Israel Folau with his wife, Maria, at Kenthurst Uniting Church after a Sunday service.
Picture: Hollie Adams.

Israel Folau

Click here to read Brian Houston's article

Click here to read Tim Elliott's article in SMH in September 2015

Click here to read Greg Sheridan's article in Australian on June 29 2019

Click here to read Brendan O'Neill same day

Israel Folau biography born 3rd April 1989 Minto, south-west Sydney

Moved to Marsden at the start of 2004 (age 14) and went to Marsden State High 2004-2006 (Qld Schoolboys Rugby Union 2005 and Australian Schoolboys 2006). Also played junior rugby league at Goodna Eagles.

2007-2008 (age of 18-19) Melbourne Storm

2009-2010 (age of 20-21) Brisbane Broncos. Bought house for parents in Algester. Signed mid-year 2010 to play AFL in Sydney.

2011-2012 (Age of 22-23) AFL Greater Western Sydney. Bought house for parents in Kellyville in North-west Sydney.

2013-2019 (Age of 24) Full-back at Rugby Union Waratahs in Sydney. In August 2014, part of Waratahs grand final win.
Folau was a supporter of the 2014 Bingham Cup, a rugby competition in support of gay and inclusive rugby. He appeared on the cover of the Star Observer, an Australian LGBTI magazine, to promote the competition.

2013-2019, also part of the Australian Wallabies team at Full-Back. Awarded the Rugby Australia John Eales Medal, the Wallabies' Player of the Year recognition, a record three times, in 2014, 2015 and 2017. Signed a contract with ARU estimated at $1 million a year.

In July 2015, he signed a deal to play for NTT DoCoMo Red Hurricanes in the Japanese Top League. However, Folau did not play for the club due to injury and the relegation of the team to the Japanese second division.

On 23 October 2016 (Age of 27), Folau announced his engagement to New Zealand netball player Maria Tuta'ia. They were married outdoors on a private estate in Kangaroo Valley, 200 kms south of Sydney on 15 November 2017 (Age of 28).

2018 Played for Australia in September-November (Rugby Championship and Autumn Internationals). Last international match was 24 November 2018 (Age of 29) in Twickenham, London against England.

2019 Extract from Wikipedia. Folau's statements about what he understood the Bible to say about same-sex marriage and homosexuality brought him into conflict with the administrators of Rugby Australia, and in 2019, they terminated his contract. Alleging that Rugby Australia terminated his employment on the basis of religion, Folau commenced proceedings in the Fair Work Commission but was unable to reach a settlement. He subsequently commenced proceedings in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and a confidential settlement between the two parties was released on 4 December 2019.

2020 Played for Catalan Dragons based in Perpignan, France, in the British Super League (Rugby League). Had a one year contract with Catalan that was apparently renewed in July 2020 for the 2021 season. The team reached elimination playoffs in November 2020, then the family returned to Australia with a newborn baby son, born that August.

2021 In May the family purchased a four hectare estate in Pullenvale, Brisbane.


A message to Folau: The world doesn't need more judgmental Christians
By Brian Houston
Sydney Morning Herald
April 15, 2019

O Israel - why? This plea could be straight from scripture referring to Israel the nation but instead it was being uttered by many last week - including me - about one of Australia's greatest rugby players.

I admire Israel Folau as not only a sportsperson but as a man who won't compromise his beliefs and is not afraid to stand up for Christ. I respect others who have also been criticised for their beliefs, such as Margaret Court. Freedom of religion is paramount in a society like Australia and no one should be condemned for holding firm convictions.

Yet, as Christians, it is equally important to look at ourselves and our own failings and imperfections. If you look at the list of sins that Izzy listed there's not too many people he's left out, including Christians. There isn't a person on earth who hasn't told a lie or put something before God (idolatry).

While sin is a real issue, the God I know and seek to follow is a God of love. He says that He did not come to condemn the world, He came to save it. And as Christians we would do well to follow the example of the founder of our faith. I believe there is a heaven and a hell but if you study scripture you won't read about Jesus screaming to people that they are all going to hell. In fact Jesus, John the Baptist and the Apostle Paul, all kept their harshest criticism for those who were religious and judgmental.

In 40 years of telling people about the good news of Jesus, I have seen that the "turn or burn", approach to proclaiming the message of Christianity alienates people. Scaring people doesn't draw them into the love of Jesus.

God cared so much for the eternity of humankind that he sent his only son to die in order that he might make a way for restoration and reconciliation. The problem with harsh comments in the media and disparaging statements on social media is that they create a further wedge between God and people.

The world doesn't need more judgmental Christians. In the eyes of many, the church is not relevant to their lives and is seen to be stuck in the past.

But this is not the church I know. The church is a group of diverse (and imperfect) people who have all been captivated and adopted into the same story - with Jesus at the centre. The central storyline of our faith is a story of love and redemption, a story of forgiveness and acceptance, a story of undeserved grace and unreserved mercy. I have been the grateful recipient of all of these truths, and so has Folau, Court and anyone else who has personally experienced the love of Christ.

I would never compromise the integrity of Biblical teaching and I believe that the Bible is clear about the consequences of sin. However, as Christians we are first called to love God and love other people, including those who believe differently to us.

I hope Izzy is extended some grace from all Australians. He is young and sincere and passionate about his relationship with God. We have all made mistakes when it comes to speaking too quickly, judging too harshly or being blinded by our own stubbornness. The world is a better place when we all look at ourselves and recognise our own human failings, and we can extend the same grace to him as we'd like others to show us.

Brian Houston is the global senior pastor of Hillsong Church


Israel Folau believed God broke his ankle against Warriors 'to humble him'
Tim Elliot
Sydney Morning Herald
September 2015, Reprinted Apr 12 2019

Israel Folau has been spotted at Sydney cafe but refused to comment on the furore over his anti-gay posts. In this profile of Israel Folau by Tim Elliott first published in September, 2015, the Wallabies star provided an insight into his upbringing, his struggles with his Tongan parents and his conviction that God broke his ankle as a punishment for 'going out, drinking and hooking up with girls'.

On a cold Saturday night in August last year, some 61,800 people took their seats in Sydney's ANZ Stadium for the Super Rugby grand final. Now in its 19th year, Super Rugby sees 15 teams from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa battle to win what is widely regarded as rugby union's toughest provincial competition. The home side, the NSW Waratahs, had never won it; their opponents, New Zealand's Canterbury Crusaders, are the most successful team in the tournament's history, with seven titles. Yet after an agonisingly close match, the Waratahs triumphed by one point in the final minute, sending the crowd into a cathartic frenzy.

In the minds of many, the player most responsible for the Waratahs' victory was fullback Israel Folau, a tall, strong, supremely fit footballer who had joined the team only two years before. Having received a standing ovation on the field, Folau accompanied his teammates to the after-match function at Ivy nightclub, where the rest of the players celebrated long into the night.

But Folau stayed barely an hour, after which he drove back home to Kellyville, in Sydney's north-west, where he lives with his parents, Eni and Amelia, his sister and two younger brothers. "Mum and Dad weren't able to come to the game," Folau says, "so I stayed up and talked to them about it. Then I went to bed." The next day, while his teammates were either asleep or nursing hangovers, Folau did what he does every Sunday morning: he rose, put on a shirt, and went to church.

Isileli (Israel) Folau is arguably Australia's most celebrated footballer, which is saying something in a country that loves celebrating its footballers. At just 25, he has played at an elite level across three codes: rugby league (NRL, generally referred to as "league"), Australian rules (AFL) and rugby union (known simply as "rugby"). He is a dual international, having represented Australia in league and rugby, the former at the age of 18 years and 194 days, making him at the time the Kangaroos' youngest ever player.

He has also won virtually every gong going: rookie of the year awards in league and rugby, a league State of Origin man of the match, the Super Rugby player of the year, and the John Eales Medal for the best player in Australian rugby. "He's an incredible talent," says Kevin Sheedy, who coached Folau in the AFL. "The only thing he hasn't done is play soccer. Maybe that's next."

Even by the standards of professional footballers, Folau is big: 193 centimetres (six-foot-four), and 103 kilograms, with redwood trunks for thighs and a broad, granite-chinned face like an Easter Island statue. His size gives him a strange, superhero power to shrink a room simply by walking into it, filling it up like a giant in a doll's house. Coupled with his Ferrari-like acceleration and dancing feet, he has become the rarest of things in Australian rugby: a genuine star. He is not the skipper of the national team, the Wallabies, and yet he has become the face of the code, adorning advertisements and Bledisloe Cup match programs. He has even co-written a series of rugby-themed children's books for Random House.

"He is the heir to David Campese," says author and former Wallaby Peter FitzSimons. "Campese was a special player who, when he got the ball in his hands, an electric current went through the stadium. People wondered, 'What's he going to do?' Folau, in the first year he turned out for the Waratahs, was 240 volts."

Yet the most remarkable thing about Folau is his sheer unremarkableness. In a footballing milieu where bad behaviour is commonplace, Folau remains resolutely uncontroversial. He is as shy as a child, sincere, uncomplicated and deeply religious: he doesn't drink, smoke or swear, and he doesn't have a girlfriend. He is the anti-matter equivalent of NRL bad boy Todd Carney, who was sacked last season after being photographed urinating in his own mouth, following a string of other offences. For rugby union, Folau is both saviour and patron saint – a saint with the world's best sidestep.

Folau grew up in a housing estate in Minto, in Sydney's south-west, with his five siblings – four brothers and a sister. His mother Amelia, and father, Eni, had also taken in two cousins, bringing the number of people to 10, all of them crammed into a single- storey, three-bedroom home. "We were joined to our neighbours by a thin brick wall," Folau says. "When they argued, you heard everything."

Then, as now, Minto was a rough neighbourhood. "Right opposite our house was a basketball court that had a burnt car in it every weekend," says his brother, Tevita Folau. "A random car would pull up and the next minute it was on fire. There were sirens all the time, syringes in the gutter."

Weekends were spent going to church (the Folaus were devout Mormons before switching to Assemblies of God in 2011), or playing rugby league at Townson Oval with the local club, the Minto Cobras. Family decisions were made as a group, usually on Monday nights, when the Folaus got together to sing and pray.

Polynesian culture places huge importance on family, where the guiding principle is "what's mine is yours". If one sibling enjoys success, they are expected to share that with their extended clan. This was particularly evident with the Folaus, for whom money was scarce. Eni Folau worked long hours as a security guard at Minto Mall, frequently coming home late and exhausted. The children were raised on tales of their parents' dirt-poor upbringing in Tonga. "Mum didn't have shoes," Israel says. "She was the eldest of 10 kids, and some nights they went without food. That's why, from a young age, I wanted to work hard and change that cycle, to provide not only for my parents but my siblings, too."

In 2004, the family moved to Brisbane, where Eni had got work in a sheet-metal factory. Israel attended Marsden State High School. Just 14 years old, he already weighed 95 kilograms, with plate-like hands and a barnstorming stride. "He was a stallion among geldings," says the school's sports coach, Kim Bray. "The first time I saw him play, he took the ball up and carried six or seven kids with him."

What Bray also saw in Folau was the weight of his parents' expectations, not to mention authority. "One day when he was 16 he came to school really emotional, which was out of character. He had lost his phone, so my wife [who also taught at Marsden] walked him down the street, calling his number." They found his phone, vibrating in the bushes. "But Israel was almost in tears. He really didn't want to tell his mum."

After a period of heart trouble in the mid-2000s, Eni had a bypass, and was forced to stop working. Folau had by this time played league for the Queensland Under-19s (at just 16), and the Australian Schoolboys team. In 2007, he was signed by the Melbourne Storm.

"He was so young, he still had puppy fat on him," Storm coach Craig Bellamy says. But his ability under the high ball was already apparent. One day, the players were having a kick-and-catch session, holding up a pad against which another player would jump and catch the ball. When Folau's turn came, he jumped straight over the pad and landed on the other side.

Folau debuted for the Storm in 2007, on a contract worth just $35,000 a year. He was 17 years old, making him the club's youngest-ever player. He scored the match-winning try in his first game, and went on to cross 20 more times that year, breaking Billy Slater's previous NRL record for the most tries in a debut season. And yet, he says, "I was so homesick. I would call home 10 times a day."

Folau was sending everything he earned to his parents in Brisbane, who gave him an allowance of $150 a week. While his team-mates went drinking, Folau stayed in his room; when they went to a movie, he had to ring his father for permission to go. "His dad was the person he spoke about the most," Bellamy says. "They had that close father-son relationship, only tighter."

A close friend of Folau's puts it another way: "Izzy was scared of his dad, and he hates conflict."

The other presence in his life was the Mormon Church, to which Folau paid 10 per cent of his earnings as a tithe. Mormonism is an unorthodox branch of Christianity that forbids the consumption of alcohol, tea, coffee and tobacco – and sport on Sundays. ("That had always been a problem at school," says Kim Bray. "If there was a game on Sunday, Izzy's parents had to get permission from the church for him to play. Quite a few people up here play on Friday night, for that reason.")

Mormons also have an obligation to do a two-year pilgrimage involving missionary work, but Folau never did his. Bray, who's had lots of Mormon boys play in his teams, says the church sometimes gives high stature members a free pass on the mission work, preferring they pursue their careers (Folau featured prominently on the website).

"In the end," Bray says, "the church went, 'Hang on, this kid could be special for us. We have Israel Folau as a Mormon!' "

When people talk about Israel Folau, the word they use most is "humility". "He doesn't have an outward ego, which is unusual for a professional sportsman," says Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson.

Part of the reason for this is that Folau sees himself as only partially responsible for his success: the real credit goes to God, who, Folau believes, intervenes directly in his life on a daily basis. "He is what controls me to make sure I'm stable," he tells me. "He is my GPS." Folau believes God broke his ankle during an NRL game against the NZ Warriors in 2009 to "teach me a lesson". "I was getting a big head," he says. "Going out, drinking and hooking up with girls. I had to be humbled."

By this time, Folau had moved north from Melbourne back to Brisbane, where he'd signed a $600,000 a year contract with the Broncos. He spent most of his first year's pay buying a house for his parents: a two-storey four-bedder in Algester for $538,000. "When I done that, I was happy," he says.

Despite his six-figure salary, Eni kept his son on a tight leash: Israel had no access to his money and was given a small weekly allowance. He was allowed a phone, but it was prepaid, and kept running out. Frustrated by this, Israel asked his agent, Isaac Moses, to come to their home and talk to his father. (Israel was so nervous he disappeared upstairs for the duration of the conversation.) Moses told Eni that, at the very least, Israel needed a proper phone: "It looks strange when he can't call people back." Eni eventually consented.

Yet the older Folau still cast a long shadow. In 2011, Eni broke with the Mormons after questioning church doctrine and going on Tongan TV to criticise some of its more idiosyncratic tenets, such as founder Joseph Smith's revelations concerning plural marriage. When Eni changed from Mormonism to AOG, so did Israel. (Folau's parents would not be interviewed for this story.)

And Folau remained unhappy in Brisbane. "I knew I wasn't living the morals I'd been taught," he says. At the end of 2009, when he came off contract with the Broncos, he was courted by rugby, but was taken aback when a top ARU official openly expressed doubts that Folau "had what it took to make it in union". (The official no longer works at the ARU.)

The AFL had no such reservations; it also had a lot more money. And so, in 2011, Folau ran out for start-up club the Greater Western Sydney Giants in a deal said to be worth $6 million over four years. The move was widely regarded as a cynical marketing ploy, something then-AFL chief Andrew Demetriou tacitly acknowledges. "AFL is a foreign game in western Sydney," he says. "The thing about Izzy was that he had originally come from western Sydney. He was a name out there, and any local name was good."

Folau worked hard to adapt to AFL: he improved his endurance and shed 12 kilos. But his on-field performances were a disaster. He seemed oddly static, and had difficulty reading the game. "It's difficult to adjust to," says Kevin Sheedy, who was the Giants' coach. "It's a bigger field, you have 36 players on it, and it's a 360-degree game." At the time, Geelong forward Cameron Mooney was more blunt: "He doesn't know what to do out there ... He is a statue watching the birds."

Folau was stung by the commentary. "If I'd had my way, I would still have been playing NRL," he says now. "But I had to do what was best for my family." Shortly after having signed with GWS Giants, he bought his parents another house – for $750,000 in Kellyville – where he lives with them today.

But failure was never Folau's thing. Two years into a four-year deal, he rang Demetriou and said he wanted out. This time, rugby would not miss its chance.

Folau's switch to rugby, in December 2012, was not without controversy. Some said he had reneged on a handshake deal to play league with the Parramatta Eels, a suggestion Isaac Moses flatly rejects. Others called him "mercenary", despite the fact Folau forfeited millions playing AFL to take less money in rugby.

But the deal marked a turning point for Folau. "Coming to the Waratahs was the first time I felt I gained some independence. I was telling my parents I had to go out on my own, and learn and grow, and if I made mistakes, then so be it."

Eni took it hard. "I was nervous about telling him," Folau says. "But I felt I was ready."

Folau is now a fixture in rugby. His explosive, broken-field running places him at the centre of Wallaby coach Michael Cheika's plan to play a more open, entertaining brand of football. The ARU has signed him until 2018 on a contract thought to be worth $1 million a year, making him the code's highest-paid player.

But Folau's horizons stretch further than football. "I really want to be a mentor to other Islander kids, because I understand the pressure they are under from their parents," he says.

In 2013, Mosese Fotuaika, a rising NRL star and friend of Folau's, hanged himself. "My parents know his parents well," says Folau. "Moses committed suicide because of the pressures that come from the parents. I see young Polynesian kids coming through, I can see the stress they're carrying from home, because most Islander parents are exactly the same in the way they operate. They mean well, but you can change the method of the way they do it, and I want to be a part of that."

Discussing the issue makes Folau anxious, and he smiles nervously, revealing an unlikely bit of bling. A gold tooth. "It's common among Tongans," he explains. "I got it done in 2009, on my first visit to Tonga. My aunty offered to melt down a gold ring that meant a lot to her and my family, and I jumped at it."

In Tongan culture, a gold tooth can signify a coming of age. "People always ask me about the tooth," Folau says, "especially because I smile a lot. But it makes me happy when they ask. The tooth reminds me of my family every day. It connects me to my roots."

Israel Folau arrives for a conciliation hearing in Sydney yesterday.
Picture: AAP
Israel Folau: errors of judgment
Weekend Australian
Greg Sheridan
Saturday, June 29, 2019

Who are the Pentecostals whom Israel Folau has catapulted so dramatically into public consciousness? What is their influence, what do they believe about heaven and hell, are they right or wrong, is Folau right or wrong?

Israel Folau got both his scripture and his theology slightly wrong. Therefore there is an important nuance in his beliefs that does not represent orthodox or classical Christianity. But he is not wrong about belief in judgment and hell. This is not an Old Testament belief abandoned in the New. Jesus himself is very explicit about hell. Almost all Christians believe in the reality of judgment and hell, as well as forgiveness, redemption and heaven.

But even though I think Folau made a couple of mistakes, he is manifestly a good person. He was trying to help people, not hurt them. And the disproportion of his punishment to his offence is absolutely insane. The idea that he should lose his ability to earn a living for the rest of his life for expressing his beliefs is truly shocking. Similarly, that he is censored on social media, which generally runs like an open sewer through society, is grotesque.

And the double standard in what is tolerated is also manifestly unjust. ABC personality Benjamin Law is generally a civilised person. However, he famously said he would be happy to "hate-f..k" Coali­tion politicians to show them the virtues of gay marriage. He claimed the words had a particular meaning that was not offensive. Many people certainly did find them offensive. Not only did Law never apologise, he was rewarded with new and extra ABC television opportunities.

Changing the nuance

The contrast between the easy acceptance of Law's vile words and the witch-burning ferocity of the reaction to Folau, including censuring his wife for supporting her husband's legal defence fund, as though she too should scream denunciation, is shocking, repellent.

However, it's important to get Folau's mistakes nailed down. Fam­ously, Folau's social media post read: "Warning: Drunks, Homosexuals, Liars, Fornicators, Thieves, Atheists, Idolaters: Hell Awaits You. Repent! Only Jesus Saves. Those that are living in Sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him."

The New International Version of the Bible translates the passage from St Paul that Folau was drawing on as: "Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."

It is worth noting there is some scholarly uncertainty about the translation of the passage about homosexuality. The burden of the passage is to warn against immoral behaviour, which includes sex outside marriage.

However, even accepting the standard translation, Folau, by paraphrasing rather than quoting scripture, changes the nuance of meaning. Drunkards is a behaviour. Homosexuals is an identity. Christianity teaches the ideal of chastity outside marriage.

It is an ideal rarely lived up to. But a young person experiencing same-sex attraction is more likely to be distressed by the inaccurate statement: homosexuals go to hell, than by the more biblical statement, people who have sex outside marriage risk God's judgment.

Homosexuals is an identity. Promiscuity is a behaviour. So in my view there is some legitimate complaint about Folau's formulation and it does not therefore accord perfectly with traditional Christian teaching.

Similarly, no Christian authority that I know of has ever claimed to be able to know which individual goes to hell and which to heaven. Judgment belongs to the Lord. It is certainly right to say that certain behaviour is immoral or an ­offence to God's law. It is absolutely not right to say that you, or anyone else, knows the immortal destiny, heaven or hell, of any other individual.

Nonetheless the basic idea Folau is expressing is this: any behaviour that God forbids attracts judgment. Christian teaching is also that Jesus has paid the price for these sins and God is always ready to forgive anyone who is sorry. And we all have plenty to be sorry for.

'Go and sin no more'

If Folau learned these teachings at his Pentecostal church he has certainly learned nothing remotely in conflict with mainstream Christian teaching across most Christian denominations. The general public understanding of all Christian traditions and teachings and the Christian inheritance generally is now so attenuated that most people haven't a clue what Folau is talking about.

Judgment and indeed hell are not anachronistic Old Testament ideas dispensed with in the kumbaya, syrupy sweetness of the New Testament. Christianity is a mes­sage of love and liberation but it contains plenty of hard bits. It is, at its heart, a call to repentance, submission, prayer, solidarity and decency. But it certainly involves judgment.

The Apostles' Creed says of Jesus: "he ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead".

Judgment is not just a matter for creeds, or St Paul, or church authorities. Jesus himself is very explicit about hell.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says that he will in the future "come in glory" and "separate people one from another". On the right, people will go to "the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world".

Then comes the bad news for the other folks. Jesus says: "You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire that is prepared for the devil and his angels." That's pretty explicit about hell.

It's also worth noting that the qualities Jesus says will lead to heaven are what you might call acts of human solidarity — feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, tending the sick, taking in the homeless. And those going the other way neglected to do these things.

Similarly, Jesus says the whole of the moral law can be summed up as: Love God and love your fellow human being.

The stress on caring for human beings is overwhelming. That still doesn't get us to a non-judgmental, kumbaya, everything's OK morality because Jesus also has lots to say about personal morality, typically ending encounters with sinners with the words: "go and sin no more". And if your eye offends you cast it out, don't lust after other people's spouses and so on is also pretty clear.

There is a wide range of views about hell within orthodox, mainstream Christianity. There is a minority tradition of "universalism" that holds all human beings will get to heaven. The Catholic catechism teaches that non-Christians and atheists can find salvation if in their own way they are trying to move towards God and accepting the dictates of conscience. Some Christians believe that only those who have explicitly accepted Jesus can find salvation. Pope Francis has recently speculated that he thinks the idea of eternal punishment is inconsistent with what we know of God. Nonetheless he accepts judgment and has speculated that the damned may cease to exist. This is not official Catholic teaching.

The Catholic Church also teaches that those who are destined for heaven but at the time of death need further purification will go through purgatory. Other theologians have argued that hell is for people who actively do not want God, that hell is always locked from the inside, as it were.

Pentecostal testimony
All this suggests that Christians should be reasonably careful about the way they talk about hell, while the central idea that our lives will find judgment, but that forgiveness is always offered, which Folau was expressing, in my view clumsily but with goodwill, is central to Christianity.

What is the Pentecostal spin on all this? I have got to know some Pentecostals fairly well. In the course of researching my book God is Good for You, I attended a number of Pentecostal services and have ­attended more since the book's publication. I am immensely impressed by them. I haven't found any of the services fire-and-brimstone in their tone, though like most big movements they vary widely.

As Brian Houston of Hillsong remarked in response to the Folau controversy, they don't follow a "turn or burn" approach to people. And everyone is welcome at a Pente­costal church, unless they are positively proselytising anti-Christian views.

The services are normally uplifting and upbeat. Typically, maybe half the service is occupied by high-class worship music, generally in the pop-rock idiom but at the highest artistic level that idiom can produce. The stress of this music, and of the services generally, is a personal experience of God and the interaction of the human soul with the transcendence of God.

Much Pentecostal preaching concerns personal testimony, recounting the experience of finding God.

A Pentecostal friend puts it this way: "Modern Pentecostal churches are about what they are for, not what they are against." At the same time, they are centred on the person of Christ, they recognise God as their lord and master, and they seek to live life the way he wants them to.

Pentecostals are the fastest growing branch of Christianity in the world today. That is not to say they are better or worse than other styles of Christianity, but their message and their method have borne a lot of fruit.

As their name implies, Pentecostals emphasise the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Again there is nothing weird or cultish or Old Testament-ish about this. All mainstream Christian denominations believe in the Holy Spirit and believe, admittedly in different ways, in the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps the central passage of the Bible that has inspired the Pentecostals comes in the Acts of the Apostles, which recounts: "When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability."

There is much more in the New Testament about speaking in tongues. The New Testament is also full of healing the sick through faith. Jesus spends a major portion of his time in the gospels performing miracles, and most of the miracles are cures.

Speaking in tongues and healing the sick are the two features of modern Pentecostalism that arouse the greatest derision. I have been to Pentecostal prayer meetings where people speak in tongues and I found it neither weird nor necessarily miraculous. If you were sceptical but friendly, you might think of it as free-ranging vocal worship without words. If you were friendly and a believer, you would say it's the Holy Spirit enabling worshippers to speak in divine prayer.

Power of prayer

But let's be quite clear. Most Christians believe in the miraculous. Every Sunday in every Catholic parish, and in Eastern Orthodox parishes and the like, the priest and the congregation believe that bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ. The Catholic doctrine is called transubstantiation and holds not that the bread and wine symbolise the body and blood but that in their substance they become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Almost all Christians pray for the sick. They wouldn't do this unless they believed that the sick might be helped as a result of their prayer. The Catholic Church has a highly developed theology around all this. Saints are canonised after at least two authenticated miracles following their intercessions sought by prayer. The miracles are almost always miracle cures.

Australian Pentecostals are a big, wide, decentralised movement with lots of diverse churches. The most famous Pentecostal in Australia is of course Scott Morrison. Over the years he has corrected me on the odd theological point. The emergence of a Pentecostal prime minister is a big development in the further mainstreaming of Pentecostals.

Because Pentecostals have been doing worship in contemporary styles for so long, they are very good at the contemporary stuff — the music, the creative use of social media, reaching out to the young and also to the marginalised. What I like about them very much is their friendly, unapologetic, practical, welcoming approach, which they extend to everyone.

They are certainly not perfect, nor are they weird or threatening. Folau in my view unintentionally somewhat misrepresented some core doctrines. But his treatment, his persecution, is extreme and ­absurd and reflects the dangerous and confused times in which we live. That is not the fault of the Pentecostals.

Same Day
No forgiveness for Folau's sins against the PC church
Brendan O'Neill, Columnist

Brendan O'Neill is the editor of Spiked.

The take-home message of the Israel Folau scandal is as clear as it is terrifying: Christians are no longer welcome in public life.

If you adhere to core Christian beliefs about sin, hell and damnation, you will be purged from polite society.

If you think St Paul was right to argue in his Epistle to the Romans that it is sinful for men to neglect "the natural use of the female" and instead to become "inflamed by their lust for one another", you will be cast out of the community. If you agree with the word of God — that man "shall not lie with mankind as with womankind", as Leviticus puts it — you will be branded a moral transgressor.

The irony is almost too much to bear: critics of Christianity now use the tactics Christianity itself once used in its darker moments in history. They demonise certain ideas as heretical, rage against those who holds these ideas and subject these sinful creatures to a PC inquisition.

"Are you now or have you ever been an adherent to the Bible's beliefs on homosexuality…?"

Answer yes and you're out, packed off to the moral wilderness, with a metaphorical placard saying "homophobe" — a modern word for evil — hanging around your neck.

Folau's crime, his sin against political correctness, is to believe that people who have gay sex are destined for hell.

He expressed this belief in a meme he shared on his Instagram page, which said "hell awaits" certain wicked people, including drunks, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolaters and homosexuals.

As an atheist who has engaged in boozing, fornication and idolatry at various times in his life, I guess I'd better prep for an eternity of fire and torture. I don't share Folau's beliefs. I was brought up a Catholic, so I know there are many people who genuinely believe homosexuality is a sin. But I'm a lapsed Catholic now, and godless too, and it bothers me not one iota who people choose to have sexual intercourse with. Knock yourselves out. Wear a condom!

Yet I find the persecution of Folau repulsive and an alarming sign of the times.

It demonstrates how far PC intolerance has gone and how thoroughly anyone who doesn't slavishly subscribe to contemporary orthodoxy can expect to be punished.

It doesn't matter if you are a Christian or an atheist, straight or gay, uptight about sex or a cheerleader for sexual debauchery — you should still be deeply concerned that a man can be persecuted simply for what he believes, for the convictions that reside in his head and his heart.

Persecution is not too strong a word for it. The dictionary definition of persecution is "hostility or ill-treatment" especially because of one's "race or political or religious beliefs".

This aptly describes what Folau has faced. He has had hostility heaped upon him because of his religious beliefs. He has been ill-treated because of his faith.

First, in April, he was dumped by the rugby world. Rugby Australia and NSW Rugby — which oversees the team Folau played for, the Waratahs — issued a joint statement announcing the termination of his contract.

The statement was perverse. It will surely be studied by future generations who want to understand the moral contortionism of the early years of the 21st century. It claimed Rugby Australia is keen to create an environment in which everyone can feel "safe and welcome" and in which there is "no vilification based on race, gender, religion or sexuality". And so, because of his Instagram post, Folau had to be cast out.

It is testament to the blinkered arrogance of political correctness, and of those who do its bidding, that these people could not see the profound moral contradiction at the heart of their chilling statement. In the name of preventing "vilification based on race, gender, religion or sexuality", they vilified Folau on the basis of his religion. In the name of creating a safe environment where everyone can feel "welcome", they made it clear that Folau — because of his religion — is not welcome.

This Orwellian statement translates as follows: "We will not tolerate vilification on the basis of religion — unless your religion is traditional Christianity, in which case we will vilify you. And we are welcoming of everyone — except people who believe the words of the Bible, whom we will sack and shame."

This repugnant statement summed up what is the first and last commandment of the ideology of political correctness: "We love and accept everyone. Except anyone we disagree with. We hate those people and we will destroy them."

Authoritarianism dressed up as acceptance. Intolerance under the guise of tolerance. This is the Newspeak of the PC era, and it is horrifying.

Even worse, Folau's opponents then sought to make it more difficult for him to defend himself. The sports world effectively made him a moral reprobate; then the capitalist class decided he should not be allowed to raise money for his own defence in his case of unlawful termination against Rugby Australia.

GoFundMe Australia shut down his fundraising page. It did so because we do not "tolerate the promotion of discrimination or exclusion", it said.

Again with the Orwellianism. We do not tolerate discrimination or exclusion, so we will discriminate against a biblical Christian and exclude him from our services — that is essentially what GoFundMe is saying. Shameless self-contradiction.

Thankfully, the Australian Christian Lobby stepped in, keeping open the possibility of charity for Folau after others almost closed that possibility down. It is testament to the strength of feeling around this issue that the ACL raised $2 million in the first day. Huge numbers of ordinary Aussies clearly want to take a stand for religious freedom and freedom of speech — good on 'em.

This terrible spectacle, this hounding of one man over his beliefs, reveals so much about the culture wars of the early 21st century.

First, it confirms that PC is the new religion. Political correctness now does what pointy-hatted priests used to do: seeks out thought criminals and moral transgressors and punishes them for their wicked beliefs.

No, nobody has been burned at the stake. Folau's life is not at risk. But there is nonetheless an inquisitorial feeling to the witch-hunting of this rugby player whose only offence is that he thinks differently from the PC crowd.

The second thing revealed by this hounding is that the left will turn a blind eye to the use and abuse of capitalist power if it serves their purposes. So, just as leftists have cheered Silicon Valley oligarchs as they have expelled from social media anyone who has an anti-PC point of view, so they have applauded GoFundMe's shunning of Folau. It's a private company, they say, and private companies can decide for themselves who to host and who to ban.

Let's break this down: what they're really saying is that the speech rights of a "horrible" Christian come a poor second to the property rights of corporations. So, all their anti-capitalist bluster is stuff and nonsense. When push comes to shove, they will back the internet elites and online Big Business over those who they deem to be morally wicked.

This is a celebration of corporate power over individual speech rights. That's the kind of thing you would expect from the libertarian right, but not from the supposedly socially conscious left.

And the third thing confirmed by this dispiriting affair is that Christianity is one religion it is acceptable to mock and persecute these days.

If you were to criticise Islam, you would be branded an "Islamophobe". You would be accused of stirring up racist sentiment. You would be denounced and harassed and censured.

Yet the Koran also attacks homosexuality. It says any man who "practises your lusts on men" deserves to be driven "out of your city". They should be visited by a "shower of brimstone" — that is, kill them.

I find these views of homosexuals as dreadful as the Leviticus view. But I support the right of Muslims and Christians alike to hold these views and to think that men who lie with men will be punished in the afterlife.

When did we forget this key principle of civilised, enlightened, democratic society — that people should be free to hold even difficult and disagreeable views, and should never be punished for what they think?

Folau should be free to think and say whatever he likes, and he should face no sanction whatsoever.
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