Israel Folau has been sacked. Rugby Australia could have handled the situation differently. But in the end, it was Folau’s own doing, and he knew it, so cannot escape responsibility. To his credit, it appears that he accepts his punishment.
Folau knew how his post would be heard. He claims it was written in love: what he posted was bound to be heard as the opposite.
I think I have some credibility to comment on this: for four years I was the CEO of an inter-denominational Christian agency. Our main ministry was in a secular context. I learned that I was constrained in what I could say. Very constrained. But paradoxically, I learned that I could say anything at all – if I said it the right way.
Effective communication requires you to think yourself into the shoes of the audience. It requires understanding their context, and, specifically, to communicate Christian truth, you must appreciate their beliefs: what they believe and how they express it.
Israel Folau’s post was based on I Corinthians 6:9-10. He added to it the command to ‘Repent’ and ‘Jesus saves.’ He invokes God’s mercy for repentant sinners, a central Christian teaching. However, I Cor. 6:9-10 was not written for non-believers: it was written for ‘brothers and sisters’. What is more, it was written for believers of the 1st Century. Its language does not cut through in the 21st Century; or it cuts through in the wrong way.
Folau’s Instagram followers include non-believers. If he was genuinely warning sinners to repent, then he should have known that they would not hear his message that way. He had already amended I Cor. 6:9-10 to include mercy for the repentant: he could have ditched “hell” and crafted a sermon to be heard!