OPINION: No excuse for ‘ignorant bigotry’

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Australian rugby player Israel Folau’s recent comments that gay people would be condemned to hell if they failed to repent would be laughable if such rugby stars did not have a degree of – often unearned – public credibility.

There is an illogical assumption that those who achieve success in any field, be it sport or business, somehow develop expertise in almost anything else. They don’t.

Like it or not, some of these top-ranking sportsmen are seen as role models by impressionable youngsters and that places an extra burden on selectors and team managers.

If Folau was commenting on the intricacies of rugby, he might have been worth listening to, but he was commenting on a complex human social issue about which he appears to be as ignorant and ill-informed as quite a few others in recent times.

Last year Logan Robertson, founder of the Westcity Bible Baptist Church in Avondale, said during a sermon he was not against gay marriage “as long as a bullet goes through their head the moment they kiss”.

He also suggested women should not be allowed to vote. Really?

Brian Tamaki, another self-styled bishop of a church he set up for himself, also regularly launches into irrational attacks on the gay community. Last year he suggested the Canterbury earthquakes had been caused by gays, sinners and murderers.

By what superstitious methods they were supposed to have brought about that calamity he did not say but he seemed to attract at least some support for his outrageous stupidity. Like a cross between a black leather-clad bikie of the ’70s and a parasitic television evangelist, Tamaki is vaguely entertaining when there is nothing else in the news. Taking him seriously on human relations is probably not a good option.

It can be claimed, however, that we should respect the right of these people to express their religious opinions but that right carries with it a responsibility for them to respect the views of others. They don’t.

One obvious common denominator with these self-styled experts on human morality and the consequences for those who don’t live as they – at least say – they do, is new-age religious intolerance. Another common denominator is the misery they bring for too many of the more vulnerable in their congregations.

History is riddled with religious charlatans who have preyed on the fearful and gullible in society. Most don’t last very long but others have given rise to huge dynasties headed by obscenely wealthy people who do little beyond reinterpret and misinterpret the vague writings of suppressed desert tribesmen on the fringes of the Roman Empire 2000 years ago.

The days of judging our neighbours and fellow New Zealanders by the church they attend, if any, or the way they conduct their private lives have long gone.

I have no personal knowledge of the gay community, but they, like all those who share this country with me, have an undeniable right go about their private lives free of the ignorant bigotry that has become all too common in a few new-age churches in recent years.

By Tom O’Connor, out-going president of Grey Power