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Israel Folau: indoctrination and the Tongan Fakaleiti

By Max Wallace - posted Thursday, 9 May 2019

A perspective so far not considered in the Israel Folau controversy are the circumstances through which hundreds of thousands of Pacific Islanders, and those of Pacific Island descent, arrive at a point where their religious views would likely be characterised by the Australian majority that approved gay marriage, as 'bigoted'.

Firstly, let us recall the views that Israel Folau expressed.

It was that Hell awaits 'drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators' unless they repent and turn to Jesus Christ.


Folau is a member of the Truth of Jesus Christ Church which is a small 'born again' Christian sect. His father is a pastor in the church. The family have always been devout, and after one lapse away from his religion, Folau turned back to it with a passionate commitment.

Unsurprisingly, Folau's views were echoed by his Queensland Reds and Wallaby team mate, Tamela Tupou, who said: 'Seriously, you might as well sack me and all the other Pacific Island rugby players around the world because we have the same Christian beliefs'.

I would say that Tupou is more right than wrong. Recently an Australian tourist reported that on a 35 kilometre bike ride around Rarotonga, the capital of the Cook Islands, he found 23 separate factions of various Pentecostal, evangelical and Protestant sects before he lost count.

That comment would apply pretty much to most Pacific Island nations. The Pacific has been the target of a conversion campaign that started in the nineteenth century and continues to this day.

Anthropologist, Robert C. Kiste, writing in 1985, summarised the motivation for this conversion campaign: 'As the [Pacific] islanders were living without knowledge of Christ and the God of the Hebrews, they were living in a state of pathetic sin. For the missionary view, the islanders were enveloped in an age of darkness. They had to be converted and Westernized.'

Islanders were persuaded to abandon their own religions and convert. Lacking literacy, with no formal education, they were vulnerable.


The New Zealand MÄori put up a fight but they were overwhelmed by the superior weaponry of the British, the divide and rule tactics of the colonisers, and the religions on the conversion trail. But, at the same time, Polynesians did manage to retain many religious and non-religious aspects of their cultures.

This is the context from which Israel Folau came to his views. Like so many of his colleagues, I suggest, he was indoctrinated when a child. His father is a pastor in his church. The family's history is one of devotion.

He was born in Australia of Tongan descent.

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About the Author

Max Wallace is vice-president of the Rationalists Assn of NSW and a council member of the New Zealand Assn of Rationalists and Humanists.

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