I am not a Christian, but I grew up in a family that held Christian values in high regard. We had two rules – 1. That we all loved each other and 2. That Elizabeth went to bed on time. To be honest, I'm not sure what the Bible says about the sanctity of bedtime, but love, compassion, respect, kindness, honesty, and loyalty were all instilled in me from a young age. Love has always been my guiding doctrine.
Over the years I've learned that love can be demonstrated in many different ways. It can be found in the bonds of whānau and close friends. It can be found in serving others. It can be found in helping those less fortunate. It can be found in showing compassion and respect even to those we disagree with. It can be found in the life-affirming connection one has with their partner.
I am endlessly fortunate to have an abundance of love in my life. I am also immensely lucky to have an amazing partner to share my life with. She happens to be a woman.
Technically, I'm bisexual. I have been with men in the past. You could argue that I could "choose" not to be gay. The thing is… none of the men (nor women) I've been with have made my heart sing like Lisa does. Not even close. And the idea of living a life without her in it – that would be hell. You can't tell me that a merciful God would want us to live lives full of suffering, living apart and denying our love. I would argue that a love that is as nurturing, warm, supportive, enveloping and deeply caring as ours can only be the work of a higher being. I feel blessed every single day.
My beautiful, warm-hearted fiancee suggested that we should invite you and Maria to our wedding so that you can witness first hand a same-sex marriage that is utterly filled with love, devotion and kindness. She's more compassionate and generous than I am. I'm not willing to take the risk of an impromptu sermon on fire and brimstone in the middle of the best day of my life. Particularly as there will be other LGBTQI+ people there to celebrate our love with us. People who we love, who have supported us through thick and thin, because they are wonderful human beings.
They don't deserve your condemnation. Your words are stones. You cast them at us for committing the sin of daring to love. You cast them at our transgender friends for committing the sin of daring to be who they are. You've chosen the wrong targets. We love bravely, even when the odds are stacked against us. We walk down the street as our authentic selves, though some of our number have collapsed under the weight of words like yours. Words that can have terrible, lethal power.
Love is surely the opposite of sin. People who hurt others, people who hoard power and resources so that others don't have enough, people who steal, people who lie and trick and deceive – they are sinners. If you need to save someone, save them. Target them with your harsh words, show them the error of their ways, teach them to be better and show them compassion and forgiveness. Domestic abusers, rapists, thieves, liars… there are plenty of troubled people to choose from. But don't lump us in with them. Our love is the antithesis of their deeds.
You are of course entitled to your views. People have the right to think all kinds of horrible things. Our thoughts, when expressed, aren't without consequences, however. One of the consequences of language that denigrates marginalised groups is high suicide statistics in those groups. Another is the displeasure of employers who set certain codes of conduct for their employees. And the loss of sponsorship money, when one's values diverge from those of the brands they represent.
The Folaus, faith and freedom of speech: what we should all remember
Frank Ritchie: Worrying trend of extremism on all sides
Hosking: A problem like Maria? Haters need to leave Mrs Folau alone
Your actions have had consequences, Israel. You have lost your contract. That is unfortunate. You were, however, warned, and forgiven once before. You are now seeking to turn an employment complaint into a bigger debate about the freedom of expression. Powerful organisations that are supporting you are no doubt hoping to turn it into a legal precedent.
Your actions have had consequences for others too. Young people figuring out their sexuality have had to endure an international discussion about whether people should have legal protections to say unkind things about gay people. The families of LGBTQI+ people have had to listen to people on television saying horrible things about their loved ones. Rainbow people of all ages and backgrounds have had to watch straight people engage in an "interesting debate" about something that doesn't affect them at all. And those in the rainbow community who are fighting every day just to survive… you can imagine the kind of impact your actions may have had upon them.
I'm not naive enough to think that this letter will change your mind. I do, however, hope that you will pause for a moment to think about your methods. Even if you do believe that I'm going to burn for eternity in hell for loving a woman, do you think I've never heard that before? Do you really think that posting a homophobic picture on Instagram is going to make me abandon my fiancee? Funnily enough, though shouting "REPENT" at people from the lofty heights of your pulpit could harm vulnerable people, it is unlikely to bring about the changes you seek.
Your words betray a lack of understanding. If you really want to help gay people, come down from your dais and talk with us. Treat us with love and respect. Walk with us. There are sadly plenty in our communities who need to be "saved" – from poor mental health, from poverty, from discrimination. Who we love is not the problem. The lack of love that many of us experience is.