The twelve tribes of Israel Folau

Bushfires, same sex marriage and the Trinity

Let’s see if we can find twelve tribes for Israel Folau among the swift, widespread reactions to his latest controversial statement.

According to Folau, bushfires are God’s judgment on Australia for changes to abortion and marriage laws. “Look how rapid these bushfires, these droughts, all these things have come in a short ­period of time. You think it is a ­coincidence or not?” he said in a sermon yesterday.

“They have changed that law and legalised same-sex marriage and now those things are OK in society, going against the laws of what God says. Abortion — it is OK now to murder and kill infants, unborn children, and they think that to be OK.”

1. The Israelites, a tribe of true believers headed by Martyn Iles of the Australian Christian Lobby.

Here’s the first Facebook post by Martyn Iles on Folau’s bushfire sermon: “Folau said that the fires and drought should call us to repentance. Many Christians are reluctant to agree that this is a perfectly Biblical response. But it is. As just one example, Revelation is filled with a record of God’s judgements on the earth through time, and the recurring condemnation is that people still do not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons … nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts. Dare I say it’s a more obviously Christian reply to the issue than building solar panels or tearing down power stations? I (still) stand with Izzy.”

2. The Israelites, (version two).  The tribal leader had more to say.

Iles edited his comment to add: “To be clear — whether a specific event is a divine judgement or not is totally beyond our ability to know. It’s more likely an act of mercy to get us to turn to God who is ‘our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.’ But again, I don’t know. The world is fallen and it burns anyway. Sometimes arsonists light fires. But God does have his hand in things. My point is not to claim special knowledge about God’s particular actions, but to say that repentance is always a very valid Biblical response in such times … that is all.”

This comment is closer to a mainstream evangelical view and illustrates a difference in how Iles and Folau may construct their theology. Iles is using the New Testament as a lens, whereas Folau speaks rather like the certitude of an Old Testament prophet.

3. The Trinitarians. A tribe concerned that Folau is not a Christian.

Israel Folau’s rejection of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity (one God in three persons) means many Christians want to distance themselves from him. John Dickson of the “Undeceptions” podcast, posted on Facebook: “I support Israel Folau’s right to say the things he says, just as I support the right of a Muslim, a Hindu, or an atheist to say untrue and objectionable things. Indeed, given Folau’s public denial of the definitionally Christian doctrine of the Trinity, I reckon this is exactly the basis upon which Christians should be supporting him: as a non-Christian citizen saying untrue and objectionable things.”

4. Alan Jones and Scott Morrison, the pragmatic conservatives. A tribe of powerful prophets.
“Israel is a lovely human being, I know him well,” Jones said during his 2GB show on Monday. “Israel, button up. Button up. These comments don’t help.”

The PM was also critical. “He’s a free citizen, he can say whatever he likes, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have regard to the grievous offence this would have caused to people whose homes have been burnt down.”

Morrison also said that Folau’s comments would have also offended “many Christians in Australia for whom that is not their view at all, and whose thoughts and prayers … are very much with those who are suffering under the terrible burden of fire.”

5. The “your sin is too small” tribe. This tribe thinks that Folau’s list of sins is not long enough.

“If you can blame fires and droughts as judgment on sexual sins, rather than judgement on the systems of greed that produce climate change, then your doctrine of sin is too small,” writes Mick Pope, a professor in environmental mission at Missional University.

“The Bible has things to say about sexual sin, but it also has a lot to say about money, greed, and lack of justice, and together in one place (Leviticus 18-19). Deuteronomy 28 identifies the drought as caused by the disobedience of the whole law, not just the parts that are not close to home (vv 15-24).

“Rather than some speculative prophetic outburst, there is a clear line between the burning of fossil fuels, climate change, and a change in frequency and severity of droughts and heatwaves. The fire season in Australia is now earlier, longer, and more severe than it used to be. Future studies will reveal how much climate change can be implicated in these fires.”

“For now, Christians would be better served by identifying these tragic events as evidence that God has given us up to covetousness (Romans 1:29) and the creation to our misrule (Romans 8:20). Maybe it is we who should repent of our part in a system that corrupts the earth and speak out against inaction on climate change, water theft, and new coal mines, instead of scapegoating those we already seem so keen not to show Christ’s love to?”

6. The not divinely inspired tribe. A tribe that thinks Folau is too certain in his pronouncements. 

“God certainly uses natural elements to achieve his purposes,” conservative Christian blogger Bill Muehlenberg writes. “The Bible is crystal clear on this. The only issue here is this: are all such acts always divine judgments, or something else? In the OT we had divinely inspired prophets who could offer us divine commentary on such things.

“But I am not divinely inspired, nor is Folau. So at best, all we can say is something like this: ‘Such natural disasters may well be part of God’s judgment on a sinful and rebellious nation that has overwhelmingly turned its back on it Creator and King.’

“That is a biblically fair call to make. But to say it definitely is – or is not – would be something I could not say with certainty. The biblical principles are clear: sin always has consequences, and it will always be judged, either in this life or in the next.”

7. A tribe that thinks making up our own interpretation of the Bible is a bad idea. Not every conservative supports Folau.

Another conservative, Greg Bondar, NSW Director of Family Voice Australia, says that Folau definitely went too far. “The claim by Israel Folau’s that same-sex marriage and abortion caused bushfires, and drought is unfortunately taken out of biblical context.” Bondar points to a key Bible passage.

“2 Peter 1:20 says that ‘no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.’ There is a right interpretation of everything God says, and it is our job to discern that meaning, not create an interpretation to suit our tastes.”

8. Jarrod McKenna, prophet from Perth. The difference the Trinity would make to Folau.

“Um, no Izzy. God’s like Jesus. Look at the life of Jesus. That’s what God’s like. Jesus is what God has to say about God’s self. The doctrine of the Trinity keeps us from saying God is less than the love we see in Jesus.”

9. Stephen McAlpine, another prophet from Perth. “Don’t do an Izzy!”

McAlpine, part of a new Christian evangelistic group Third Space, says Folau is a really bad example, because of the way he uses an Old testament passage. “Have you ever ‘done an Izzy?’ Have you ever taken an Old Testament passage and tried to squeeze it into your modern day political or social agenda? Please hear me when I say it, ‘Don’t do an Izzy!’ The Bible won’t allow you to do that. You might allow you to do that, but the Bible won’t … In fact I’m sure there were hundreds of pastors “doing an Izzy” yesterday. Hundreds of sermons preached in Australia yesterday that used the Old Testament as poorly, if not as brutally and publicly as Izzy did …”

10. More McAlpine. Because it denies the cross.

Here’s more from McAlpine: “Folau’s great mistake is to read the Old Testament law and prophets without reference to the cross of Jesus.”

“We are told in Galatians 3:13: ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’ By ‘curse’, Paul does not mean any generic curse going around. No. Paul is talking about the curse of God’s law pronounced in the covenant to Israel on the verge of entering the Promised Land. You can read this in Deuteronomy. And if you haven’t read Deuteronomy, then again I say “What the heck?”

“Obedience to God by the nation of Israel in their new land would result in blessing: kids, land, crops, rain at the right time. That sort of thing. Disobedience to God by Israel in the land would result in cursing: no kids, expelled from the land, drought and no crops. That sort of thing.

“Israel was to be a light to the nations, showcasing the goodness of God, so that the Gentiles would be drawn to God. Their refusal to do so, [and] to worship other gods, to act unjustly and immorally, would usher in covenant curses and eventual expulsion from the land. Yet blessing and curse in Deuteronomy are merely harbingers of greater outcomes. Blessing is linked to life. Cursing is linked to death.

“Deuteronomy calls on God’s people to choose life. And the way to choose life is to obey God. Sadly Israel disobeys God, effectively choosing death.

“Paul the Christian, is Jewish to the core, and he gets what this means. He gets that the curse of being left hanging on a tree – a curse lifted directly from Deuteronomy’s curses – reveals that Christ has taken the full weight of the curse for Jew and Gentile alike on the cross.”

11. Heads up. The Debate team.

So, if the Greens can say the bushfires are Mother Nature attacking us, why can’t Israel Folau say God is doing the same thing? David Robertson, McAlpine’s Third Space colleague, has challenged Sydney Morning Herald columnist Peter FitzSimons to a public debate about what basis our society is prepared to judge upon.

12. The ‘Izzy is actually a nice bloke’ tribe. Or, at least, the Centre for Public Christianity thinks so.

CPX’s Simon Smart writes: “Though I have never met Israel Folau, by all reports he’s a really lovely bloke. And I loved watching him play rugby. I’m less enthusiastic about his theological pronouncements – and I have to say that he isn’t currently making ‘public Christianity’ any easier!”

“In terms of making the Christian message attractive and inviting, his recent comments – linking the drought and bushfires to God’s judgement – are extremely regrettable.”

“Not only is this insensitive to those who have suffered terribly in the fires and the drought, it is theologically problematic and sounds like superstition rather than a robust understanding of the Bible. This is not to say that God is inactive or uninvolved in our lives. But to try to definitively trace the finger of God in specific negative events is pastorally unhelpful and unnecessarily risks the reputation of the Christian message.”