Why Everyone Should Care When Christians Lose Their Freedom

Last week, Australia’s highest-profile rugby player Israel Folau tweeted a paraphrase of an unpopular Bible verse. This week, he finds himself barred from our national rugby team and the NRL.

Izzy’s fame has kept his story in the nation’s headlines. But he’s only the tip of the iceberg. Many Aussie Christians face an ugly and growing intolerance simply for holding to beliefs that hardly raised an eyebrow a generation ago.

The same day the Folau story went viral, I received this unrelated message from a concerned friend:

“I work in a health team and we’re doing lots in the diversity space. The thing that really lacks however is respect for Christians and the Christian faith.

“Israel Folau is only the tip of the iceberg.”

“Frequently in training for LGBTI we kept having to listen to negative statements about the church… I don’t feel safe to voice my views as a Christian or even defend Christianity because of backlash from my workplace and these trainers.

“Any suggestions for how to deal with it?”

If you can’t see how hostile western society has become towards the Christian faith—even in just the last few years—then you’ve probably been asleep. Worse still, you might be woke.

Speaking of woke, some readers didn’t like that I took a stand for Christians in my previous post about Folau. It would be more like Jesus, they suggested, if I stood with those not from my tribe.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”—Martin Luther King Jr.

On this, I agree with them. One of the remarkable things about Jesus—and Christians through the ages—is a selfless care for the plight of others, even enemies.

But it’s also like Jesus to speak against injustice wherever it’s found.

Moreover, it’s in everyone’s best interests to speak against injustice wherever it’s found. As Martin Luther King Jr. famously said:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

With that in mind, here are four reasons everyone should care when Christians like Israel Folau lose their freedoms.

Because no one else does

It’s basically one-way traffic in the media—not just on the Izzy saga but in most stories that are broadcast about the Christian faith.

Without question, the church has its fair share of sins to atone for and plenty of trust to regain—especially after the recent child abuse royal commission.

But for the last decade, if you had only mainstream news sources to go on, you’d think most people who follow Jesus were kooks, bigots or paedophile priests.

“The church has its fair share of sins to atone for.”

Forget that four of Australia’s top five charities are Christian, or that religious Aussies give 50% more to charity than their secular counterparts, or that 91% of Australians describe the impact of their local churches as either neutral or positive.

If followers of Jesus were portrayed with more fairness and accuracy in popular culture, maybe less people would cheer when a Christian like Izzy has his freedoms taken away.

Until then, and as long as the caricatures continue, sticking up for the underdog—in this case, yes Christians—would be a very Australian thing to do.

Because inclusion is just another word for exclusion

I don’t think Izzy’s post was tactful. But I also don’t think he was trying to single out people in the gay community. He was actually sharing very mainstream Christian beliefs about sin, heaven and hell.

As Chris Kenny writes, other high-profile NRL and ARL players “have sullied those codes with ugly exploits ­including sexual assault, public drunkenness, drug-taking, violence, explicit videos, bestiality pics, hallway defecation, group sex and heaven knows what else.”

Yet what has spelt the end for Israel Folau’s career is a public expression of his Christian faith.

“Folau was actually sharing very mainstream Christian beliefs about sin, heaven and hell.”

In other words, this quite recent secular doctrine known as ‘inclusion’ isn’t exactly what it sounds like. Many groups that were excluded in the past are now welcome in mainstream society, and that’s great.

But ironically, some that used to be welcome are no longer—chief among them, followers of Jesus.

This should be cause for a rethink. Rather than celebrating Izzy’s exclusion, maybe it’s time we Aussies had a chat about an inclusion that genuinely is what it sounds like.

Otherwise we’re just repeating the mistakes of the past but inflicting them on a different subculture.

Because Christianity gave us freedom in the first place

I believe in a secular public square. By that, I don’t mean a society where religion isn’t welcome—I mean a society where all ideas can be discussed with civility and none are given special treatment.

Having said this, there’s something about our freedoms that most Australians don’t know.

Democracy and its associated freedoms are, for the most part, a legacy of Christian belief. The foundation texts of our political system like The Magna Carta, Lex Rex, The English Bill of Rights and the U.S. Declaration of Independence were written mostly by Christians from a Christian milieu.

“Shutting down any public expression of the Christian faith will be a big loss for everyone.”

Medieval catholic lawyers are a responsible for natural rights which eventually developed into human rights. Reformers of the 16th century redefined the dignity of the human person and set the stage for the idea of individual freedom.

These are revolutionary ideas—enjoyed by very few in history. On them we’ve built the freest, safest and most generous societies on earth.

The West might now be secular, but it owes a deep debt to the Christian faith. Which is why shutting down any public expression of the Christian faith will be a big loss for everyone.

Because we won’t know what we had until it’s gone

It’s not just MLK who sees justice as an ‘an inescapable network of mutuality’.

George Orwell, author of the eerily prophetic 1984, said that “If you encourage totalitarian methods, the time will come when they will be used against you instead of for you.”

You may despise Israel Folau’s religious views. You may even despise him. But in the words of George Orwell once more, “If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

If we value our own freedoms, we must value the freedoms of those we don’t particularly like.

If we don’t, 1984 might be closer than we think.

A Bleak Week for Freedom in Australia

Our national anthem begins with the triumphant line Australians all let us rejoice for we are young and free.

But after some troubling news headlines in the last few days, that word free is less true than it was a week ago.

Australia’s freedoms—in particular freedom of speech and freedom of religion—are suffering huge blows at the moment. This is good news for no one.

I don’t normally blog about the news cycle, but this week I’ve felt compelled to. You’ve probably heard about one of these headlines. The other two you may have missed.

A Christian conference was censored by Facebook

A couple months ago I had the honour of meeting distinguished legal scholar Augusto Zimmermann.

This coming June, along with some of the brightest legal minds from Australia and around the world, he is hosting a conference called Religious Freedom at the Crossroads: The Rise of Anti-Christian Sentiment in the West.

“Australia’s freedoms are suffering huge blows at the moment.”

When he and others shared the conference link on social media over the weekend, Facebook censored it, claiming that the conference violates their community standards.

Don’t skip past that. The biggest social media platform in the world censored an event highlighting the rising intolerance of Christianity.

Did you catch the irony?

A Christian woman saving unborn children was ruled a criminal

In 2016, Kathy Clubb was arrested for offering help and hope to mothers near an abortion clinic in Victoria. Recent laws had made it illegal for pro-life activists to be within 150 metres of such a facility.

She decided to challenge this law since it goes against Australia’s Constitution, which grants Australian citizens freedom of political communication.

“Kathy’s crime amounts to a simple offer of help.”—Martin Iles

On Wednesday, the highest court in Australia dismissed her challenge and forced her to pay a fine and all of the court costs.

In the words of Martin Iles, Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby:

“Kathy’s crime amounts to a simple offer of help. The ministry she is a part of has seen over 300 babies lives saved in recent years, and their mothers given the help they need at a difficult time. This work is now illegal. The woman who did it is now a criminal.”

There’s a bitter irony in this story too. Former Greens leader Bob Brown faced similar charges for protesting against logging in an exclusion zone. But his case was acquitted by the High Court.

Since when are trees worth more than babies?

A Christian rugby player was sacked for expressing his faith online

The story about Israel Folau got all of Australia talking—and rightly so. On Tuesday, Australia’s highest-profile rugby player posted the following words on Instagram:

“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 post made reference to drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters.

“The story about Folau got all of Australia talking.”

Let me be clear that this is not my preferred method of evangelism. But to be fair, Folau was simply expressing a mainstream Christian viewpoint—basically, a paraphrase of a Bible verse. 

For this sin, Rugby Australia has vowed to tear up his $4 million contract. No matter that it’s a World Cup year and Izzy was slated to be Australia’s star player.

No matter that Rugby Australia turns a blind eye when other players are charged with drunken misdemeanours every month or so.

“Folau was simply expressing a mainstream Christian viewpoint.”

A statement released by Qantas, the major sponsor of Rugby Australia, couldn’t be more ironic: “These comments are really disappointing and clearly don’t reflect the spirit of inclusion and diversity that we support.”

What about inclusion for Folau?

In the name of diversity, are Christians who are public about their faith no longer welcome to play high-profile sport in Australia? Are we going mad?

Your Freedom Might Be Next

Thankfully, in Australia we still enjoy some of the most amazing freedoms in the world. But there’s growing evidence this may not last.

Recently, Open Doors—the global authority on Christian persecution—predicted the end of religious freedom in western nations.

“Our freedoms were hard won.”

Think what you like of Folau’s Instagram account, or Clubb’s views on abortion, or even the topic of Zimmermann’s conference.

But if you shrug your shoulders at the events of this week—or worse, think that justice has somehow been served—then you simply don’t understand how rare freedom has been in the history of this planet.

Our freedoms were hard won. And they’ll be even harder to win back once they’re sunk. You may dislike the people who lost their freedoms this week, but yours might be next.

“Open Doors has predicted the end of religious freedom in western nations.”

Reflect for a moment on the famous poem First They Came by the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller, penned during the Nazi’s rise to power.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

And when you’re done reflecting, please pray for Australia.