MUNGO MacCALLUM. Israel Folau and the problem with fundamentalist religion.

The Israel Folau saga is finally moving to the tribunals – first to the Fair Work Commission, and if that does not produce a result, on the Federal Court and perhaps beyond.  

It was inevitable of course – a high profile case and. more crucially, one involving millions of dollars. No lawyer worth his silk was going to bypass that sort of opportunity of a heap of free publicity and a shitload of money.

Ostensibly it is a dispute over a contract between Folau and the Rugby Australia, but it has been conflated into a major battle over religion and free speech: should an employer have the right to sack an employee who defies a ruling not to proselytise his belief that homosexuals are sinners who will go to hell if they did not turn to God. It is up to the various judges to sort this out, but in the meantime it is worth unpacking just what he said and its implications. The full list of those Folau warned were hell-bound was: drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, atheists and idolaters. But he offered a get out clause – they could escape their fate if they repented. Well, perhaps most of them could – all but one of those alleged sins are matter of choice so repentance may be an option. But homosexuality is not a choice – it is matter of birth, what we now call genetics. Demanding repentance for what cannot change is both cruel and pointless – as silly as telling Folau to repent for being Polynesian. This is where the offence lies: young Christians trying to deal with their inherent sexuality are to be condemned to damnation. And because they are who they are, there can be no escape. It is a recipe for rejection, trauma and despair.

Some apologists have tried to play this down: one of the more absurd said that all Folau was saying was that they would have to sit in the naughty chair. But that is not what his faith states: it declares unequivocally that they will be cast into a flaming pit to be tormented for all eternity, a bit more severe than ten minutes in the sin bin. As a devout Episcopalian, Folau must follow his scripture.

However, his fellow Pentecostal , Scott Morrison, disagrees: after some prodding, he said he did not believe homosexuals would go to hell because God loves everyone. But hang on: Folau’s key defence is that he is simply quoting St Paul, the bible, the word of God. So which part of the bible does Morrison reject?

Apparently which ever bits do not suit him. For instance, he is clearly not interested in Jesus’s ideas about the Good Samaritan approach when it comes to to asylum seekers.

And when it involves money, his aspirational agenda is not that Christians should forsake all their wealth and give it to the poor, they should accumulate as much as possible and then hang on to it rather than pay taxes to Caesar. None of this goody goody stuff about camels and needle’s eyes: in the gospel according to ScoMo, St Peter will roll out the red carpet to welcome the super rich into heaven. Folau himself is asking for $10 million in damages, and that may be just for starters.

Which is the problem with fundamentalist religion: you can’t just cherry pick the bits that suit your agenda – it is all or nothing. And that is why Australia is a secular democracy, and it is tempting to say, thank God for that.


Mungo MacCallum is a veteran political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy.

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11 Responses to MUNGO MacCALLUM. Israel Folau and the problem with fundamentalist religion.

  1. Aah Kay says:

    There are a lot of people who have not yet shaken all of the pseudo-religious brainwashing detergent out of their heads, people who will echo Folau’s statements onto his targets, much like dogs echo ambulance sirens, thinking that they are real howls from the alphas that must be obeyed

    That’s the problem.

  2. Hal Duell says:

    Israel Folau reckons that seven types of behaviour will earn those involved a trip straight to hell.
    So what?

  3. Evan Hadkins says:

    Good grief Mungo. Your prejudices are showing.

  4. Geoff Andrews says:

    He’s just a naughty boy.

  5. Mungo MacCallum says:

    To Barney, if you acknowledge must of the bible depends on metaphor, who is to decide which bits do and which don’t? And appealing to what suits you is hardly convincing.Andfor Conrad, I have always regarded Faith as the least appealing of the triplets. I find her sisters Hope and Charity far more attractive.

  6. Terry Mills says:

    On Folau.

    It seems that this matter will be fought out in the courts based on a contention by Folau that his right to freedom of religion and freedom of speech has been infringed by his employer, Rugby Australia. They in turn will point to their player’s code of conduct which applies to all players and includes the following :

    1.3 Treat everyone equally, fairly and with dignity regardless of gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, cultural or religious background, age or disability. Any form of bullying, harassment or discrimination has no place in Rugby.

    1.4 Do not repeatedly breach the Laws of the Game relating to Foul Play or Misconduct (as those terms are defined in World Rugby Regulations).

    1.5 Accept and respect the authority of a referee, assistant referee, touch judge or other match or team official. Do not abuse, threaten or intimidate, use crude language or gestures, or show unnecessary obvious dissension, displeasure or disapproval towards a referee, touch judge or other match official, whether on or off the field, or a selector, coach, manager or other team official.

    1.6 Do not make any public comment that is critical of the performance of a match official, player, team official, coach or employee/officer/volunteer of any club or a Union; or on any matter that is, or is likely to be, the subject of an investigation or disciplinary process; or otherwise make any public comment that would likely be detrimental to the best interests, image and welfare of the Game, a team, a club, a competition or Union.

    Folau has declined mediation and is going after a $10million settlement from Rugby Australia which could bankrupt the code.

    Just saying !

  7. Barney Zwartz says:

    Mungo has identified a key difference, as he says, in the various groups Folau (and the Bible) named. It is not quite as bleak as he suggests. In traditional Protestant theology, it is no sin to have a homosexual orientation, only to act it out. This is exactly the same as for heterosexuals, outside marriage. In my biblical understanding, monogamous homosexuals and monogamous heterosexuals are in the same position, as are promiscuous homosexuals and promiscuous heterosexuals. I understand that this may not satisfy Mungo, but it is slightly more nuanced.
    And how does Mungo understand hell? This is not nearly as simple as he portrays. The Bible uses only metaphors, and opposite ones at that – the flames of Gehenna (the rubbish dump outside Jerusalem) and the outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. Both seem metaphors for separation from God. No room to explore that here, but many Christians believe an eternal sleep would satisfy those verses – permanent separation from God, but no torture.

  8. Conrad Drake says:

    The pictures of Mr. Folau shows that he ignores at his mortal peril Leviticus 19:27 & 19:28. And, given that he plays professionally all weekend, Leviticus 23:8.

    He would do well to consider the words of Our Lord in Matthew 7:3 and Matthew 23:13. And then John 4:20:23 or Mathew 22:36-39.

    Now I must confess to a fondness for the Gospels. But even standing on the shoulders of scholarly giants from Socrates to Turing via Aquinas, I struggle to comprehend God within the contradictions of the various religious texts (which, we’re told, are all literally true). As such, I have decided to concentrate on Faith rather than Dogma.

    And this is a key point: any debate on religious freedom needs to tease apart these two constructs. They take us, in the name of God, to utterly different outcomes. One is a path of humility, the other leads directly to the atrocities of ISIS.

  9. Well said Mungo. The failure of the established churches — Roman Catholic and Anglican — to criticise Folau and the fundamentalists is a fatal mistake on their part. Israel Folau is being manipulated by the Right. I think and I hope that they have misjudged the public mood.

  10. They all cherry pick. They have to because of all the contradictions and inconsistencies.

    • Evan Hadkins says:


      Most fundamentalists are inclined to cherry pick. I haven’t heard any of them campaigning for a revival of Levirate marriage for instance.

      Contradictions and inconsistencies is another matter. The traditional Christian discussion is about the letter and the spirit.

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