Izzy good? Izzy bad?
You can see the Hollywood movie now.
Racial minority member of society makes it big in a sport played predominantly by white, well educated private school types. He holds opposing views about sexuality and religion to the multi-national corporations in their suits who are paying the big bucks to keep the sports machine afloat.
He’s the most talented player on the field, wins all the games for the team, and the money pours in. But he’s on a warning. Fit in Izzy. Don’t show your true colours. Don’t express your true self.
One day he decides to stick it to the man and express his true diversity, and that’s when the corporates get heavy with him, forcing the sport to rip up his contract.
Can’t wait for Act Three can you? Act Three when all is forgiven and he is rushed onto the field in the last quarter hour to win the game, and the trophy and the hearts of the nation.
Only this time there won’t be an Act Three. This feel-good movie ends at Act Two. Our hero trudges off down the dug-out to a cold shower and an uncertain future. Credits roll, theatre showered in rainbow glitter as we leave.
The Israel Folau case - “Instagate?” clearly shows that Izzy has expressed the wrong kind of diversity in his chosen setting, and there can be no Hollywood ending for him. You know the kind of diversity I mean, the Western, vanilla kind of diversity that goes skin deep, but no deeper.
Of course Izzy has clouded the waters somewhat by apparently reneging on a spoken agreement that he would no longer raise the issue of sexuality in his social media accounts, upon pain of having his contract ripped up.
And that’s unfortunate. It’s unfortunate because it fogs the wider issue of how confused our culture has become about sexual identity issues. In a sense Izzy’s now-complicated circumstance is far less complicated than what is coming down the line for progressive Western nations, for whom individual freedom - when it comes to sexual identity and practice - is a crucial component.
For while all this is going on in Australia with a huge sports star making millions, some twelve thousand miles away in the UK city of Birmingham, hundreds of lower class Muslim families have been taking protest action over the teaching of sex education classes for their children that present same sex relationships as normal and healthy in a modern society.
The progressive cultural narrative has been that we must have greater diversity within our Western nations, and we must lose the “male, pale and stale” foundation of who we are.
Yet what we find is that progressives baulk at diversity that goes deeper than the skin. Whole communities of migrants in the western suburbs of Sydney voted against same sex marriage, primarily on the basis of ethnic and religious grounds.
Islanders like Izzy, and Muslim communities in Western Sydney are not signing up to the progressive sexual narrative. They’re championing diversity all right - huge great swathes of diversity, and it’s making the well educated, well heeled progressives nervous.
They either ignore it, hoping it will be laundered out over a couple of generations, or they patronise it, by assuming that once those less educated, less well-rounded types get up to speed with what modern culture is all about, they’ll jettison their dark age assumptions. Both hopes are set to be dashed.
Couple that with the fact that many migrant communities are completely unbothered about going toe to toe in an argument, having not yet drunk the Kool Aid of Western middle class passive-aggressive styles of disagreement, you’ve got a recipe for an uncomfortable couple of decades coming up, unless of course we can agree to live with our deepest differences.
I’m not all that confident we have the social, cultural or emotional tools at our disposal to do so. The evidence so far is that our secular culture is dead scared of actual difference, of deep diversity, and is caught between a rock and hard place.
Modern Western nations are going to have to put their money where their mouths are when it comes to actual diversity, not the vanilla version they so desperately wish that everyone else would sign up to. Or they’ll have to admit they are not actually all that diverse.
The resultant insecurity in our nations will see us garner an ever increasing number of laws and regulations to monitor and hedge what people can say and do, all in the vain assumption that if they push it underground it will go away. It won’t.
For every Izzy Folau out there, there are six hundred social, culturally and religiously conservative no-name migrants coming into our communities who wish to lead peaceful, free lives, but who will never sign up to Western notions of sexuality and individual expression. Let’s figure out a way we can live together with deep difference, rather than patronising them with Western society’s anaemic version of diversity. But let’s not assume the government, the corporations or the cultural insiders can figure out how to do it.
Written by Stephen McAlpine
Stephen McAlpine works both as a pastor at Providence Church in Perth, and for City Bible Forum. He writes and speaks on matters of culture, theology and the church, and blogs at stephenmcalpine.com. Stephen and his wife Jill have been involved in church planting in Perth for more than a decade, while Jill also runs a Clinical Psychology practice and trains churches and other organisations in establishing good models of pastoral care. They have two children, Sophie and Declan.