Israel Folau's fund-raising: what in the name of God is going on here?

Guys, we’ve got a teachable moment going on here.

After the crowd-funding site GoFundMe dumped Israel Folau’s plea for A$3 million to cover legal fees for his unfair dismissal claim against Rugby Australia, the Australian Christian Lobby offered to host it. The response has been gobsmacking. Two days later, the fund is trending towards $2 million, almost tripling the amount he had raised on GoFundMe. At one point, $1000 was being donated every minute.

Folau’s transformation from a rugby icon into a fund-raising magnet is one of those rare and mysterious events which amazes everyone. Such was death of Diana, or 9/11, or the OJ Simpson trial. No one planned it this way: no one could have planned it.

His story presents a tangled jumble of issues from homophobia to corporate tyranny to the future of Christianity – topics which rarely get aired in the media. Here’s our opportunity to ask Big Questions which would normally be ignored, sneered at or blown away in a Twitter storm. Set aside petty issues such as whether Folau has been greedy, or whether ACL will administer his funds properly, or whether he is saintly enough to cast stones at sinners. This affair has ascended from a personal grievance to a social phenomenon which transcends Israel Folau himself. 

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Does scepticism about the homosexual lifestyle really harm gay youth? Another legend in the world of Rugby League, openly gay footballer Ian Roberts, has often been quoted in this stoush: “there are literally kids in the suburbs killing themselves ... I'm not implying that Israel's responsible solely for that; please don't take it that way. But it's these types of these comments and these off-the-cuff remarks ... when you have young people and vulnerable people, kids in the suburbs who are dealing with their sexuality, confused, not knowing how to deal with it ... these types of remarks can and do push people over the edge."

So could Folau’s Instagram post have pushed some kids into committing suicide? This possibility instantly shuts down debate. But is it true?

There’s very little solid research on whether stigma leads to suicide. The jury is still out. A few years ago, a respected expert on gay youth, Ritch Savin-Williams, of Cornell University’s Sex & Gender Lab, was asked about it after some widely-publicised suicides. He responded:

“It is important to point out in these moments of grief that there is absolutely no scientific evidence of an ‘epidemic of gay youth suicide,’ or even that gay youth kill themselves more frequently than do straight youth ...

His theme was that gay teenagers are more robust than people think:

... to assert that there is an epidemic of gay youth suicide is not only speculative but also irresponsible because of the message it delivers to gay youth: ‘be prepared to kill yourself.’ Indeed, most gay youth love their life and wouldn’t change their sexuality even if they had a magic pill to do so. Is this not the better message to deliver?”

We hear a lot about homophobia. What about Christianophobia? Australian journalists have no compunction about publishing appallingly hostile, grotesquely distorted, accounts of Christian beliefs.

Here’s Steve Mascord, rugby league journalist at The Roar, mangling the Scriptures:

Among some of the teachings in the Bible, according to multiple interpretations, are that a master has the right to mistreat slaves in a perverse way, selling your daughter is cool, cannibalism and incest are normal in some circumstances, disabled people are banned from church, eating and killing kids is also justifiable and many, many other BC-based horrors.

Because we seem to think we need religion for something or other, we turn a blind eye to these savage teachings. Folau has reminded us they are there. Instead of facing up to the contradictions he has highlighted, we have chosen to continue deluding ourselves that imagined sorcery from 2000 years ago and a modern, inclusive and progressive society are compatible.

Or here’s former Wallaby turned journalist Peter FitzSimons in a typical attack on the beliefs of Christians:

But, if you say: ‘‘I seriously believe, as a grown adult, that there is a really good supernatural being, called ‘God’, in a paradise above the clouds called ‘heaven’, and a really bad one beneath us, called the ‘Devil’, living in ‘hell’, and though God must have created some beings as being attracted to their own gender, because he created everything, he still so hates his children for having that same-sex attraction, he will send them to hell …’’ we’re all meant to back off… Most of us can laugh off such nonsense.

If, say, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney had spoken about homosexuals with the same bitterness and contempt, there would be an uproar.

Is Christianity on the ropes? Let’s do the maths: if it costs you $0.00 to demonstrate your commitment with a tweet, how much are the 10,000 tweets in a Twitter storm worth? Still $0.00. But at last count, at least 10,000 people had expressed their commitment with about $100 each to donate to Folau’s legal defence fund. Not all of those were Christians, but it’s safe to assume that most of them were. That level of generosity suggests that Christians are deeply committed to their beliefs.

The prestige of Christian churches has taken a big hit in recent years, especially after the sex-abuse scandals and the jailing of Cardinal George Pell. It’s commonly believed, even by Christians, that young people are deserting their ancient faith, that churches are empty, that the clergy are disappearing, that Christianity is dying. It’s time to question this cliché. The resilience of Christianity has obviously been underestimated.

Does a powerful LGBTIQ lobby exist?  The consensus is that there is none. Horror of homophobia, support for transgenderism, and acceptance of gay marriage are just welcome signs of a progressive society casting off the shackles of traditional morality. But the Folau affair makes one sceptical of the conventional wisdom.

It’s hard to escape the perception that there was a coordinated effort to crush Folau by LGBTIQ-friendly media and corporations. Openly gay Qantas CEO Alan Joyce made it crystal clear that he expected Rugby Australia, which Qantas sponsors, to severely discipline Folau. Banking giant ANZ, which sponsors New Zealand netball, made it clear that it was unhappy with Folau’s wife, a professional netballer, supporting her husband on social media.

Remember that Joyce told a gay newspaper during the same-sex marriage campaign, “We have 580 companies involved with the [Australian Marriage Equality] ad campaign. If you’re unhappy with a company that’s involved with the campaign you won’t be able to bank and you won’t be able to fly anywhere.”

We don’t need a conspiracy theory; we’ve already got Alan Joyce. It’s is time to ask some hard questions about how corporations use their social and financial muscle to bring about social change.  

Is there a thread linking President Donald Trump, Australia’s 2019 miracle election, possible (God forbid) Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Israel Folau? This is one for serious political scientists. Does the outpouring of support for Folau represent simply a repudiation of Rugby Australia’s administration? Or is it a revolt by “quiet Australians” against the stifling hand of the elites? In Australia, the US and the UK elections have been won against all the odds by leaders who bucked the moral and social orthodoxies trumpeted by the media, the education establishment and progressive politicians. What does the astonishing support for Folau say about free speech, about fears of religious discrimination -- about the next election?

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet


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