Israel Folau and Christian Morality

I wasn’t sure what to write about today, then I got The Author’s weekly email. The Author is the brilliant Jesus and Mo cartoonist. His strip this week is about religious morality, and it brought to mind the big news story in New Zealand and Australia at the moment. It began on 9 April when Australian rugby star Israel Folau tweeted that all gays were going to hell. Further, he’s not only standing by that statement, he’s doubling down.

Throughout, Folau has made it clear that his stance comes from his Christian faith. Folau was raised Mormon then converted along with the rest of his family in 2011 upon joining the Assembly of God church.

Here’s the Jesus and Mo cartoon concerned, for your enjoyment:

Jesus and Mo cartoon

(Click cartoon to go to Jesus and Mo website.)


Just as an aside, I chose the pic in the header deliberately. It was not to display that lovely body, but the tattoo, which represents Folau’s Tongan cultural heritage. Folau has been a strongly committed fundamentalist Christian his entire life, and says his beliefs about LGBT people come from the Bible. That would be the same Bible that says people who get tattoos are going to hell.

Of course, I’m not the only one who made that observation. Several people, including these two, made note of the Bible‘s statement in relation to tattoos.



At least one other also brought up the verse about it being easier for a rich man to get a camel through the eye of a needle than get into heaven. Folau’s rugby career has made him a very wealthy man.

Before we go any further, if you’re not a New Zealander or Australian, or a rugby fan, you’ve probably got no idea who Israel Folau is, so here you go.


Who is Israel Folau?

Israel Folau (29) is a brilliant Australian rugby player. He plays for the Waratahs team in Super Rugby, which is an elite competition featuring teams from New Zealand (5), Australia (5), South Africa (5), and Argentina (1). (The number of teams varies from year to year. In 2018,  there will be fifteen teams. Australia and South Africa will each drop to four teams and there will be a new team from Japan.)

Folau is a natural at sport. Before playing for the Waratahs, he was also both a professional rugby league and Aussie rules player. He’s never made his religious faith a secret – far from it. When he scores a try for example, he always celebrates by thanking God and often tweets a pic of himself doing that along with hashtags also giving his thanks to the Almighty.



And in the unlikely event you’re in any doubt about his religiosity, this is his Twitter header:


Israel Folau Twitter page.

(Click pic to go to Israel Folau’s Twitter page.)


His profile is too small to read without clicking through. It says:

I love God. Living the dream💯 #TeamJesus🕇

How Did This Fracas All Start?

On 2 April, Folau posted this tweet:


He’d also posted it on Instagram, where a mike_sephton asked him, “what was gods plan for gay people??”

Folau’s response was, “HELL.. Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God.”

That response has since been deleted, but a screen capture was put on Twitter by British rugby player Hugh Webster.

(I believe there was also a rejection of evolution as part of the conversation on the Instagram post, but no one seems to have made a copy of that.)

Folau Tweet on God's plan and his anti-gay response from Instagram.


Why Ask Folau About God’s Plan For Gay People?

This may all seem a bit “out of the blue.” However, there’s a history. You may remember me writing about the successful campaign for marriage equality in Australia last year (here and here). One of the leading voices for the “Yes” campaign was former rugby league star Ian Roberts, who came out as gay when his playing career was over. This set up a bit of competition amongst sporting bodies to have rules that were supportive of gay people and the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) gave its support to the “Yes” campaign. At the time, Folau controversially gave his support to the “No” campaign via Twitter.


Did Folau Break His Employment Contract?

Now there’s no doubt Folau is entitled to his bigotry. However, although we have freedom of speech in Australia and New Zealand, I believe there’s reason to think Folau doesn’t have the right to express this opinion publicly. He’s paid (a considerable amount) by the ARU. As an employee, he has both rights and responsibilities, and he has to follow the rules whatever his personal beliefs. The ARU has a policy of inclusion. That policy specifically mentions homophobic remarks. The wording is:

ARU rules in relation to homophobia.

ARU rules in relation to homophobia.


Rugby Australia’s CEO Raelene Castle and the head of New South Wales’ rubgy Andrew Hore have met with Folau about his comments. So far it appears he has got away with what he’s said. He’s sticking to his guns, and playing the victim card. Like many in his position, he appears to be saying he’s being picked on because of his strong Christian beliefs.


Why Won’t Folau Stop?

This is his tweet in response to the criticism he’s getting:


Like many whose religious beliefs make them bigots, he’s saying that it’s actually those who are disagreeing with him who are the bigots. I saw at least two supporters in the comments on his Twitter feed attacking the “Christophobes.”

But this is not about hatred or fear of Christians. No one is saying that Folau isn’t entitled to his religious beliefs. The problem is speaking about those views publicly in contravention with the rules of his employer. But like many with a strong fundamentalist faith, it’s made him extremely arrogant. He’s so sure that he is right in his version of what an unproven God believes, that he doesn’t think he should have to shut up.

Like many, I believe that Folau is using the fact that he’s such a good player to get away with his bigotry. Australia needs him in their international team to give themselves the best chance of taking the World Cup off New Zealand’s All Blacks, but he says he’ll resign if he can’t continue to speak out about his beliefs. The ARU is scared he’ll do just that if they make him stick to the rules.


Maria Folau neé Tuta’ia

Folau’s wife, Maria Folau is a top New Zealand sportswoman. Most probably know her better as Maria Tuta’ia. She’s a star of our national netball team, the Silver Ferns, playing 121 games for them since 2005. When this kerfuffle began she was playing consistently brilliantly (unlike most of the team) for us at the Commonwealth Games. However, now that the Games are over, she’s come out in support of her husband.

(I had to join Instagram to link to this!!! I’m not happy!!!)


Folau made a comment on his wife’s Instagram post (I haven’t worked out how to link to comments yet, so this is just a cut and paste):

Israel Folau's comment on Maria Folau's post.

(Source: Instagram)


Speaking Out Against Folau: Nigel Owens and Gareth Thomas

To begin with, very few well known people were speaking out against Folau’s comments. Thankfully, more and more people are now speaking out in opposition. Unfortunately, initially at least, very few of those are male sports people. The trouble is, there are very few openly gay men in world rugby (though there is obviously no need to be gay to speak out against anti-gay bigotry). There are two in Britain – former international referee Nigel Owens and former Welsh international Gareth Thomas. They have made the news speaking about this in the northern hemisphere, but their voices are barely registering here despite both names being well known.


Speaking Out Against Folau: Louisa Wall

In New Zealand the main person to speak out is Labour MP Louisa Wall. Wall is gay and a former New Zealand international in both rugby and netball.

Here are a couple of Wall’s interviews on the topic, both from TVNZ.

The first was with ‘1 News’:



This one is from ‘Breakfast’:


Speaking Out Against Folau: Brad Weber

Finally, current New Zealand rugby players are starting to speak out in opposition to Folau’s comments. First there was Chiefs super rugby player Brad Weber:


Speaking Out Against Folau: TJ Perenara

Then yesterday, TJ Perenara, vice-captain of the Hurricanes super rugby team and All Blacks player:







Both these men are halfbacks (aka fly-halfs). They’re traditionally known as the ones who can’t keep their mouths shut. In this case, that’s a good thing!


Speaking Out Against Folau: Where are the Rest of You, Especially Rugby Players?

As Louisa Wall said, we have a suicide problem in New Zealand. It’s especially bad with our Rainbow youth. You’re all really good at talking the talk when it comes to mental health. Several of you speak up in support of mental health.

However, speaking out against damaging attitudes like those of Folau are just as important. Don’t let at risk kids think that by your silence you agree with him. I mean, WTF is wrong with you? Are you going to let a couple of halfbacks be the only ones who get a tweet from Taika Waititi?


Anti-religion/pro-LGBT cartoon.


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36 Responses to “Israel Folau and Christian Morality”

  1. BigBillK says:

    Nothing quite like the fervent mean spirited bigotry of the delusionals, not to mention the willful ignorance.

    • Yep. They’re always so convinced they’re right. I think that’s what annoys me the most apart from the cruelty. The arrogance.

    • Evan says:

      Folks, upon reflection, I should not have included the aside “(as it will)” in my first reply to BigBillK’s comment – that probably came across as arrogant. I apologize for any offence caused. I was trying to help those reading it realize that this is not just some intellectual, academic debate – it’s (eternal) life and death stuff – there’s nothing more important.

  2. Yakaru says:

    Well Maria Folau got at least one thing right — if you stand with God, it means you are standing alone.

    And I am just waiting for one of these people who thank God when they score a goal to be charged with match-fixing. What would their defense be?

    • Jenny Haniver says:

      +1 and +1 (one for each statement).

    • It happened in cricket remember? Hansie Cronje in South Africa. Despite his committed Christianity, he always seemed like a genuinely nice, honest guy.

      I have a theory that it makes match-fixing easier because you have to be constantly rationalising, and you can tell yourself that God would stop you if He didn’t want you to do it.

  3. Mark R. says:

    This kind of bigotry imbued with arrogance is one of the most pathetic characteristics of the religiously-afflicted; and then when they’re called out on it, they play the victim card. And even if his words aren’t proof enough of his arrogance, one has to look no further than the tattoo on his chest: only the supremely arrogant (and/or narcissistic) get a chest tattoo of their own name in a whimsical font.

    I used to work in a warehouse where a dozen or so Tongans worked: very friendly people, and very religious. I think the missionaries had their way with the Tongans on their island long ago and the damage is generational. Such is the power of religious indoctrination.

    Think of all the harm missionaries inflict upon the world. Trump’s admin recently gave a grant to The Family Research Council (or one of those christian outfits) to battle AIDS in Africa. Are they going there armed with information, prophylactics, contraceptives and beneficial drugs? No, they are armed with a simple message: abstinence. A tactic proven over and over to fail; their “good deeds” will eventually kill people. Such is the foolishness of your average christian missionary.

    • The Catholics already tried the abstinence method in Africa. The result was predictable. Literally millions died as a result. What’s the bet that the revolting FRC thinks their religion is better and the Africans are more likely to listen. More religious arrogance. As far as I’m concerned, these people are killers. Believing they’re doing the right thing is not an excuse. It’s like drinking and driving. I’d love to see them prosecuted for manslaughter in the international courts. Going to Africa isn’t even about helping people imo. It’s about getting points towards getting into heaven, and probably to make up for some sexual sin they’ve committed back home. You’re a paedophile? Don’t worry. Go and kill a few African babies to make up for it.

    • nicky says:

      There is no doubt that of the ABC (Abstinence, Be faithful, Condoms) countering AIDS, the ‘C’ is the most important by far. I’m sure these missionaries know that, or at least they have all the info to know that. I do not think it is foolishness, I think it it is evil, I suspect that in the back of their minds must be something like “if they can’t abstain, they somehow deserve it”.

  4. nicky says:

    I always found it disturbing when a rugby or football player points up after scoring a try or goal. I get some consolation by realising they might just as well point down, after about twelve hours ‘down’ is ‘up” (revolving Earth) . 🙂
    Do they believe in a flat Earth? Or do they think God is always just hovering above them, drone-like, turning round with our planet? Or what?
    And what makes them think the God(s) is/are on their side? Hubris, I’m not really sure that is a deadly sin for Christians (IIRC, it is though), but for the Ancient Greeks, the Olympians, it was the worst of all sins.

    • I find the thanking God after scoring thing intensely annoying too, and hated it even more when I was a Christian. They pretend they’re being humble and acknowledging they couldn’t have done it without God. But the truth is they’re saying they’re really special because God chose them to score, and in particular God likes them better than those who tried to stop them. If God thought they were as special, there’d be no try or whatever. As you say, arrogance in the extreme.

      • N Walsh says:

        Agree, shades of Tim Tebow, although he didn’t denigrate gays that I know. Of all the major North America sports I think hockey is the only one that doesn’t have a saluting of Jesus after scoring and that’s probably because most teams are filled with Canadians and Europeans.

  5. Claudia Baker says:

    As if his imaginary god gives a flying fuck if he scores a goal. Ridiculous.

    • Yeah. God currently has his hands full keeping Trump in the presidency. What are the Evangelicals going to think when God fails? They already think demonic forces are attacking Trump. Will it mean that the Devil is stronger than God? Or will Trump be a false prophet? Sounds like a fun idea for a post!

      • nicky says:

        If I were a Christian I’d think the End of Times would be neigh. As a Christian I’d think that Mr Trump might figure pretty well as the Anti-Christ.
        At least he does great on the ‘Seven Cardinal Sins’:
        1- Lust? Check!
        2- Gluttony? Check! (and not even great food)
        3- Greed? Check!
        4- Sloth? Check! (played more golf in one year than his predecessor during a full term)
        5- Wrath? Check! (and petty at that)
        6- Envy? Check, double check!
        7- Pride? Check, triple check!

        • The Anti-Christ is supposed to be a smooth talker, able to fool the faithful.

          Ironically, a quarter of Republicans (and you can guess which ones!) thought Obama might be the Anti-Christ because he was such a good speaker, but they weren’t having a bar of him!

    • nicky says:

      The great Johan Cruyff, arguably the greatest footballer ever (I do think so*), playing for, and coaching Barcelona for long stretches of time, put it this way: “In Spain all 22 players make the sign of the cross before they enter the pitch. If it works, all matches must therefore end in a draw.”
      Needless to add he was an atheist, meseems. 🙂

      * [Maybe on the field Mr Messi or Mr Maradonna were (arguably) even greater, but Cruyff was such a clever, insightful, intelligent player. More importantly, he also invented ‘Total Football’ (all players must be able to change roles, able to do everything, and making a tactical plan for that) as well as the ‘Tic-Tac’ football (the quick short passes game): he changed the sport more than anyone ever did. He made it “The Beautiful Game”].

      • Federico Bär says:

        Funny to realize that I agree with a comment on football in a thread about Christian Morality.

        I share your admiration and above all, your characterization of Johan Cruyff as a clever player and coach. One of his many quotes says:

        +Speed is often confused with insight. When you start running earlier than the others, you appear faster+.

        Pieter Winsemius, a Dutch businessman, university professor and a member of a governmental council, has written a book on “Johan Cruyff and Leadership”. In Dutch; I regret that apparently, there is no translation into English available.

        • nicky says:

          Yes, “speed is often confused with insight. When you start running earlier than the others, you appear faster”, he was not the fastest of runners, although very agile, he appeared so fast just because of that: he somehow predicted what was going to come, and hence was so often already running to the right place at the right time. And (AFAIK) he never pointed to the heavens after scoring or ‘making’ a goal. Contrary to most modern footballers, Messi being one of the few notable exceptions, he also rarely, if ever, feigned an injury.
          There was also some evolution in his play, he started as a “goaltjesdief”, a Dutch term meaning ‘stealer of little goals’, an opportunistic striker, he developed later into a midfielder, an architect and then into a great designer of strategy (The ‘Total Football’ and ‘Tic-Tac’ game mentioned earlier) .
          I think he died last year.

  6. Federico Bär says:

    I like this logic diagram on prayers:

    Is your wish within God’s Plan?
    – If it is, prayer is not necessary
    – If it is not, prayer is of no use.

    And now I am very pleased with the above cartoon showing that prayer CAN be useful!

  7. Rick Longworth says:

    I’m unfamiliar with the characters involved or much of anything at all in this controversy, but it sounds dreadfully similar to many situations in the US news. A much admired sports hero who’s a Christian fundamentalist thrusts forth his ridiculous views influencing lots of people. Let me express my sympathies toward all the harm this character inflicts and hope that he becomes deprogrammed at some point in his life.

  8. Coel says:

    A worthwhile question is whether it is legitimate for an employer to control someone’s speech outside work contexts that have nothing to do with the employer. Everyone is surely entitled to a private life and to make public statements as part of that private life.

    While Folau’s remarks are bigoted, he does have a point that it is equally bigoted to say that Folau should not be allowed to voice his religious views.

    • nicky says:

      You have a point there, he has that right. But I think we have the right to find his stances bigoted, odious and unworthy.

    • It depends on the situation. Because of his job, Folau is a major public figure who is looked up to by many, including children. Apart from the part of his contract specifically related to homophobic remarks, he’s not supposed to make comments that bring the ARU into disrepute.

      The NZRU has just elected Michael Jones to its Board. When he was a player, he refused to play on Sundays. He has fundamentalist Christian views too. His statement was that Folau was a friend and he understood where he was coming from, but that he could have shown a lot more grace in the way he expressed himself.

      TJ Perenara has received praise from the All Blacks coach for his statements on Twitter.

      • Coel says:

        But does being a public figure mean one loses the right to speak ones mind in public and declare ones religious views? I don’t think it does.

        Does being a high-profile public figure mean that ones employer then has the right to regulate your private speech?

        That’s more arguable, but as a free-speech advocate I’d answer that no it doesn’t. The employer should merely regulate any speech that directly concerns the job, and regard anything outside that as not their business (and the media and everyone else should accept that principle and not go after the employer).

        • He has a contract that includes not bringing his employer into disrepute and not making homophobic statements either on the job or publicly. He signed that contract.

          He can hold those views, he can speak about them openly in private situations. That includes his church.

          I agree that most people should be able to hold and express those views outside their job, and being a public figure shouldn’t change that. In this case, Folau signed a contract. He is bound by that contract.

          I don’t know what the Australian constitution says about freedom of speech. It may be that Folau could challenge his contract on the grounds that it’s unconstitutional. However, in the meantime, he needs to abide by it.

  9. Evan says:

    Heather: 1st point – you state “Folau has been a strongly committed fundamentalist Christian his entire life…” um, with respect, you don’t understand the Christian faith (on this point, and, sadly, in general). NO ONE can be such a one their entire life – the Bible is very clear that we can only become Christians once we realise that we are sinners, which pre-supposes some time period (after we become self-aware) of living in rebellion against God – its often referred to as the “BC” part of one’s life.

    Which brings me to my second point: Israel has been very clear that he got his tattoos during his “BC” period, AND that he greatly regrets them (ie: he has had a change of heart about – repented of – getting them).

    Which leads to Point 3: you state that he posted that “all gays are going to hell”, as if it’s an absolute – if you are going to quote someone, please do it properly/fairly. His post also says: “repent” and “… Jesus saves” – the same message (in different words) as his first post on the subject, when, in answer to the very loaded question (from someone who is NOT neutral on this topic): “What is god’s (sic) plan for gays?” he said: “Hell… unless they repent”. (Personally, I think it would have been far better for all concerned if he had replied along these lines: (‘What is God’s plan for gays?’ ) – Peace. Freedom. Joy. Contentment. And more. In this life, and the next – once they are willing to humble themselves, and surrender their hearts and lives to Jesus Christ. That is God’s plan for ALL of us. That is why He allowed His Son to take on our humanity, and our punishment, and die in our place. But because we are made in God’s image, with the (risky) gift of free will, God CANNOT and WILL NOT force us to accept His free gift of peace and right-standing with Him in and thru Jesus Christ. Yeah. I really wish Izzy had couched his reply in those terms. Still truthful, but more positive, and less polarising)

  10. Evan says:

    BigKillK: with respect, if it turns out (as it will) that Jesus does judge us all (as Izzy was warning about, but in a negative and polarising way – see my reply to Heather), then I think that your comment will turn out to be all the negative things that you mentioned in it. I hope and pray that that thought gives you pause.

  11. Evan says:

    And Heather: my reply to BigBillK also applies to your reply to him. Sadly, I don’t think you can see it, but you are being just as arrogant and cruel as you accuse Izzy/ Christians of being

  12. Evan Sweney says:

    BigBillK: can I humbly ask what Christians are delusional and wilfully ignorant of? If it’s re: Creation and evolution, then I would appreciate a chance to reply. I won’t be arrogant. There are some issues that I think all thoughtful people need to consider, and are not widely known. Cheers

    • One thing I think Christians are delusional about is the fact that there’s no proof whatsoever that Jesus even existed.

      You accept scripture, but the Bible is simply wrong from its opening verse about how how the world and people were created.

      The Bible constantly contradicts itself, and there’s a lot of pretty evil stuff in there. I find Christians tend to go for the religion that interprets it in a way that they like. For example, the Bible has a lot more to say about not eating shellfish that homosexuality, but the shellfish thing is ignored. And the Bible says eating anything made from pigs etc is an abomination, but I bet that doesn’t stop most Christians from eating them.

      I actually agree that whether or not you are a Christian is a decision that someone should make freely as an adult. However, most people don’t get that chance because they’re inculcated in the religion of their parents from earliest childhood.

      Just to let you know, your comments didn’t come up at first because you’d never commented before. You will have no problem now, as long as you follow the Comments Guidelines. I appreciate your efforts to debate the issues without vitriol.

  13. Evan says:

    MarkR: you speak of the “harm caused” by Christian missionaries in Tonga, and elsewhere: tell me, have you ever been to Fiji, and had one of the locals show you the rock where they used to smash the skulls of strangers and enemies before cooking and eating them? (That was before the missionaries introduced them to Christ). Did you happen to ask the Tongans themselves that you used to work with whether they thought Christianity had had a positive or negative effect on their society, or did you just assume (bcoz of your worldview) that it was negative?

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