Lisa Wilkinson’s brutal Folau question catches leader out
The head of the Australian Christian Lobby has faced an awkward grilling on The Sunday Project, declining to give a straight answer about whether he agrees with sacked Wallabies star Israel Folau that gay people are going to hell.
Martyn Iles, whose organisation is backing a massive crowd-funding push that has raised nearly $700,000 for Folau's legal proceedings against Rugby Australia and Rugby NSW, was sprung with the question by host Lisa Wilkinson at the end of the interview.
Folau had his $4 million Rugby Australia contract terminated in May over an Instagram post saying "hell awaits" homosexuals, among other groups of people. A tribunal found him guilty of a "high-level" breach of the organisation's code of conduct.
He has launched legal proceedings in the Fair Work Commission and is seeking up to $10 million in damages. The case could be a landmark test of religious freedoms in Australia.
"Martyn, just quickly before we let you go - speaking of feeling marginalised, do you believe that homosexuals go to hell?" Wilkinson asked.
Mr Iles replied that the "mainstream Christian belief on this is that all of us are born going to hell". "We're all sinners and I don't think it's helpful to say that Israel Folau's post targeted homosexuals - it didn't," he said.
"I was on the list. I think each of us were on the list. We're all sinners. We will be judged by God and we will be found wanting. I think that's something that some Australians find offensive.
"But it is actually a Christian belief which runs to the very heart, soul and core of Christianity. And yeah, we'll be judged on our sexual behaviours. Me, as a straight man, will be judged on my sexual behaviours and found wanting.
"And that's what Israel was saying when he was talking about salvation in Jesus Christ available to all, and millions of Australians believe that. So if we want to argue about that set of beliefs, we should actually argue about it.
"But I don't think that the politically correct baseball bat should be wielded to do a guy out of a job, pull the rug out from under his feet, get rid of his salary, then drag his name through the mud in the media. That's not the kind of society I think we should live in to deal with issues like this."
The lengthy response prompted co-host Hamish Macdonald - who publicly came out as gay at the GQ Gentleman's Ball earlier this month - to hit back, "I'm not clear what you think. Do you think homosexuals go to hell or not?"
Mr Iles said, "I don't think it's that simple. I think we decline the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, and will be judged."
Earlier in the interview, Macdonald grilled Mr Iles on the conditions of Folau's fundraiser, which state that "there will be no obligation to apply the funds in any particular way with respect to his legal action".
Mr Iles said there was a "lawyer with a pencil behind his ear somewhere who said that's what they had to do in order to make it compliant with the various fundraising schemes around the country … but I can guarantee that it goes into trust and it can only be used for that reason".
He added that people were "still donating that money regardless of what that says".
"He's tapped into something, which is that there's a lot of people out there who feel the pinch of political correctness, they feel the challenge to their beliefs, and they want to be able to be a part of the movement and put some tangible support in," he said.
"So, regardless of what it says there, people are still donating in huge quantities - but it is true that this is going into trust and it will be used properly."
He stressed the money "has to be used for legal expenses" and Folau "can't use that money to go and buy a new car". "It's more than just about the money," he said.
"If he was into money, he would have taken the deal - he would have walked away from the negotiations a rich man by deleting the post or taking some other remedial action. But I think what Israel has been able to do is rally a movement around himself and around the cause."
He said there was "definitely sort of a rich vein of public sentiment that the Folau case taps into". "My organisation is contacted every week by multiple people who are either feeling marginalised in their workplace or their professional life or whatever because of their Christian beliefs," he said.
"For many of them, they're facing the same challenges that Israel has had. Some of them have lost jobs, some of them are under disciplinary review. Some of them have had, you know, various adverse actions taken against them.
"I keep saying that Israel is the guy that was famous. There were many before him, and there continue to be some after him. And I think that there's a sense here that people feel marginalised for their convictions and their beliefs. And that's why this has been such a massive success.
"And I think not only should the Australian community just take notice of that sense and take some learnings from it, but I think that the politicians should also sit up and take notice, because we've been talking about religious freedom for a long time, but not much movement at the station, unfortunately."
Users on social media were divided on the interview. "Can't believe this 'Christian'," Natalie Constable wrote on Facebook. "Disgusting. Take him off air."
But Max Striker said it was "too bad they didn't get the answer that they were hoping for so they could sensationalise the response like they always do on this show".
"Unfortunately this person didn't say, 'Yes, Hamish, you and you partner are going straight to hell for being gay'," he wrote.