Faith: What is right and what is fair?

Haneen Zreika & Israel Folau.
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More mainstream sports are showing inclusion for Rainbow communities by supporting Pride. However when Michael Stevens compares two sports stars’ rejections of their clubs’ inclusiveness, he wonders where hypocrisy ends and fairness begins?

Have you heard of Haneen Zreika? She plays for the Greater Western Sydney Giants, an Aussie Rules women’s team. 

To mark Pride, they had a special jersey to play in, but she decided because of her faith as a Muslim, that she couldn’t wear it. She explained this in a post on her Instagram.

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This sounds familiar! Remember Israel Folau? He used an Instagram post to say that homosexuals were sinners and going to Hell unless we repented.

Israel Folau (rightly) got a barrage of negative publicity, as well as support from various Christian groups. It ended his career in rugby in this part of the world, but he went on to play in Europe. 

There seems to have been no similar consequence for Zreika. Like Folau she basically says she takes a ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ approach. This is how faith-based homophobia typically excuses itself. But no mention of law cases or codes of conduct being broken for her.

I found it really puzzling to see how differently these two cases were treated. Is it because she’s a woman? Because she’s a Muslim? They are two groups that are seen as more disadvantaged, but Folau is from an ethnicity that often gets racist attacks too.

Or maybe the Aussie Rules authorities didn’t have the appetite for a public spat like the one Folau kicked off.

Is it fair though? 

When your team, or any organisation you’re a part of, has a publicly stated commitment to a cause, is it ok for one person to say “it goes against my beliefs, count me out”? A commitment presumably agreed to when you joined up? 

If you join a company that is a member of an organisation like Rainbow Tick, is it ok to pull out of any Pride activity if your faith or philosophy thinks it’s wrong? Is it ok for an atheist to refuse to take part in karakia (something increasingly found in many sectors of Aotearoa)? Or do you mumble through the words and pretend you don’t mind doing it? 

I’m not sure I have a clear answer, but it shows that religion and queerness are still very uneasy bedfellows and that religion continues to be a strong social force. As much as a lot of mainstream Christianity has tried to make itself more welcoming to us, it’s arguable that for most of Christian history Folau’s view was totally normal. We were seen as vile sinners who would burn in hell.

Mainstream Islam remains implacably opposed to us being seen as a legitimate part of their world, even though there are some Imams and prominent Muslims who teach we should be accepted and included. The only countries in the world where gay men live under the threat of execution are Muslim countries. 

What is said officially and what is done can often be different, and a “don’t ask, don’t tell” stance is taken in many cultures. Keep it on the down-low – that was my experience in Turkey, where many of the men I slept with were devout Muslims. They got married, had kids, outwardly conformed, and often felt shame and guilt about being gay.

So many people crave acceptance by the faith they were raised in. Religion is such a powerful force in our lives, whether we believe it or not. It is often deeply entwined with family rituals and cultural practices, and to exclude oneself, or to be excluded from these, can be a source of real emotional trauma.

I think that both Zreika and Folau displayed faith-based homophobia in their decisions, and I can’t show respect for that. Zreika didn’t double down in public in the way Folau did, so she escaped the same reaction and career-destroying outcome. But I wonder, is that really fair?

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