As I watched the Israel Folau - Billy Vunipola situation unfold, I asked myself the question, “Would I hold onto my job as a professional footballer if I were playing today?” To which one UK media presenter said “No” when she equated previous public Christian statements I’ve made on Twitter with those of the rugby players. The presenter said those who hold to the biblical sexual ethic are “stupid”, “bigoted” and “homophobic”, and called the Christian faith “archaic”. She continued to say that Folau, Vunipola, myself and those who hold such views “will lose everything”. Indeed, “They will lose everything” was the repeated statement. Here’s the link. Start listening at 6 min 20 sec.
It is against this backdrop that I write this article in the hope of encouraging Christians to stand firm and speak up in these days. Public men – international rugby players - have suffered publicly for their Christian faith.
The issue at hand is freedom of speech
To punish a man for quoting or paraphrasing the Scriptures disrespects millions of Christians and the orthodox Christian faith. But at hand is the issue concerning freedom of speech. Atheists are free to mock Christians, Muslims are free to believe the rule of Allah, and people of all types are free to speak their minds. This includes on matters of public disagreement – in fact that is where free speech is needed most. And tolerance only means something when we tolerate one another in our disagreements.
Yes, freedom of speech is not without consequences, but it is not discrimination or hate towards homosexuals to quote what the Bible says about human sexuality, sexual immorality - and in fact all sin: remember Folau’s quote, taken from 1 Corinthians 6, includes “drunks, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters”. It is neither hateful nor harmful to offer, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the hope-filled solution to all sin. This is what millions of Christians worldwide will celebrate this coming Easter weekend. The cross is the greatest display of the righteousness and love of God, and the only hope of salvation and heaven for anyone.
Jesus speaks a lot about heaven but he also warns about hell more than anyone else in the Bible. Folau’s warning of hell in his post is only following Jesus’ warning. He is within his rights to quote the Scriptures and speak the words of God; so too, Vunipola. He is within his rights to agree with Folau and to paraphrase Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24, when he speaks of God’s design for sex within marriage between a man and woman alone: something Jesus himself affirms in Matthew 19. He is within his rights to speak of what has been good and true and beneficial to mankind, and the foundation of society since creation. But, no! They must be silenced: The Australian Rugby Union authorities sack Folau. And England star, Vunipola, is reprimanded by Saracens for “his serious error of judgement”. He cannot quote the Bible like this on social media any more, or else.
So where will the silencing end? Well, it’s certainly coming to a workplace or school near you. First they will silence us in the workplace and schools. The authority of parents will be taken away and children will be forced to affirm LGBT sexuality and lifestyle. Parents will not have a voice, and if they speak up they will be ostracized or possibly prosecuted. But it will not stop there. They will try to silence us in our churches as well. So Christians must witness in the face of persecution in increasingly totalitarian times.
We must speak
And here we return to the main reason for my article: Christians must speak! It’s not an option for us. Jesus tells his first disciples:
“And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15: 27).
We “will”, not “might”, “bear witness”. So, it is our duty and our privilege to witness - to make a case for the defence of the name of Christ. In fact we are sent to do this (John 17:18). So if you are reading this and you are not a Christian, understand this at least - Christians are sent to tell others about the saving love of God in Jesus. That’s what Folau was doing.
Of course the world is okay hearing about the love of God until they understand that it requires faith in, and obedience to, Jesus alone. The world is fine with us saying, “Jesus is Lord” as long as we don’t say, “Jesus ALONE is Lord”. Our Christian integrity in the world is great until it means exposing sin in the world and the exclusivity of Christ for salvation. Then, it is a most unpopular quality.
What it might cost
Many LGBT advocates publicly redefine biblical sexual ethics whilst denying the right for Christians to also speak on it. So Christians are marginalized and silenced to the extent that they are losing their jobs if they don’t conform. Therefore, non-conformity will cost you.
Christians are accused of hate speech and discrimination yet in reality they are the ones on the receiving end of hate speech and discrimination. Nevertheless, ultimately the one they really hate is Jesus. Biblical sexual ethics is the touchstone but Jesus Christ is the cornerstone. He tells us, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15: 18).
As we prepare to celebrate Easter let’s remember that there was real hatred for Jesus at Calvary: the mockery when they pressed the crown of thorns on his head, made him a robe, and shouted, “Hail King of the Jews!”; the cynical indifference of the soldiers gambling while he hung there bleeding; the contempt of people shouting “Save yourself” as he was saving people by taking God’s justice in their place.
So preach Christ and him crucified and all it entails and you might get “crucified”. That is the call, and cost, of discipleship, brothers and sisters.
We will be persecuted. Jesus warns about the inevitability of persecution and the reason for it so we would be strong for the task ahead. So our response is not to resent or retaliate but forgive and to witness. And as we do we follow our Master. We are sent into the world for this reason.
Those words from the journalist last weekend may come true for you, “You will lose everything!” But only “everything” in a worldly sense - because when you have Jesus you have gained everything already!
So as I reflect on these past few days, I conclude that I probably would not have been able to hold onto my job as a professional footballer in this era. Because like Folau, Vunipola, and many Christians around the world, I must be a witness for the defence of the name of Christ. That means more than any temporary suffering for his name’s sake.
What we need is men and women who will speak for Jesus. So are you ready to be a witness and stand on God’s Word, not just in safe circles, but also outside the camp in the face of persecution, even if it costs you everything? It cost Jesus everything so that some would be saved. Let us show the same love.
One last thing: remember for whom you are a witness. King Jesus! Our King came into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday riding on a donkey. Our King died on a cross on Good Friday but victoriously rose from a tomb on Easter Sunday. And our King will return to gather his people on the last day, not on donkey, but this time riding on a white horse, with heavens armies behind him, eyes like fire, a sharp sword with which to rule the nations coming from his mouth.
And his name is called… “The Word of God!” (Revelation 19:13).