I can’t help feeling that when rugby player Israel Folau was outed for representing an outdated form of religious bigotry he should not have had to shoulder the entire blame for the teaching he has been encouraged to follow. I guess many of us were not surprized when Destiny Church Bishop Brian Tamaki tweeted his support. Certainly I personally totally reject Folau’s certainty that all unrepentant gays are destined to hell, yet I suspect Izzy’s main fault was uncritical acceptance of the teaching of a series of conservative Church leaders and further, no worse than a failure to recognise that some parts of the Bible do not represent universal and timeless truths that should apply to all people for all time.
I accept Izzy Folau was quite correct that even St Paul in his letter to the Corinthians not only consigns unrepentant gays to hell but also suggests a similar fate for the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, thieves, drunkards, swindlers and the greedy (and those with haughty eyes!!). But don’t forget that if we accept all other passages, presumably we might have to set aside the rather generous pay for sportsmen like …ahem….Folau, which might make Izzy himself rather difficult to squeeze through the eye of a needle along with Bishop Brian Tamaki and most of the TV preachers of the mega Churches even if they pretend to voice Folau’s same concern. Yet I must also make clear that I suspect many of the Bible’s certainties must now be rethought in terms of modern societies, modern knowledge and modern concerns.
Where perhaps Israel Folau may have more to offer is in his insistence that some main biblical principles should be considered. Where he may need wiser counsel is in recognising which principles are important and which are more a reflection of human limitations on the part of the Bible writers. For example I would have thought given the large number of directives in the Bible eg 613 Old Testament laws, the selection of key teachings turns out to be more important than highlighting those which seem to have more to do with the passing communal needs of a tribe.
In Old Testament times no doubt it mattered that reproduction to build the tribe to survival levels mattered. In that context there would be little sympathy for homosexuality with a warrior race. When the tribe grew to the point when others like those who did not share the mainstream faith became part of the wider community, teaching such principles needed a rethink . Just for instance….. Despite his acceptance of the wide set of ethical principles peculiar to the Jews of his day Paul’s main teaching was that the main key to following Jesus was an acceptance of the Love Principle (First Corinthians Ch. 13). When we look at the way minorities, new immigrants and those come seeking acceptance are received in our age I would have thought this Jesus love principle becomes more urgent.
So no, I no longer accept that slavery is acceptable even although I know the Bible permits it and even tells me where I am to buy my slaves (from neighbouring countries … er ….like Australia??) I asked the barber across the road from my own Church to trim my sideboards even although I know the death penalty for this heinous crime is proscribed in the book of Leviticus. I wonder too if all conservative Christians would see me as destined for eternal fire because, as a guest preacher, I invited a highly articulate woman to read one of the readings in my Church service last Sunday even although I know Paul said that women must be silent in services of worship. I even turned a conveniently blind eye when I noted her head was not covered. In this enlightened age I hardly ever wish to smash a baby against the rocks even although I know that in Psalm 137 God would rejoice in my so doing if the baby’s parents came from the wrong tribe. Knowing that he-man warriors and breeding couples are no longer critically important for the survival of the religious community I am relaxed in my toleration of homosexual behaviour even although I do not share those particular desires.
I have always enjoyed irony. If the Victorian missionaries from mainstream churches introduced a form of fundamentalism to the Pacific Island churches there is a certain rough justice that those who emerge from the same Pacific Island churches today now come to this part of the world spouting a morality which seems a little quaint. I guess even large denominations like the Roman Catholic Church retain some of the ancient teachings and I happen to know that some Catholics want us to know that those who use contraception are just as likely to finish up in the burning sulfur pit as those naughty gays.
By all means reject Israel Folau’s view that we are still committed to standard fundamentalist teaching such as the certainty that unrepentant homosexual rugby players will finish in the fiery furnace but if you are concerned at his intolerance, at the very least direct the criticism towards those who promulgate a teaching that now has little to offer a society where as a minimum, faith must be consistent with the findings from scientific discovery and psychological study.