Don’t spoil sport by trying to make it
ISRAEL Folau’s comments on social media touched a raw nerve. I can’t but help but think it’s the issue that not only Izzy, but that everybody got wrong. Rugby Australia’s response was over-reach. The media commentary suggests this is about the religious freedom versus hate speech. That is one core tension, but there are two others nobody is mentioning.
From the get-go, Folau’s original post was poor. We now live in a culture where you can’t just speak out your truth; you need to take some responsibility for how it will be received. Israel didn’t do that. The Christian message is a
balance of grace and truth, of love and justice. Jesus does speak out judgment, but usually after speaking grace. Folau’s post was unbalanced, and back-to-front.
Rugby Australia’s response was to take the moral high ground, leaving Folau the low ground of perpetrating hate speech. His post lacks what we now call ‘cultural intelligence’. But Rugby’s response was equally clumsy. They adopt a position that makes sense to educated middle class AngloSaxons like themselves, but not Pacific Islanders.
Let me explain. My brother is married to an Islander, and my parents have lived there for 15 years. It is different to Western culture. It is a familydriven culture, not individualistic. It is an honour shame culture, whereas the West is a guilt innocence culture. For Westerners, sexual expression is an individual’s choice. It is wrong to tell others what to do.
In Islander culture, contentment is found in being integrated into your cohesive family. Everyone’s function is to bring honour by doing things that make the family proud. When cohesion and honour come together, everyone is happy. Joy is a shared state of being.
So what do Island cultures make of homosexuality? A same-sex attracted individual does not fit neatly into a cohesive family structure. They don’t beget the next generation of cousins and grandchildren. This brings risks, it’s problematic. Publicly you speak against it as “sin”. You attempt to dissuade people from making a choice that can bring shame to the family. Privately, you accept the person as different, and you don’t talk about it. It is a taboo topic. This is precisely how Folau responds. It is reported he has gay friends and family members. But as an integrated member of a strong Polynesian family and Church, it is his place, when asked, to publicly speak against sin.
This leads to two astounding conclusions. First, it is unfair to describe Folau as homophobic. He may not affirm same-sex attraction as a lifestyle choice, but he does not have a neurotic fear of homosexuals as persons. Second, Rugby Australia’s response seriously lacks cultural intelligence. Given that close to half of their players are of Polynesian or Melanesian descent, this is astounding. Rugby Australia’s initial response has a whiff of neo-colonialism — of racism about it. As a former Australian Rugby Captain, Nick Farr-Jones has links inside rugby. He suggests the Polynesian Australian Rugby players feel ignored, not consulted and marginalised in the handling of this issue.
There is a second dimension no one is talking about. Is it the place of sports