sure lots of pastors have thought the same thing recently. 

Now, this is not the first time someone on social media has said something controversial, insensitive or just a bit silly. Social media thrives on this. Everyone with or wanting a profile wants to say something that goes viral. The problem is that everyone with or wanting a profile can. It’s really easy to press the post button. It’s really hard to exercise the self-control necessary to slow down, think, consult, then wait some more. 

It’s amazing what people will post, and other people will subsequently like. Like the ridiculous statement going around social media lately that says, "be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” 

Really? I think this is one of the dumbest most selfish things I’ve read in a long time. If you follow that logic then if I am abusive to my family that’s ok because if they mind, they obviously don’t matter? When did we start determining if someone matters on the basis of whether they are offended or not by my beliefs or behaviours? Don’t all people matter?

Now whoever authored that paltry proverb would probably say “oh but you’ve taken it all out of context!” I am sure I have, and my point is that what we communicate and how, matters. Language always has a context and nuance that if not handled wisely and sensitively can communicate something entirely different.

I feel like  that is the problem here with Israel’s Twitter communications. He needed to think a little longer about what exactly he was trying to communicate. Not only was his post an inaccurate mash up of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 but it was lacking context and clarity. Readers could be left thinking that if they are gripped in an addiction to alcohol, or ever told a lie they are going to hell. And if they've had sex outside of marriage or have feelings  for a people of the same gender, there is no hope. 

The problem with this statement, apart from its ambiguity is that it leads unsuspecting people into the mother of all sins – self-righteousness. By that I mean thinking that being in God’s “good books” or “bad books” is determined by one’s good or bad behaviour. So long as I tick the right boxes I am righteous. That’s not Christianity and the only one with good or bad books is Santa - and he isn't in the Bible.

In a later post Israel also quotes Galatians 5:13-26 which is a brilliant passage by the same author (St Paul) again contrasting two ways we can live our life. One way is a life that says my will be done in every part of my life. It’s a life that is its own author and bends the knee to no higher authority. This person lives according to their own moral compass – if it feels good do it. Paul calls this "life in the flesh." This life looks like freedom but it’s really a path to pain.

The other life is one that says to Jesus, your will be done in every part of my life. Paul calls this "life in the Spirit". This life looks like pain or limitation but it’s really a path to freedom.

The gospel of the Bible (which means good news) is that everyone is invited to step into this freedom. Everyone. Israel in one Twitter comment said that “God’s plan for gay people was hell”. No Israel, that is not the gospel nor God’s plan. God’s plan for people is abundant life in relationship to Him and one another. His plan is salvation not condemnation. As it says in 2 Peter 3:9b "the Lord is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." See also John 3:16-17.

And that word "repent" – simply means changing the way you think.  It’s the continual act of aligning beliefs and behaviours with Jesus’ better way.  Repentance is usually portrayed as a harsh, judgemental word - when it's really the beautiful catalyst of newness and transformation in our lives.

I really applaud Israel being public about his faith. And while people of faith often want to crow about their rights to freedom of speech and religion - a tiny fraction of believers in our country ever exercise that right. It seems to me that we want the freedom but not the responsibility that comes with it. We want to be unafraid to "practice" our religion yet are terrified at the thought of actually expressing it in any kind of compelling way. We functionally deny our faith and blend in with the politically correct crowd.

So, good on you Israel for having a go at being a Christian in this increasingly hostile landscape. You may not have described the wonderful invitation to life with Jesus in the way I might have – but at least you have the courage to keep trying to. 

Let’s have that coffee some time!

photo credit: Getty