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Rugby player Israel

SYDNEY, Australia, April 12, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – A Christian athlete in Australia is refusing to back down from his comments about homosexuality, despite public backlash.

Israel Folau is a rugby player on the New South Wales Waratahs team. Last week, controversy erupted when he answered a question on social media by saying that God’s plan for homosexuals was “HELL… Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God.” Last year, he said that while he has “love and respect” for all people, he would not support the country’s referendum to recognize same-sex “marriage.”

Backlash was swift. The sport’s leading union in the country, Rugby Australia, declared that it “supports all forms of inclusion, whether its sexuality, race, or gender.” The union’s chief sponsor, Qantas Airlines, said, “we find the comments very disappointing.”

A headline from the New Zealand sports site Rugby Heaven called Folau’s comments “hate speech,” while Welsh referee Nigel Owens lectured him that “being gay is not a choice.”

Tuariki Delamere, the former immigration minister of New Zealand, even suggested that his country could deny Folau from entering on the grounds that his views made him a “threat to the public order.”

On April 8, Folau tweeted a passage from Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.

“Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake,” it read. “Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

Several stories have interpreted the tweet as the athlete claiming that the backlash to his comments constituted persecution, although he regularly shares Bible verses on Twitter.

Rugby Australia says it will not sanction Folau for his comments and hopes to renew his contract, which expires at the end of the season. Following a meeting with the player, Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle said the union hoped to strike a balance between him “stand[ing] up for what he believes in” and the union’s “position of inclusion.”

“He's been a really strong role model in the Pasifika community and we would like to see that he stays in rugby,” she added.

However, Rugby Australia also said it will “continue to dialogue” with Folau about how to use social media “in a way that can ensure that all of our stakeholders are respected,” which may suggest his future with the union and its sponsors is not entirely secure.

For his part, Folau made clear he is unwilling to compromise on his faith.

“He refused to guarantee he wouldn't make such comments again and will walk away from the game if necessary,” Rugby Heaven’s Andrew Webster reported. “The most important team in his life is ‘Team Jesus,’ as per his Twitter account.”