I recently watched two documentaries back-to-back about two rugby greats, Dan Carter and the late Jonah Lomu. Watching the documentaries left me sad, annoyed and a little bit angry. The final scenes of Lomu on the beach with his boys, were a tragic reminder of what was lost to his family and community in his untimely death. I felt annoyed that that I noticed something in the contrast in the lives of Carter and Lomu that we don’t know how to talk about anymore. And I felt angry that words I need to express these ideas have been colonised. Even the concept of colonisation has been recast to empower elites to anoint victims and oppressors. Sport has been an unlikely ground for the games of race, sex and power to play out, but it may be the best place to re-assert our cultural boundaries.
I can’t tell you exactly what I loved about Rugby, but I can tell you how it was lost to me. As a woman, I would often be accused of loving Rugby for the perfect male specimens. I must admit I do like the larger physique of a rugby player over a skinny soccer or league player. Rugby is a sport that needs both force and speed. Nothing is funnier than watching a big fat forward stumbling down the field and over the line, but it’s usually the backs that do the running. They are smaller, faster and to be seen pulling the ball from the ruck and ducking between the mammoth figures of the field. The most hallowed players in Rugby have a beautiful combination of speed and strength, and are breathtaking to watch in full flight. Carter and Lomu both possessed this magic.
It is not just the physical spectacle I loved about Rugby, it was the anticipation, the rivalry, the comradery. Coming home on a Friday night in Super Rugby season knowing that the best players in the world were getting ready to clash somewhere. Being part of a tipping pool. The banter. The texting and the social media gloating, or remorse. I loved going to the games with our daughters, the butterflies I would feel as we filled the stadium, screaming till I was horse and jumping as the ball went over the line.
So, when I saw these documentaries on Netflix, I happily watched the stories of these men who were both products of the New Zealand rugby culture, and the world’s best Rugby training program. Dan Carter had a loving and supportive family. His father built him goal posts in his back yard. The family did not seem particularly wealthy, but his talent was combined with all the support a boy could need. His hard work and remarkable talent were complimented with a culture that worships rugby, the best training, family support and freakishly good looks.
Jonah Lomu was from the wrong side of Auckland. The man in the documentary who took credit for “discovering” Lomu, did so with appropriate humility. The way he recounted it reminded me of an expression my Czech friend use to use, “ohh you’ve discovered America”. Meaning you have just noticed the bleeding obvious. Lomu’s mother was a towering figure in his life, and he had a difficult and painful relationship with his father.
What struck me in the Jonah Lomu story, was the amazing figure of strength Lomu was to the Tongan community. This really mattered to him. It mattered that he was Tongan, and we are given so few ways to talk about this. By being offered the political choice to either place race into a colour-blind ideology or into an American critical race theory model, we can’t talk about the beauty or the struggle of Polynesian cultures in sports like Rugby. We can’t talk easily about how the sport can lift individuals out of harmful patterns or how their culture can cause difficulties for them. And we definitely can’t talk about the way adherence to traditional cultures or religions can be a form of salvation for a young man amidst the cultural struggles. This is especially true if that religion is Christianity (for Lomu it was Mormonism).
This first come to my attention a few years ago when I read a piece that Israel Folau wrote in Athletes Voice in July 2017. He spoke about being a Polynesian boy and man in Australian culture and in Australian sport. In the piece, Folau speaks about the relationship with his father, coaches and the suicide of his good friend. Race, and the different cultures that exist in racial groups, affect people’s lives in real and important ways. In the left-wing culture I was birthed in, we were going to overcome racism by listening, by writing, by better understanding, just as Folau had done here.
The day my daughter messaged me to say that Israel Folau (Izzy) was at the next table to her in a café, I knew she was catching the rugby bug. She knew I loved Izzy. He was an unashamed Christian, he was tall and fast and strong, holding the promise of our very own Lomu, and the character we could admire as a Christian family. Even though she only admired him from a distance, I could tell the tall handsome athlete had the effect on her that good looking men sometimes have on teen girls. I remember it because those are the kind of moments you start to worry about your daughter in a new way, and hope you have instilled in them an equal measure of adventure and suspicion. I also remember it because the conversations about Israel Folau in our household continued, as he dive-bombed into the culture wars with a meme.
The meme from April 2019 stated, “Warning, Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolaters, hell awaits you, repent, only Jesus saves.”. I know it word for word because it is still there on Instagram. Keeping it up has cost Folau more than most of us would give to pretty much any cause. At the time I would have considered myself more evangelical in doctrine than most, but Izzy was more fundamental in faith and less polite in expression than I.
Like most Christians, I shamelessly grabbed the popcorn. It wasn’t that I wanted people to be hurt, or to see more conflict after and intense same sex marriage debate. Rather, the meme, combined with Folau’s life and race, made an interesting intersection for the culture wars in Australia. I was hoping for some sane discussion about liberal rights.
Had Folau been out on the weekend with a harem of women and then called people fornicators, we could assume the ideas expressed in the meme were of dubious intent. But there is nothing to suggest that Folau is not deeply committed to his religion, and in all sincerity worried about the mortal souls of people who stray from the strict conservative morality of the Bible. This was, for me, a clear case of religious speech. Folau was a religious man, a valuable player and what was now being fashionably called a “person of colour”.
I had a friend who was suspended from a Facebook group for reacting to the scandal by saying he was going to start an equal rights group for fornicators. We had ongoing jokes about the fornicators lobby group we planned to start. What would the flag be? I really thought that Izzy was pretty bullet proof, not just because of his stature and skill, but because he was Tongan. What has happened to him since has made me ashamed of my initial reactions, and embarrassed to see the way our country continues to treat Indigenous people and Islanders in sport, as if their race is nothing, or that it is everything.
Almost as soon as the issue blew up, famous narcissist and Folau’s “friend” Peter Fitzsimons, publicly dumped him like the proverbial hot potato. Elites were very clear to distance themselves from Folau, and made it clear that diversity in Australia was condition upon the acceptance of the new Australian “values”. Folau was accused of being a victim of “whiteness” by Ruby Hamad. According to Hamad, Folau and all Christian Polynesians, had taken on “the gospel as preached by their colonisers; only for the colonisers to then finally soften their own stances against homosexuality and decide that homophobia was yet another moral failing of the colonised.”
By lazily placing everything in an American critical race theory (CRT) framework, Hamad ignores that CRT is part of the progressive framework that she and other elites like Fitzsimons use to colonise, not just Islanders, but all forms of cultural, ideological and religious speech. A Polynesian man can come to Australia, but he cannot choose his own sexual morality. Colonising is not done by skin colour, but by power structures disseminating an accepted ideology. Although Christianity was once integrated into the state ideology, “the colonisers” have changed direction to embrace the useful tools of ideological control found in CRT and gender ideology.
The behaviour of Australian Rugby since this point has taken all the joy out of the game for me. It is not just that Folau has been sacked, both Israel Folau and his wife have mercilessly harassed about their beliefs. Israel’s wife Maria recently retired as an elite Netballer after a 150 cap career with the New Zealand Ferns. Maria is Tongan, and at 188cm she is only slightly shorter than her husband. They make a physically striking young couple. Given their beauty, skill and success, they should have been the quintessential celebrity couple for a sport obsessed nation like Australia. Having just had their first child, we should be seeing their smiling perfectly teethed faces strewn all over New Idea. But they now reside in France where Izzy plays for Catalan Dragons.
As a lay preacher Folau has had his online sermons stalked for wrong think. One sermon was mocked for his belief that the gender transitioning of young children was the work of the devil. Sex and gender is a more delicate subject for Rugby. They will have insurance brokers leering over them at the prospect of females and males on a rugby field together. England Rugby has now published the following definition of Female, “Female: refers to a person who does not produce male levels of testosterone at puberty and adolescence.”
It is here where Folou’s beliefs have made an unlikely alliance with and some outspoken “homosexuals”. The term homoSEXual is being re-adopted by a group of gay people who want to emphasise that they are same sex attracted, not same gender attracted. The distinction may seem small, but it is exactly where the culture war is forging unusual alliances.
Homosexual men and women are being told by powerful LGBTIQ lobbies, that they will be only represented by them if they conform to the queer theory concept of sex and gender. It is a stand that asks many lesbians to give more ground than they are willing to cede. On the basis that “trans women are women”, and a woman is anyone who identifies as a woman, fully intact males are identifying as lesbians and accessing lesbian spaces. Some male “lesbians” are then unashamedly requesting sexual access to lesbians’ bodies. Whatever sexual morality Christians hold; we must always defend sexual autonomy.
Gender critical feminists are getting banned from social media for making statements that are considered culturally outdated. Such statements include, “women are not men”, that women are “adult human females”, and that male bodied people should not be present while teen girls undress. Many grown up homosexuals are saying they can live with the idea that religious people are worried about their mortal soul. That the expression of that unpalatable part of the Christian religion is the price they pay for being able to express their own beliefs.
For agreeing with Christians on biological sex and gender, gays and feminists are themselves being accused of aligning with the devil. The new state religion is just as puritanical as the old and quite a lot less forgiving. The liberal idea of agreeing to disagree is being replaced by old fashioned tribal idea of guilt by association.
Amid rumours that Folau was to be allowed back to play rugby league last year, former Chair of the ARL Commission Peter Beatie said “We are an inclusive game with respect for all. Israel has social media posts online that go against what our game stands for.” Izzy won’t take the post down. This weird ugly meme has become a line in the sand in the culture wars, that is not about Christianity, sexuality or race, while being all about freedom of religion, sex and diversity of culture.
The latest push by the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) to “let Izzy Play” has been met with the new ARL Commission chair Peter V’landys, saying that there “are a lot more things in life that they could be lobbying for, like [an end to] poverty and inequality and all those sort of things, rather than this.”. It is a warning that the churches days of cultural influence are over, they must stay in their lane.
Colonising is not about colour, it is about flattening out culture, about uniformity. The truth is that people do suffer disadvantage because of their race and their sex and their sexuality and their religion. But these things are not to be fixed by imposing a state mandated ideology. That is tyranny. It is time for the Christians, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolaters, and drunk sports lovers of all colours to unite. We bow to the priests of the new state progressive religion at the cost of diversity, kindness, talent and for me, the love of the game they play in heaven.