Israel Folau
Israel Folau

Israel Folau: Does God need better PR?

MORE than 30 years ago, doing an assignment for university, I wrote a magazine article on Christians in the media.

I asked the then editor in chief of the Sunshine Coast Daily for his thoughts about the influence of Christians, their place in the media and about how good they were in getting their message across.

He said that Christians were not unlike any other people - if they did something newsworthy, they deserved a run. He then joked that perhaps if we were still throwing them in the lion's den, they might get more coverage.

At the time, the Sunshine Coast had some of the biggest churches in the country. Yet the local editor wasn't even aware they existed.

Fast forward to now and I've been thinking a lot about how Christians come across in the media, particularly in wake of the Israel Folau controversy.

I sometimes wonder whether we are indeed throwing Christians in the metaphorical lion's den - or whether they are throwing themselves in.

As a Christian who has worked in the media for more than 30 years, I sometimes cringe at what comes out of the mouths of fellow Christians.

They come across as judgemental, self-righteous, narrow-minded and unable to effectively communicate the gospel of Christ.

Some seem to spend more time speaking of the dangers of Islam, or horror of gay marriage, than the wonder of God.

But I'm also disturbed by how some in the media have begun targeting the Christian viewpoint.

I don't know Israel Folau but looking through his Instagram feed, you can see he is a young man who is passionate about his faith.

He's more interested in being a God pleaser than a man pleaser. Some would call that gutsy.

"Be brave enough to follow Jesus even if it means losing your reputation with the world,'' reads one of his posts.

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"We live in a day when biblical truth is considered hate speech, even among those who profess Christ. It is loving to tell the truth no matter how much it may hurt the hearers."

Israel also targets the 'mega churches' in some of his posts, accusing them of teaching happiness, rather than holiness.

One post laments the church becoming a nightclub and the pulpit becoming a stage, perhaps talking of the Hillsong style churches renowned more for their music and entertainment than teaching.

Other posts talk of false teachings, including coming to Jesus to get health, wealth and prosperity. "No. Come to Jesus to get Jesus,'' it says.

As a Christian, I understand what Folau was trying to do with his now infamous Instagram post saying all these different people, including homosexuals, are going to hell.

But to be frank, I believe it did a lot more damage than good, not only for the reputation of Christians, but for young people struggling with their sexual identity.

As one person said at our church recently, when talking about how to speak with people searching for answers, the gay community is showing more love to these young people, than we are as a church.

When considering moral issues, I often come back to the question 'What would Jesus do?"

I'm reminded of the story when everyone was surrounding the prostitute ready to stone her, Jesus was the bloke that said 'Let who that is without sin cast the first stone'.

Jesus himself didn't speak much, if anything, about homosexuality, but it is listed among many sins in the Bible, which of course, promotes the view that marriage is between a man and a woman and that sex should be reserved for after marriage. That of course, puts many in the 'going to hell' camp.

As Israel Folau rightly points out, there are many teachings in the Bible that cause division in the modern age.

We live in a society that encourages pluralism - that there are many ways to find happiness, purpose and even God.

Jesus taught "I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me."

He also said of himself, that he came to the world not to judge it but to save it.

In many ways, I think this has to be the message of the church and Christians to the outside world - one of love, not of condemnation.

That's the church I enjoy every week - where people genuinely care for one another - and reach out to those struggling - regardless of their backgrounds or beliefs.

And despite what you see in the media, churches, on the whole, do far more good in our community, than evil.

Regardless of our beliefs, all of us should be able to speak the truth we believe. 

In the end, however, love is far more powerful than hate. Jesus, by example, showed that more than anyone by the way he cared for the poor, the sick and the distressed.