Social media is getting people into trouble. More than ever before, more people can say more things to a wider audience using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And they are sometimes saying them without thinking of the consequences.
The freedom to express oneself declaring opinion and belief are a fundamental element of western democracy. The attitude: I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to
the death your right to say it, ascribed to Voltaire by his biographer Evelyn Hall[i], has for more than two centuries expressed the sentiments of the liberal enlightenment toward freedom of thought and speech.
However, we seem to be experiencing a change in the twenty-first century. Last week, the Australian rugby player Israel Folau shared some statements on Twitter and Instagram. With reference to the decision of the Tasmanian legislature to permit gender optional birth certificates he tweeted the caution: the devil has blindsided so many people in this world, repent and turn away from your evil ways. He followed up on Instagram with the post of an image that proclaimed hell awaits drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters. He stated: those that are living in Sin will end up in Hell unless you repent and concluded: Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him.[ii]
Folau has been stepped down from responsibilities with the Australian national rugby team. They stated their intention to sack him: “‘in the absence of compelling mitigating factors’, having previously warned the 30-year-old player against sharing material that ‘condemns, vilifies or discriminates against people on the basis of their sexuality’”.[iii]
Folau may have made his comments in an insensitive way, however the heart of what he said comes straight from scripture. Speaking to the Corinthian church and condemning the behavior of the wider community Paul says: Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were.[iv] In addition to expressing scripture Folau underlined his belief in the redemptive love of Christ.
Folau’s words, along with those of many others who have spoken out against homosexuality and the homosexual agenda, have been described as homophobic. Now I always understood a phobia to be a fear of something, whether rational or not. The word comes from the Greek φοβια denoting an irrational anxiety inspiring dread or terror and inspiring flight. The word homophobia was coined by the psychologist George Weinberg who believed the hatred of homosexuals in 1960s America stemmed from that literal fear.[v] Unfortunately, regardless of the accuracy of Weinburg’s thesis, the word became associated with that hatred. Thus, fear becomes inextricably aligned with hatred among some.
I do not hate homosexuals, nor do I personally know any Christians who express hatred of homosexuals. I am however, deeply concerned about the homosexual agenda. Similarly, where the word Islamophobia is concerned, I do not hate Muslims, but I am concerned about the agenda of Islamism and radical Islamic movements toward non-Muslims. I am also not fearful of either of these categories of people. I therefore do not believe that if I speak out regarding these concerns, I should be accused either of homophobia or Islamophobia.
The Israel Folau story does not end with his remarks and censure. English national team rugby player Billy Vunipola liked Folau’s post. He was then asked by several of his friends to unlike the post. He responded on Instagram saying:
So, this morning I got 3 phone calls from people telling me to ‘unlike’ the @izzyfolau post. 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.
According to the Guardian, Vunipola now faces potential disciplinary action, though any action to be taken on the part of the English Rugby Football Union has been further confused by several other squad members liking the post and even posting replies in support of Vunipola’s right to express his opinion.[vi] [It’s also worth noting that the England team are one of the favorites to win this year’s Rugby World Cup]
As I read the remarks of both these men, I admire their courage in graciously speaking up about what they believe. We seem to be living in an age when objective truth, even when spoken in love, is regarded as intolerant. It is sad that some who regard it so often themselves complain of not being tolerated.
Folau, speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald stated: In Ezekiel, chapter 33, verse 11, it says, that ‘God has no pleasure in the person that’s living in sin,’ He’s a loving God and he wants people to turn away from what they’re living in and he’ll give them life. That’s the message I’m trying to share, even though it comes across as harsh. I can’t change what the word of God says. … those that live for Christ will be persecuted for his name. I have love towards everyone that might be saying negative things. I choose to love them because God loves me. [vii]
All of us who claim Christ as our Lord and Savior, need to remember that we should interpret the world around us through the eternal word of God, and not become guilty of interpreting that word through the prevailing whims of our culture.
[i] Hall, Evelyn Beatrice – The Friends of Voltaire, New York Putnam’s Sons, 1907, p.199
[iii] The Guardian, April 14,2019
[iv] I Corinthians 6:9-11
[v] Weinberg, George H.- Society and the Healthy Homosexual, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1972, p.10
[vi] The Guardian online April 12, 2019 – http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/apr/12/rfu-will-speak-to-billy-vunipola-social-media-israel-folau-england-saracens (accessed April 14, 2019)
[vii] Sydney Morning Herald online April 14, 2019 – http://www.smh.com.au/sport/rugby-union/i-m-more-than-happy-to-do-what-he-wants-me-to-do-unrepentant-folau-20190414-p51dyw.html (accessed April 14, 2019)