Australia is often referred to as a “secular” nation, but the reality is more complex than that. Let’s just say that, when it comes to the practice of religious faith, researchers are more likely to find modern Australians at the beach or in pubs than in church pews.
Australia isn’t post-Christian Western Europe, but religious faith is rarely a major player in public life. (If my reading on this topic is out of date, please leave comments and point me to new sources.)
Thus, it’s interesting that religion is currently making big headlines down under, in part because religious issues are affecting politics and another topic that ordinary Australians view with religious fervor — rugby.
The question in this post is whether these two stories might be connected: First, there was Rugby Australia sacking the land’s most popular star, after he included homosexuality in a social-media post on sin, hell and the Bible. Then, days later, conservatives — led by an evangelical Protestant — shocked the world by winning a national election.
Once again we see a familiar questions: Are worries about religious liberty and free speech playing a role, in many cases, in this “populist” political wave that journalists around the world are struggling to cover?
First, let’s talk rugby, with this story from News.com.au, days before the national election:
An understandably gutted Israel Folau has issued a parting jab at Rugby Australia shortly after his official axing from the Wallabies.
The 30-year-old had his $4 million contract scrapped … following the nuclear fallout to his anti-gay Instagram post.
“It has been a privilege and honour to represent Australia and my home state of New South Wales, playing the game I love,” he said.
That social media post, which Folau has refused to take down, quoted the fifth chapter of St. Paul’s epistle to the Galatians.