Folau's Fresh Controversy: Claims That Wildfires Are God's Punishment

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday November 18, 2019

The terrifying fires that have wrought havoc in California in recent years now have a parallel in highly destructive brush fires that ravaged Australian states New South Wales and Queensland. Scientists might point to climate change as a primary driver for such catastrophes, but to the anti-gay right a handy source for any and all natural disasters has long been God... specifically, that the Almighty is "punishing" people on Earth for their misdeeds.

Could those misdeeds include genocide? Ecological mismanagement such as wholesale pollution or driving a significant share of Earth's biodiversity toward extinction? Perhaps huge inequality in wealth, or corruption among secular and religious leaders? Don't bet on it. The foremost target of such claims is - you guessed it - the LGBTQ community. And the guy who torched his own high-flying career as possibly Australia's best rugby player is now sounding off on Australia's California-like wildfires, claiming they are the result of a divine unhappiness with LGBTQ people being treated with legal parity.

Former rugby star Israel Folau, who lost a $4 million contract last May after he repeatedly attacked sexual minorities in his social media posts, told parishioners in a sermon he delivered at his church this past weekend that God was expressing His displeasure with marriage equality by way of highly destructive brush fires that have burned nearly 4,3000 acres in New South Wales alone, incinerating over 500 homes in the process, UK publication The Telegraph reports. Tragically, six people have died in the fires.

Calling the blazes a "little taste of God's judgement," Folau told churchgoers that the disaster was not a "coincidence," but rather God's way of lashing out at the country over same-sex marriage, according to an article at ITV. Folau told his audience that Australia needed to "repent" and "take these laws and turn it back to what is right by God."

Folau's seizing on the natural disaster drew sharp critiques from leaders and ordinary citizens alike. Australian's Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, told the media that the former star's remarks were "appalling,:" reported the BBC, and went on to add that:

"He is a free citizen, he can say whatever he likes but that doesn't mean he can't have [some sensitivity with regard] to the grievance [and] offense this would have caused to the people whose homes have burnt down."

As EDGE has previous reported in coverage of Folau's torturous anti-gay saga, Folau was fired in May following a string of homophobic posts. Those remarks own social media violated his team's policies, as well as those of Rugby Australia, and they cost him sponsorship deals with Asics and Land Rover and reportedly angered rugby sponsor Qantas airlines.

It all began when Folau posted an anti-gay message at Instagram last year in which he declared that gays are destined to be consigned to "HELL," a comment he made in response to a follower's question on God's plan for sexual minorities. When that post prompted a backlash, Folau was warned by Rugby Australia officials. Folau immediately began claiming he was the victim of religious persecution, even though he was let off with nothing more than a warning.

But Folau's homophic attacks just kept on coming until he finally crossed the line with a post he made in April that drew from the King James Version of the Bible and lumped LGBTQs together with "liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists," and others deemed by scripture to be sinful.

At that point, Rugby Australia announced its intention to fire Folau and the case went to a tribunal, which found the athlete to be in "high breach of contract" for continuing to post incendiary homophobic material. Rugby Australia officially canceled Folau's contract in May, only for Folau to launch legal proceedings against the organization - again claiming that he was the victim of religious persecution, a charge that Rugby Australia flatly rejected.

Folau then set up a GoFundMe page and made a video in which he portrayed himself as being attacked for his faith. After a backlash, GoFundMe yanked Folau's page, citing their own community standards. Folau then took his solicitations elsewhere and reportedly raked in $2 million in donations.

This weekend's performance was to the first time Folau has taken to the pulpit to blast non-heterosexuals. He also attacked LGBTQ people during church services last summer.

Religious leaders blaming LGBTQs for natural disasters is a time-worn ploy, and he been used in the wake of fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, and other catastrophes. But the claims are notoriously erratic in how they are applied, and those who make such claims seem less than scientific in tracking disasters and theoretically corresponding human "immorality." Curiously, The Netherlands - the first nation in the modern world to legalize same-sex marriage, in 2001 - has not experienced any unusual episodes of wildfires in the last 18 years.

Also curiously, religious leaders have been conspicuously less apt to claim that earthquakes are the result of divine punishment since it became widely known that the practice of fracking - a means of extracting otherwise-inaccessible petroleum resources - can trigger seismic events.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.