Monday, 22 April 2019

The Old Nag "Shut Your Mouth" Gallops Once More Round the Track

The Game More Fierce Than Rugby

The Israel Folau controversy is highlighting a battleground fiercer than any game of rugby.
Fairfax journalist Peter FitzSimons is leading the tackle count again Izzy Folau. In his latest burst, FitzSimons argues that the only issue here is one of Israel Folau breaking his contract:
“If you cock your ear to the west, you can right now hear the thundering of keyboards, as columnist after columnist, shock jock after shock jock form up thundering rants about how this whole thing is a matter of freedom of speech, and religious freedom.
Oh yes. Despite the demonstrable damage done by Folau last year by putting up homophobic posts – and if saying gays are going to burn in hell isn’t homophobic, pray tell, what does it take? – their genuine position is he should be able to do exactly the same, ad infinitum, until the game and its finances are a smoking ruin.
Because it is about freedom of speech, and freedom of religion! I repeat, it is no such thing.”
There are some flaws in Fitzy’s game plan, as well one strong mode of attack.
Let me explain.

1. The Double Standard of Secular Public Discourse

First, FitzSimons is using the illogic that is now accepted as irrefutable truth in modern Australia:
“Folau can believe whatever he damn well pleases, including the illogical and offensive absurdity that the same omnipotent Lord who made some of his creations attracted to their own gender will also have them burn in the pits of hell for all eternity, for their trouble.
Yes, he can believe that. But when he proselytises those views and puts it in the public domain, despite knowing the hurt it engenders, the damage it does to his employers, and the fact that he is specifically breaching commitments he has made not to do any such thing, then he does not have a legal leg to stand on.”
FitzSimons is saying that Australians like Israel Folau have the right to hold religious views but they must not proselytise (evangelise) or express them in public. The first reason Fitz gives for this is, “it hurts”. Folau’s message isn’t one that embraces the current sexual milieu but is likely to offend people, therefore it’s immoral for him to share his views.
But isn’t FitzSimons doing the same thing for which he condemns Folau? FitzSimons is also persuading us of a point of view, one which many Aussies don’t subscribe to. Fitz is also proselytising like a religious preacher (as is Rugby Australia with its current definition of inclusion).
And so, we see one shortcoming with public discourse in Australia today. Peter FitzSimons and co. assume a ‘neutral’ and ‘objective’ position, against the ‘biased’ religious folk. They’re telling religious people like Folau to stop publicly sharing their faith-based message, while doing exactly the same thing (albeit a different message).
FitzSimons is a classic example of this, but he is by no means alone in playing this game. It is intellectually dishonest, because the public battleground – much less the people involved – is not neutral and objective. As author Jonathan Leeman points out:
“Secular liberalism isn’t neutral, it steps into the public space with a ‘covert religion’, perhaps even as liberal authoritarianism. it depends on beliefs without conclusive evidence.”
Secular liberalism depends on beliefs without conclusive evidence.
Until those who speak in the public domain – like FitzSimons – admit their own ‘religious’ moral presuppositions and agendas, whether they are social commentators or sporting associations, it is near impossible to have an honest and constructive conversation.

2. Is It Possible To Disagree About Sexuality Without Being a Bigot?

Second, if Folau has breached his contract, even if his contract is unjust, he is nonetheless answerable for his actions. On this point, I share partial agreement with FitzSimons.
But this question is yet to have a conclusive answer. There is reasonable doubt as to whether Folau has breached his contract. And even if he did breach his contract, it’s far from certain that he contravened the code of conduct. The code of conduct language is subjective and depends more on one’s pre-set worldview rather than with objective facts.
Rugby officials allege that Israel Folau shared material on social media that “condemns, vilifies or discriminates against people on the basis of their sexuality.”
Is that the case? If you believe that anything other than a complete affirmation of LGBTI rights is bigotry and phobic, then Folau is guilty.
If however, you believe that it’s possible to disagree with some sexual lifestyles for good reasons (without hate), then the answer is no. Jesus is a famous example of someone who didn’t support every sexual lifestyle in First Century Judea, and yet would we argue he was a hate-filled preacher? (Ironically, that is what the Pharisees thought and we know what their game plan turned out to be).
Was Israel Folau insensitive and lacking grace in his comments? Probably. Is that vilifying? No, again unless you think that sportsmen must fully embrace every aspect of LGBTI identity discourse.
The problem is that many of Australia’s cultural powerbrokers are not prepared to admit that disagreement on sexuality issues is not necessarily hateful. Disagreement does not always equate with bigotry. But admitting this concession opens the door to conversation, persuasion and alternate views. And that’s not a road many notable and influential secularists wish to travel.
Disagreement does not always equal bigotry.

3. The Rugby Code of Conduct Is a ‘Religious Manual’

Third, while Fitz is attempting to make the issue solely about Folau breaking his contract, I remember only two years ago, the same Peter FitzSimons insisting that Australian law – the Marriage Act – was immoral and needed to be amended. Was he (and others) content to say, well, the Australian Marriage Act is what it is, and we need to respect that? Far from it. The Marriage Act didn’t fit with Fitz’s worldview and so he joined with others to decry that particular ‘code of conduct’ and demand its change.
You see, despite Fitz’s protestations, this issue is about religious freedom. It’s about the ‘gods of this age’ vying for influence. It’s about a national sporting code (and its chief sponsor) dictating to its players what religious speech is and isn’t permissible. Whether they understand this or not, their code of conduct is a religious manual; there is written intent to influence and control the type of religious beliefs they want to see proclaimed.
Perhaps Izzy did break his word to Rugby Australia, and if so, he ought to apologise. This remains to be seen. But let’s not fool ourselves into accepting the spin that this story has nothing to do with the tolerating Christian beliefs. Underlying this case is the deeper question of whether it is right for a football code to restrict its associates from expressing their personal religious views, including on human sexuality.
One thing I do know: neither Rugby Australia nor an SMH op-ed writer can silence or break the good news message about Jesus Christ. Christians will always find a way to share the most astonishing news that can convert the hardest Atheist and the most committed activist for sexual progressivism. Indeed, the paradox of Easter is that it’s for the very people who oppose its message.
The paradox of Easter is that it’s for the very people who oppose its message.
Tomorrow is Good Friday. It’s a day when we remember the One who said He is God, came into a world that was breaking all His rules. Yet He loved them and laid down his life for them.
Jesus’ code of conduct is more difficult, more beautiful, more imposing and more extravagant than any other:
“[A]t just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)
Praise be to our gracious God!

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