316. Was The Australian Rugby Union Star, Israel Folau guilty of “hate speech?”

In his article posted on Instagram, Israel Folau posted a coloured warning notice which was based on the Bible passage of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. It read, “WARNING.  Drunks, Homosexuals, Adulterers, Liars, Fornicators, Thieves, Atheists, Idolaters. HELL AWAITS YOU. REPENT! ONLY JESUS SAVES”  He then added a comment, “Those that are living in Sin will end up in Hell. ”  He then addressed his readers, “unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him.”

A difficulty

Part of the difficulty in the situation is that in the one sentence he made a statement based on the Bible passage, but then challenged his readers directly. The Warning notice also ended with a challenge to his readers, “Hell awaits you.” It is one thing to make a statement that people can accept or reject if they wish. It is another to address them directly as “you!” Many people don’t like to be preached at! Even from a distance! Even in a general article addressed to a wide group of people perhaps unknown to the writer!

To what extent were his words “hate speech?” Was he motivated by hate?

A possible motivation for posting what he did, could be seen in the remaining words in his post on Instagram.  He went on to quote a passage from Galatians 5:19-21 which spells out the characteristics of unregenerate human nature. [The nature we were all born with.] It includes some of the behaviours mentioned on the Warning sign. The passage ends with the phrase, “they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

However, Folau did not leave it there. He also added to his post, an answer as to how people could be forgiven of their sins, in the words of Peter in Acts 2:38, “Then Peter said unto them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost’.” The final part of the post was a direct quote from Acts 17:30, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.”

Summing up

It seems then that Folau has taken the opportunity while enjoying some personal time out,  to share part of his Christian beliefs on Instagram. His language was not simple to follow but his intention, judging from the gentle self- deprecating manner for which he is known, appears to have been a genuine concern on his part to help others. It could be argued that far from being “hate speech” it was a demonstration of “love speech” as he tried to be helpful to those who might read his article.

Was Folau correct in what he wrote?

Yes and No! Yes, in the sense that he wrote about God’s revelation of Himself and His will in which He declares through the apostle Paul that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23. Folau was right in listing the characteristics of those who would end up in hell if they failed to repent of their sin and turn to God. But he was wrong to list only those mentioned on the Warning sign. It is true from the teaching of the Bible, that every single person faces the danger of being hell-bound unless they repent and believe.

That is brought out in the passage from John 3:16-18. This passage reads, Jon 3:16  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” This tells us that people are already perishing, but by believing in Jesus they can have eternal life. Or in other words in the verse, they are already condemned but the condemnation is removed when they trust in Jesus. That is the good news!

Was he wise in what he wrote?

Unfortunately he failed to give the full extent of the good news. He failed to quote the next verse [1 Cor 6:11] which gives an encouragement for people to change their behaviour to be able to please God. “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Paul was reminding his readers in the church in Corinth that, by the grace of God, they had changed. Whereas many of them were once guilty of such behaviour, they were now different. They had heard the gospel message. They had come to trust in Jesus and God had done a work on them by the power of His Holy Spirit. Paul described that work as being ‘washed’, ‘sanctified’ and ‘justified.’ He had washed them, meaning He had cleansed them of their sin. He had sanctified them. In other words, He had set them apart to belong to Himself and had begun the process of making them more and more like Himself. He had justified them in the sense that He had brought them into a right relationship with Himself. He now saw them as righteous in His sight.

It would have been better if Israel had added this following verse to show that people in Paul’s day had changed as they responded the gospelcmesssage about Jesus and that change is possible in today’s world, for those for those who wish to live different lives.

We need to remember that the concepts behind the words he used [based on 1 Corinthians 6] have been circulating among humans for about 2,000 years. Folau didn’t invent them. He simply quoted them, as countless other people have done over many centuries.

Motives are important

Paul’s motive? In writing to the believers in Corinth Paul sought to encourage them to remember what God had done for them in His love and power. Once they had not been acceptable to God, nor had their behaviour, but now that had all changed because of their response to His love. They had changed as they repented and turned to God for forgiveness. They became different people with a different mind-set and a vastly different behavioural pattern.

Folau’s motive? One cannot say for sure what his motive was in publishing his post. There seems to be no attempt on his part to put people down. He was speaking generally and not picking on any individual or any particular individual group. He was not seeking to incite violence [which is one of the purposes of hate speech]. It may have been a sincere attempt on his part to warn people that failure to repent of sin and turn to God, has disastrous consequences for humans. If that were so, then he may have been acting in love, in sharing that warning with those who perhaps didn’t know they were in danger. That would mean that his post on Instagram could have been seen as ‘love speech.’ It could be seen that he was seeking to bring a good outcome to those who read his posting. But who can know his or other people’s deepest motivations?

Unfortunately some critics seem to think they do! The responses of some people to his article could be construed as hate-speech as they wrote disparagingly about him as a person in besmirching his character. Some actually wished that harm might come on him, not just in losing his job as a player but wanting physical harm to come upon him. That is hate speech!

The Future?

Folau feels he should attempt to keep alive his career as a Rugby professional playing for the Waratahs and for Australia. I am not qualified to write on the legalities of the situation. One commentator put it simply, “He was under contract and broke the contract, so he is out!” Another questioned whether it is legally possible to draw up a contract that restricts freedom of religion or freedom of speech on social media for the individual being contracted. Especially when Clause 116 of The Australian Constitution contains these words, “The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion ….”  The Folau situation may be more legally complicated than many imagine. I humbly leave it to the experts in the field to resolve the issue!

It is a sad story and there are no simple answers. Much damage has already been done. Some people have already said too much and in the process revealed possible disturbing aspects about their own characters. Some players, being pushed by the media, expressed opinions that may have better been left unsaid.

When “inclusion”becomes “exclusion.”

What is sad to see, is how many people have become involved in virtue-signalling by criticising or even condemning Folau from their own sense of self-righteousness. Others have suggested that Folau would not be welcome in their particular group or establishment. Why? Because He was guilty of hate speech in their opinion! But is he really? Or some suggested that he was not being inclusive enough. Their response to Folau’s supposed lack of inclusiveness? “Let’s exclude him! For ever!” Hypocrisy and double standards abound!

Did Folau use threatening language?

It was sad to read that some folk had seen Folau as guilty of using threatening language in his post. In reality he was not threatening people. Rather out of concern  for his fellow humans, it seems that he took the time to warn people that they were already in a perilous situation from God’s point of view, not just from his own viewpoint. He encouraged them to take the steps necessary for being “saved’ from that certain peril. It is love, not hate, to attempt to save people from danger.

A statement that is often being quoted these days expresses this concept, “Offence is not given, it is taken!” There appears to be much truth in the saying as numerous folk “play the victim.” They take offence when none is intended by the speaker. How tragic it would be if “offence takers” were to shut down any speech or writing that offended them! That is already happening in our world today and it is stultifying any robust good natured discussion on many subjects.

An article by Chris Merritt in the May 11th Weekend Australian makes this point. “In the rest of the world there is no right to be free from offence, as was made clear by Jim Spigelman, a former chief justice of NSW, when he delivered the 2012 Human Rights Day address.” Spigelman’s words were these,  “The freedom to offend is an integral component of freedom of speech. There is no right not to be offended.” 

What is unchanging in a changing world?

The Bible is God’s revealed word to His creation. It is His eternal word which tells us about THE ETERNAL WORD, Jesus the Son of God.  It means when Israel Folau has long gone, and all his detractors are gone, and we are all long gone, that the words of the Bible will still exist. The passage Folau quoted from 1Corinthians 6, and many other Bible verses will still stand in judgment on all people of every generation. But still existing also will be the verses describing God’s incredible love for humankind. For the person living in 2100 and the person alive in 3000, the gospel truths will still be there for them to receive and to act upon,  especially the verse described as “the gospel in a nutshell,” John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

It is God’s word that sits in judgment of us and not vice versa. It tells us how God sees us in our need and what He has done to meet that need in His love, mercy and grace. He has made it possible for all people to be forgiven of their sin, to be given a new life with a renewed mind and a new way of living that is extremely meaningful and advantageous for them and also pleasing to Him.

Many may not agree with how Folau formulated his post on Instagram, nor understand his motive in writing what he did, but it has certainly made some people aware that there are important decisions to be made in life. The decision about what to do with Folau is one of those difficult questions for many people. But the decision about what to with the Jesus of whom he writes, is infinitely more important. The consequences of that decision are eternal!


NOTE 1. The Instagram website of Israel Folau is https://www.instagram.com/p/BwEWt2uHcLI/

BlogNo. 316. Posted on http://www.jimholbeck.blog on Wednesday 8th May 2019




About Jim Holbeck

Once an Industrial Chemist working for the Queensland Government but later an Anglican minister in Brisbane, Armidale and Sydney. Last position for eighteen years before retirement in 2006 was as the Leader of the Healing Ministry at St Andrew's Cathedral Sydney.
This entry was posted in BIBLE PASSAGE OUTLINES, Bible verses. Comments, Evangelism, Forgiveness, Healing, Judgement, Justification, Mental Health, Politics, Prayer, Questions and Answers, Real Life Stories, Salvation, Sanctification, Sexuality and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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