Anti-Gay Aussie Athlete Israel Folau Takes to Pulpit, Blasts LGBTQs

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday June 18, 2019

When the going gets tough, the tough get it together and carry on. Others, however, choose to blame the gays.

Disgraced Australian rugby star Israel Folau lost his multi-year, multi-million dollar contract earlier this year, despite being, arguably, the country's top star in the sport. The firing took place after Folau repeatedly posted anti-LGBTQ remarks online in violation of the policies of both his team and Rugby Australia. Along the way, Folau damaged his relationship with several including Qantas Airlines (which criticized Folau's remarks), Land Rover (which took back a luxury vehicle it had provided for the athlete's use), and Asics (which chucked Folau as a brand ambassador).

Folau's spiral of career disintegration commenced last year when he posted a claim on social media that LGBTQ people are destined for — as the athlete put it, in all capital letters — "HELL." When pushback from fans and social media users resulted, Folau dug in; as officials from his team and Rugby Australia debated how to address his violation of their clearly-stated policies regarding inclusiveness, Folau played the victim card, claiming that he was being persecuted for his faith — even though he skated away unscathed from that controversy.

Then came subsequent attacks on LGBTQ people, culminating in an post last April in which Folau shared a quote from the New Testament book Epistle to the Galatians (King James version), which he presented as a text that consigns sexual minorities to eternal damnation along with "liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists," and others.

At that point, Rugby Australia had had enough. The sports body canceled Folau's contract after a tribunal found him to be in "high breach of contract" for his repeated instances of homophobic rhetoric.

But Folau might have a whole new career ahead of him as an anti-LGBTQ preacher; the Sydney Morning Herald reported on Folau taking to the pulpit of his church in order to unleash a fresh volley against LGBTQ people. In his sermon, the former star rugger claimed that "the Devil" is trying to infiltrate society and government by the sway of trans people, and dismissed the recently gained right in Australia of same-sex couples to wed as a matter of "pleasing man rather than pleasing God and standing up for the truth."

Folau did not forgo the chance to reiterate the theme of Christians being persecuted.

"You might be the only born-again Christian in that workplace, you might feel a bit awkward with your co-workers because they are in the world and you're not," he said. "We should feel blessed," he added, "because God has called us."

The speech was part and parcel with an earlier address Folau had delivered from the pulpit last Easter when he told his audience, "In your workforce, if they're telling you something that will compromise your faith, this is a test of faith in which you're going to be put in a challenge, and the question is 'What are you going to do?' "

The church was quick to promote the celebrity athlete's latest pronouncements, posting a video of Folau's sermon online.

But not all people of faith agree with Folau's oft-repeated stances. Anglican pastor Rod Bower came out against Folau's messages of divisiveness and exclusion, posting his opposition to Folau's brand of proselytizing both online and in the real world, reported News.com.au.

Bower took to Twitter to opine, "Israel Folau is the price we pay for free speech. He has the right to say it and I have a responsibility to oppose what he says."

Bower also posted a photo of the message he put up on the sign outside his church:

"LGBT Friends — Folau is wrong — Don't listen to him."


Bower closed his tweet with "#LGBT"

For his part, Folau's battles are not limited to the spiritual realm. He's now embroiled in pecuniary pursuits, seeking $10 million in a claim against Rugby Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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