IZZY’S LITTLE LIST
A few days ago a congregation member of a local Pentecostal-type mega church told me that their whole congregation had recently prayed for my salvation. Their leaders had discovered that I had a liberal approach to the Bible and they were understandably concerned I might be leading others in the town down the same slippery path. By coincidence theirs was the same Church who had declined my invitation to an interfaith service to reflect on the recent Christchurch mass shooting of Muslims. I also note that a website for their denomination had material supporting the Australian Rugby star Israel Folau in his recent tweeted diatribe against a whole variety of people destined for the flames of hell.
As it happens, despite the afore-mentioned prayers of the well meaning congregation, I can’t help feeling Folau has been a victim of circumstances. When Israel Folou (an ex Mormon and now member of Assemblies of God) was first outed in 2018 for representing an outdated form of religious bigotry he should not have had to shoulder the entire blame for the teaching he presumably received from years of Church influence. His Church is not alone. I guess last year many of us were not surprised when Destiny Church Bishop Brian Tamaki tweeted his support for Folau.
While personally I totally reject Mr Folau’s certainty that all unrepentant gays are destined to hell, I suspect Izzy’s main fault was uncritical acceptance of the teaching from a whole series of conservative Church leaders, and further, I suspect he was unaware just how out of step his Church’s teaching is with modern mainstream Christianity.
In short, a majority in the wider community now no longer accept that all ancient Bible verses 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 New Testament passages, presumably we might have to question 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 as they echo Folau’s same concern.
If it comes to that, many of the Bible’s early certainties must now be rethought in terms of modern societies, modern knowledge and modern concerns.
Where perhaps Israel Folau would have had more to offer is if he had insisted that some widely accepted 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 e.g. 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. As some wit once observed, God had to choose whether to ban shellfish or slavery in Old Testament times. He chose shell-fish??????
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 more extreme 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 on a recent 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 from 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 appreciated 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 some 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 among large denominations like that of the Roman Catholic Church there are those who retain some of the ancient teachings and I happen to know that some Catholics say they want me 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 and tell him we are no longer 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 Mr Folau’s intolerance, at the very least, direct the criticism towards those who shape and support such teaching that now has little to offer a society where as a minimum, faith must be consistent with the findings from scientific discovery and the needs of a modern Community.