Two Tales of Persecution

Two high profile Christians fell foul of their critics this week. For one it meant the loss of his career as an international rugby player. For the other, it means up to seven years in a Chinese prison.

One has been fired for continuing to post provocative messages about homosexuality on social media, even after being warned not to. The other may be imprisoned because of his work on behalf of the poor and disenfranchized.

In both cases, commentators are referring to them as evidence of persecution against the Christian faith. Let’s look at each one separately:


For some years now, I’ve been telling the inspirational story of Rev Chu Yiu-ming, leader of Chai Wan Baptist Church in Hong Kong.

Chu’s social conscience was pricked in 1989 when he was in a position to help ferry Chinese student protesters out of the country during the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Since then he has preached a gospel that includes a commitment to human rights, dignity, and care for the poor.

In 2013, Chu was one of several Hong Kong leaders who launched Occupy Central with Love and Peace, a mass movement of nonviolent civil disobedience on the streets of the city to protest the anti-democratic incursions of the Chinese government.

Occupy Central brought the city to a standstill. Many of the protesters huddled under yellow umbrellas in the tropical rain, which lead to the pro-democracy movement being called the Umbrella Movement

This week, Chu and two other Umbrella Movement leaders, Benny Tai and Chan Kin-man, were found guilty of “conspiracy to commit public nuisance.” It carries up to seven years imprisonment. The trio are awaiting sentencing.

When invited to address the court, the 75-year-old pastor reiterated his commitment to democracy:

“We strive for democracy, because democracy strives for freedom, equality, and universal love. Political freedom is more than loyalty to the state. It professes human dignity. Every single person living in a community possesses unique potentials and powers, capable of making a contribution to society. Human right is a God-given gift, never to be arbitrarily taken away by any political regime.”

Chu’s courageous defiance has galvanized the pro-democracy movement in the city. But more than that, his public testimony to his faith in Christ, and his belief that his imprisonment is religious persecution, rang out around the world.

“In the words of Jesus, ‘Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires; The Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!’,” he declared.


Meanwhile in Australia, international rugby sensation, Israel Folau was fired by his employer, Rugby Australia, for tweeting a meme that says that all homosexuals are bound for hell.

Folau grew up Mormon, but was converted to the Assemblies of God in 2011. He has been in trouble on a number of occasions for posting comments on social media that have been considered homophobic and bigoted.

His post this week, based he said on Galatians 5:19-21, declared that “Drunks, Homosexuals, Adulterers, Liars, Fornicators, Thieves, Atheists, Idolaters, Hell awaits you. Repent! Only Jesus saves.”

In 2018, he had posted something similar about God’s plan for homosexuals being hell.  This week, Rugby Australia had had enough and tore up his contract, saying he had contravened the values of the organization.

Folau hasn’t commented on the abrupt termination of his contract, but when in hot water with Rugby Australia about similar tweets and posts last year, he wrote, “At times, you can feel alone and down. But Jesus told us that when you stand up for Him in this world, you can expect backlash. I find peace in that.”


In a sense, neither Chu nor Folau are being persecuted for their faith directly. They haven’t been silenced for declaring their allegiance to Christ. Both men have been outspoken about the implications of their faith, rather than their faith itself. For Chu, the gospel compels him to champion human rights and social justice.

Likewise, Israel Folau believes the gospel compels him to warn homosexuals that they will suffer in hell unless they repent of their lifestyle and follow Christ.

Even if we think Israel Folau is misguided, or that his interpretation of the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality is wrong, we have to concede he is not alone in that interpretation. Like Chu Yiu-ming, he is following the courage of his conviction and he is willing to pay a heavy price for it.

I see three points of difference between what these men did.

Firstly, Rev Chu’s message is clear and unequivocal — human dignity should be granted to all people because God loves all people. Folau’s meme is confusing. It suggests homosexuality is a choice, like lying or getting drunk. It suggests that there is no escape from hell for LGBTQI people. It is contrary to his own statements that he believes in inclusion and holds no hatred toward anyone in his heart.

If you’re going to endure persecution for your beliefs, you’d better make sure your expression of them is as clear as it could be.

Secondly, Chu Yiu-ming’s campaign is life-giving. It seeks to minimize suffering, to enfranchize the oppressed, to feed the poor, and to build the kingdom of God in the streets of Hong Kong. While Israel Folau could argue that his message is life-giving too, it won’t be heard that way by the people it is addressed to. It comes across as soul-crushing, condemnatory, hateful.

And thirdly, Chu has been working and serving in Hong Kong for over 40 years. He is loved and trusted by the people of the city. His message of peace and justice is heard in the context of loyal service and friendship.

Israel Folau just posted a confusing, hurtful tweet to people he doesn’t know. Even if his motives were pure, compelled as he was by his interpretation of the gospel, it was ham-fisted and counter-productive. But it was also non-relational.

If your faith compels you to speak out, make sure your message has clarity, that it’s heard as being life-giving, and that it is backed by a relational integrity that gives your message real power.

And then be willing to accept whatever persecution might come your way.

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The views expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Morling College or its affiliates and partners.

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31 thoughts on “Two Tales of Persecution

  1. If your faith compels you to speak out, make sure your message has clarity, that it’s heard as being life-giving, and that it is backed by a relational integrity that gives your message real power.

    Wise advice – I wish I’d heard that advice when, as a young and passionate Christian youth worker, working in the same youth refuge that had ben pivotal in my finding life and faith in Jesus, I made life hard for our non-christian manager and for other non-christian staff by insisting that we needed to be more evangelical because our organisation had been founded in the spirit of evangelicism to work with the poor of Sydney. I was, of course, right (in my mind) but totally “ham fisted” and won no friends by my boorishness.

    1. We live and learn. It sounds like you’ve learned from reflecting on your experience.

    2. In this article like many other it is stated that homosexuality is not a choice. How can this be? Every human act is a choice. This is evident by the fact that a person can choose to starve to death. Eating is more fundamental than sexuality. Just as humans can choose to eat or not to eat or what they will eat or not eat, the same applied to sexuality.
      Consider the following
      1. Animal behavior is result of the activity by Nervous system which includes the brain.
      2. The Nervous system activity can arise from it having been pre-programmed by genetics or as a result of learning.
      3. The more advance the animal is in the evolutionary hierarchy the greater the reliance on learning as opposed to genetics.
      4. This is as learning gives the greater flexibility to meet challenges of changing environments.
      5. If a sheep is brought up as a part of a pack of dogs, it will behave like a dog in those aspects that depend on learning.
      6. However, it would still eat grass as in that, it is genetic.
      7. When it comes to humans their reliance on genetic pre-programming is a minimum.
      8. This is why we have actors and drama. Such is possible because one person can choose to act as another.
      9. For centuries men have acted as women and vice versa. Just as the sheep that thinks itself to be a dog a man can if they wish think themselves to be of a sex different to their biological sex.
      10. However, from having the ability to do so it does not necessarily follow it is also prudent to do so and more importantly we must recognize it is a choice to make and not a destiny to discover.

      1. Some real good points there Frank. Thanks

  2. Hi Mike,

    I agree that the former is a much more positive example.

    I think that an issue here is that the Apostle Paul was actually writing to the Galatian church. He wasn’t writing to non-Christians, yet it appears that this case directs this interpretation onto them.

    Having said that, I think quoting Scripture and being fired for it is not on. We can’t ignore that is what the scripture says. However we interpret it.

    We should have freedom of speech, even though the left-aligned media and virtue signalling sport authorities in Australia disagrees.

    Personally, there are lots of more positive verses I would choose if I had a platform like that. But that’s me.

    We can freedom of expression, but in these days, there are no freedom from the consequences. That is the new norm.

    1. Yeah, I hear you. It’s easy to dismiss Rugby Australia as “virtue signalling”, but I take them at their word that they’re trying to foster an inclusive sport for LGBTQI players. That said, simply blurting out verses, whether they’re well chosen or not, is hardly an evangelism strategy we’d want to defend to the death.

      1. The fact that Israel was not merely “blurting out verses” but using scripture as part of an ongoing discussion with other social media individuals as part of his interaction with those who follow his site. The fact that protagonists have cherry-picked out specific portions that have chosen, with which to be offended, is bad enough, but that news-media, ARU and Alan Joyce have chosen to build their case of objection solely on two words i.e. ‘homosexual’ and ‘hell’ is a travesty.
        The man , Israel, has expressed no direct target of other sports colleagues, competitors nor any other group of persons with whom he rubs shoulders or comes in contact (and the history of professional football sports codes in Australia has reported on numberless episodes of offences by players that are drunks, fornicators,adulterers and carousers indicates that they would be many), causing neither offence nor confrontation, bespeaks a man greatly respected in all aspects of his life in sport and in general.
        Israel is being targeted by a certain sector in society as a means to protect their platform by attempting to shut down alternate points of view.

        1. Spot on Lewis with your clarifying comment. Thank you for your correction & context. It does appear to have left Mike speechless by his lack of reply.

          1. Why, P Chatty, do you feel the need to be so antagonistic?? It’s personal for you, isn’t it? I can’t reply to every comment and when I don’t it’s not because I’ve been rendered speechless. Lewis’ comment is not a ‘clarification’. I’ve seen Folau’s social media feeds. I still think sharing those kinds of memes is tantamount to blurting out verses, which is opposite of what I consider evangelism to be about.

  3. Why aren’t more drunkards (to use the language of our Bible translators) getting upset about Israel’s post. They too are being called out for going to hell if they don’t repent?
    Why is it just the LGBTI community and there defenders that seem upset by Israel’s post?

    1. Maybe it’s because drinking is a choice, whereas homosexuality is part of a person’s identity.

      1. Why would the apostle Paul condemn someone’s identity? It doesn’t make sense and it wouldn’t be fair or right.
        In his condemnation of homosexuality, Paul, to be fair, must be referring to persons who give into the temptation of homosexual activity, and not condemning those who experience the temptation or orientation towards homosexual activity.

        1. Steve T, It is actually debatable whether it is a condemnation of homosexuality at all. To be fair Paul was likely not even referring to homosexuality at all! Just because it is preached from pulpits and the word ‘homosexual’ put into an English translation in the 1940’s (RSV) then retracted (changed) in the NRSV

          1. I meant to end my dost above by saying ….it does not make it right.

      2. Unless of course you have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism – hmmm – then God is unfair in his judgement of people who were born that way.

        1. Tim, that point did cross my mind too; a difficult issue. Of coarse genetics was not known when the ‘book’s of the bible, including Paul’s letters, were written. The debate then moves to if we need to change out interpretation of such passages in the light of scientific discovery or just ignore what we have discovered of God’s creation through Science and just keep to the historical interpretation. As a person who studies and teaches science the latter seems a bit narrow minded for me; it is at least debatable in my mind. As a person with a father who is an alcoholic and a brother who is homosexual this is all personal rather than just theoretical for me.

          1. Does it have to do with God’s gift to us of free will? Are we born with all sorts of difficulties – diseases, addictions, mental quirks as a result of our broken world? or even -at a stretch -as our task to overcome?
            I know many who are living and learning to live sober/clean/celibate/faithful/stable lives – who are sorely tried, but with God’s help keep striving, and are a wonderful example to others.

            I found the article about the first use of the word homosexual in the RSV translation mind boggling, revealing, gobsmacking! Thanks Brad.

        2. This link was illuminating.

          1. Sorry I meant the reference to the first use of the word homosexuality.

      3. Boom! Mike drop.
        This is a great post.

    2. The LGBTI Community are the Best Organised in Human History…So, any comment criticising them is likely to have thousands pounce and a Tsunami of Outrage…

      What I have found interesting and disturbing, is that some Commentators who are calling for his contract to be terminated, based on the fact he has done this once before, and it is against the moral values of the Organisation, are themselves Bullies, and despite People Reporting Them for Repeat Bullying; they remain in their Employment!

      And the “new norm” you refer to, will only remain the new norm; when we are silent and don’t push back against it…That reminds me, I must duck out and purchase some Dummies for the ARU…

      1. I didn’t refer to “the new norm” and I’m not sure what you’re trying to say.

        1. Michael, Steve T did in his post: “We can freedom of expression, but in these days, there are no freedom from the consequences. That is the new norm.”

          And I said unless we push against what Steve T said the new norm had become…

        2. Which one is truly more life giving though? One is offering temporary life here on earth, the other is offering eternal life to sinner. Secondly, Folau doesn’t suggest that homosexuals can’t escape hell. The picture says ‘repent! Only Jesus saves.’ You’re purposefully misinterpreting his post because you can’t handle the fact that he’s correct in what he’s saying. Thirdly, you can’t call yourself a Christian if you don’t think that what the Bible calls sin is sin and if you don’t think we need to repent or be saved. Folau is doing the Lords work.

  4. Thank you for writing this! Such a gift and just what I needed

  5. Thanks for the post clarifying for many the difference between standing up for Christ and standing up for one’s belief.
    I have however spotted two inaccuracies in your report on Rev Chu: first, “Chu’s social conscience was pricked” long before 1989. since his early days when he moved to Hong Kong from Mainland China. Second, the yellow umbrellas were used NOT for the tropical rain but for the demonstrators to defend themselves from the police’s pepper sprays. And it somehow became the symbol of the peaceful civil-disobedience movement.

    1. Thank you for those two clarifications. I appreciate it.

  6. The Western world may have changed its stance, but the gospel as preached to Africans and Pacific Islanders by missionaries has not. Now we have a footballer fired for calling sinners to repentance, and a Nigerian arrested for preaching on the streets of London.

  7. It’s helpful to read Folau’s account of how he came to write that tweet. It can be found at
    It sheds a different light on the discussion.

  8. I’m not sure if it is fair to line each man up comparatively. Each should be encouraged for having conviction for their faith. There are far too many cowards these days and it is little wonder that in the Western World the influence of the Church is diminishing in this supposed Age of Enlightenment. There is little, if any, objection to the degrading and provoking trash that spews out of media ( eg MAFS, Bachelor in Paradise etc), yet we quickly put down our brother for his supposed clumsy use of a Scripture. What is going on?

    1. Unfair to compare?? Two Christian men have spoken out and both are paying the price. What’s unfair about that comparison? The other things you say are a bit difficult for me to follow. The Age of Enlightenment was in the 1700s. And how reality TV shows bears on our desire to speak truth with clarity and care was kinda lost on me.

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