Scott Morrison has labelled comments by sacked rugby union star Israel Folau linking devastating bushfires to Australia passing laws to legalise abortion and same-sex marriage “appallingly insensitive”.
Although both the prime minister and the Labor leader Anthony Albanese defended Folau’s right to express the view, condemnation on Monday was swift and bipartisan.
The former Wallaby has claimed that the bushfires that have devastated the country and left six Australians dead are God’s punishment for legalising abortion and same-sex marriage.
Dumped by Rugby Australia after warning gay people and other “sinners” they would go to hell unless they repented, Folau has doubled down on the stance in a video sermon posted to the Truth of Jesus Christ Church Sydney.
During the 10-minute recording, the 30-year-old says the timing of the bushfire crisis is no coincidence but only a taste of God’s judgment should nothing change.
“I’ve been looking around at the events that’s been happening in Australia, this past couple of weeks, with all the natural disasters, the bushfires and the droughts,” he says.
He then reads from the Book of Isaiah in the Bible, The Lord’s Devastation of the Earth:
“The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt. Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left.”
Folau links the passage to the twin disasters of bushfire and drought and, in turn, the legalisation of same-sex marriage and abortion.
While he has gained the support of prominent conservatives for his stance, his latest comments may alienate many.
Morrison told reporters in Adelaide that although Folau “is a free citizen, he can say whatever he likes, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have regard to the grievous offence this would have caused to people whose homes have been burnt down”.
Morrison, an evangelical Christian, said that for many Christians “that is not their view at all” and their thoughts and prayers “are very much with those who are suffering under the terrible burden of fire”.
“Let’s just focus on those who need our help most and if people don’t have something sensible or helpful to say, can you just keep it to yourself?”
On Monday the Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, said Australians “think of a loving God, they don’t think of religion or faith in those terms”.
“[Folau’s] comments are in line with some of his other comments which are pretty reprehensible, frankly,” Albanese told Sky News.
“I think it’s unfortunate that they were made, but Mr Folau has a history of making provocative comments. He’s entitled to his view but it’s also incumbent on people who have a bit of common sense to reject those comments.”
Labor MP Julian Hill argued the Coalition’s religious freedom legislation would allow both ridicule of Folau and for Folau to “insult and preach at his gay work colleagues”:
The Nationals backbencher Barnaby Joyce said it was pointless to engage with Folau. “He throws rocks at us so he feels good, we throw rocks back at him so we feel good … but not one of those actions is making a sandwich for a person fighting the fires,” Joyce told the Seven Network.
In the video, Folau says he believes the scripture is talking to Australia. “Look how rapid these bushfires, these droughts, all these things have come in a short period of time. Do you think it’s a coincidence or not?
“God is speaking to you guys. Australia, you need to repent and take these laws and turn it back to what is right.”
Folau also says he is sharing the message “out of love”.
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