Israel Folau Posted Anti-Gay Message 'Out Of Love', Defends Family
As Israel Folau faced his second day in front of the Rugby Australia code of conduct board fighting to retain his career, his congregation met for an emotional Sunday service.
His fellow faithful prayed for Folau after he was dismissed by Rugby Australia last month for posting homophobic comments online in which he 'warned' LGBT people that they would go to hell.
Folau friends and family said the entire congregation was standing by the player and were proud of him for "not being ashamed" of professing his faith.
"Myself and the congregation, we fully support Israel and we stand for the truth and the truth in the Bible," cousin Josiah Folau told media, who were invited into the service at the Truth of Jesus Christ church in Sydney.
"The words he posted were not his words, they are words that come straight from the Bible and we stand behind him, standing for that truth. "
Josiah said regardless of the outcome of his cousin's hearing, the congregation was proud the word of their God was being shared to the world by Folau.
Evelyn Hema, who delivered an emotional prayer for the 30-year-old at the service, cried as she told reporters how proud she was of her friend.
"We are proud of the servant that he is and the God that is within him that is able to profess and stand strong and firm and steadfast in the faith that he has for our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ," she said.
Evelyn said Folau was being persecuted by the public and media because he was a well-known sporting star and claimed people would not have condemned him if he was not in the public eye.
"For him, because he is out there and the world knows him, he is an elite player, so it goes out there, the truth it does offend," she said.
"Whatever the outcome is, whether it's good or bad, we will still glorify the God that we serve."
Josiah also insisted Folau's words came from a place of love and not malice.
When asked about the hurt Folau's comments would have on young queer youth struggling to come out, Josaiah said he understood the words of the bible were "harsh", but stood by them.
"It's words that come straight from the Bible and you can't change what the word of God says," Josiah said.
"He posted it out of love and when I say out of love, he means the people that the post was about, so thieves, adulterers, liars, all of them, homosexuals as well... in the words of God it says if they continue in their sinful ways without having repented and being baptised in the name of Jesus Christ, they will end up in a place separated from God for eternity.
"So if you truly love someone, just as Israel loves everyone, he would want to warn people."
Josiah said it has been difficult to watch his cousin be persecuted but said the heart of the congregation was with Folau.
"I know for a fact that he is a kind person, he is a loving person," Josiah said.
"He didn't post the post or what he said out of malice."
Folau himself addressed his congregation late last month, days after the scandal erupted over his social media post and he was sacked.
Footage showed Folau breaking into tears while delivering a sermon on Easter Sunday.
Folau's most recent controversial media posts -- in which he also took aim at Tasmania's recent decision to make the inclusion of gender optional on birth certificates -- is not the first time he has been warned by his employer for his comments.
In April, he said he was prepared to walk away from the sport altogether instead of backing down on his Christian beliefs, after Rugby Australia was forced to address anti-gay comments their star player made on social media.
Rugby lead great Ian Roberts, who in 1995 became the first high profile Australian sports person to come out as gay, said he felt sorry for Folay, but that ultimately, "there are consequences to your actions".
"I don't say this lightly what I'm about to say — the language I use is hard and it's for a point, it's to get that message across," he told Channel Nine on Sunday.
"There are literally [gay] kids in the suburbs killing themselves.
"I say that with the greatest sense of respect, and I'm not implying that Israel's responsible solely for that, please don't take it that way.
"But it's these types of comments and these off-the-cuff remarks, when you have young people and vulnerable people, kids in the suburbs, who are dealing with their sexuality."
He added that remarks like Folau's can literally "push people over the edge".
A decision on Folau's future in rugby is expected this week.
To speak to someone about mental health or sexuality, speak to QLife on 1800 184 527 or chat online. If you are in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Featured Image: Kim Pratt
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