In Depth

Israel Folau: Australian rugby star condemned for linking bushfires to ‘sinful’ homosexuality

Former Wallabies player back in the sin-bin over remarks during church sermon

Disgraced rugby player Israel Folau has sparked anger once again by saying that Australia’s fatal bushfires are “God’s judgement” for the country’s same-sex marriage and abortion laws.

The row comes six months after Folau was sacked by Rugby Australia for making homophobic comments on social media.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has condemned the rugby player’s latest remarks as “appallingly insensitive”.

Who is Folau?

Folau has played both league and union rugby in Australia, and has won 62 caps for the national union side, the Wallabies.

He was raised as a Mormon, but later became an active member of the Assemblies of God fellowship. He cites his religious faith as the basis of his homophobia. His father, Eni Folau, is a pastor.

What’s he said before?

Folau broke ranks with Rugby Australia in 2017 when he publicly announced that he would not support gay marriage, a day after the organisation pledged support for the “Yes” vote in the campaign to make same-sex unions legal in Australia.

In April 2018, Folau posted an Instagram message that said “God’s plan” for gay people was ““HELL…unless they repent their sins and turn to God”.

Rugby Australia said that his comments “did not reflect the views” of the organisation, but did not sanction the player.

A year later, Folau posted a message on Instagram that said: “Warning: drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators. Hell awaits you - repent! Only Jesus saves.”

He added: “Those that are living in sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him.” 

This time, Rugby Australia sacked him. 

“Israel has failed to understand that the expectation of him as a Rugby Australia and NSW Waratahs employee is that he cannot share material on social media that condemns, vilifies or discriminates against people on the basis of their sexuality,” the organisation said in a statement.

“In the absence of compelling mitigating factors, it is our intention to terminate his contract.” 

In response, Folau launched legal proceedings against Rugby Australia with the Fair Work Commission, arguing that it is unlawful to terminate employment on the basis of religion. This was followed by a second legal action in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, in which Folau is seeking an apology, compensation and the right to play again. 

Folau has also continued to publicise his controversial views, including criticising young people for being allowed to change gender, during a sermon at his Sydney church in June.

And now?

Addressing the congregation at his church on Sunday, Folau said that the bushfires that have left six people dead are God’s punishment for Australia legalising abortion and same-sex marriage.

“Look how rapid, these bushfires, these droughts, all these things have come, in a short period of time,” he said during the sermon, posted on The Truth of Jesus Christ Church’s Facebook page. 

“You think it’s a coincidence or not? God is speaking to you guys. Australia, you need to repent and take these laws and turn it back to what is right by God.”

The Guardian reports that Folau then quoted from the Bible’s Book of Isaiah, saying:  “The Earth is defiled by its people - they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant.

“Therefore a curse consumes the Earth - its people must bear their guilt. Therefore Earth’s inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left.”

Amid widespread anger over the sermon, Australian leader Morrison said that Folau “is a free citizen, he can say whatever he likes, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have regard to the grievous offence this would have caused to people whose homes have been burnt down”.

The PM, an evangelical Christian, added that Folau’s views did not represent the views of many Christians “at all” and that their thoughts and prayers “are very much with those who are suffering under the terrible burden of fire”.

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