Anti-Gay Rugby Player Plays 'Persecution' Card In Wake of Homophobic Post

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday April 9, 2018

A homophobic post from top Australian rugby player Israel Folau led to an outcry on social media and a swift promise of intervention by authorities on his team and for the sport nationally. But if he's been watching how the game is played in the United States, Folau would know that the sin of an offensive post doesn't have to involve penance - not when he can point to his conservative Christian faith and cry persecution.

That, according to MSN Sport is exactly what Folau appeared to do even before appearing at a scheduled meeting with Andrew Hore, the chief executive of his team, the Waratahs, and the head of Rugby Australia, Raelen Castle.

The post that prompted the flap was an Instagram exchange in which a fan asked Folau what God's plan might be for gay people. Folau, who was raised Mormon before converting to Assemblies of God, declared. "HELL.. unless they repent of their sins and turn to God."

The certainty conveyed by the all-caps response fell short of answering other key theological questions, such as the afterlife destination of GLBTQ people of faith who already have turned to God.

Social media exploded with displeasure. Though the post did garner a few supportive responses, the subsequently-deleted post went viral in screencaps and mostly generated messages of disappointment, including some queries from sport fans who wondered about Folau's comments in light of stated policies from Rugby Australia with respect to inclusion. Major sponsors, including Qantas airlines and Land Rover, also made their displeasure known.

Folau was scheduled to meet with team and sport bosses on Tuesday, MSN reported in a separate article, but on Sunday he issued what appeared to be a preemptive strike with a distinctly American tone of faith-based belligerence.

Folau took to Twitter, posting #allglorytoGod" and quoting from the Book of Matthew (King James Bible):

"Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you."

Those same lines could just as easily be applied to GLBTQ individuals and their families, but news reports interpreted the posting as Folau claiming to be the one facing "persecution," despite having posted text that would seem to meet the scriptural criteria of "say[ing] all manner of evil against you."

Cameron Clyne, the chairman of Rugby Australia, declined to speculate on what action Castle and Hore might take in light of the athlete's pre-meeting defiance, ESPN reported.
"I don't think it's appropriate to make any speculation or commentary ahead of that meeting," Clyne told the media. "There will be a conversation tomorrow and we'll let that play out from there."

In America, proposed state and federal laws would effectively secure extra rights for people who say discriminatory speech and actions against LGBTQs and other minorities are based in a faith tradition, closely held moral conviction, or personal belief. When required to follow anti-discrimination laws or policies at work, some anti-gay Christians employed in the public sector have cited their faith as a justification for in defying those requirements, especially after the Supreme Court's ruling in 2015 that struck down anti-marriage equality laws throughout the country.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. 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.