November 18, 2019 / 4:59 AM / 20 days ago

Australia's devastating bushfires reflect God's wrath, rugby star preaches

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia’s Pentecostal prime minister on Monday rebuked a former national rugby star who claimed recent deadly bushfires and a devastating drought were God’s punishment for the country allowing same-sex marriage and abortion.

Israel Folau, who was sacked from a multi-million dollar rugby contract in May after posting on Instagram that hell awaited “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers” and other sinners, cited Bible verses in a sermon that was posted on Facebook.

Folau likened Australia’s legalising of same-sex marriage two years ago and the decriminalisation of abortion in the state of New South Wales last month to the book of Isaiah, which talks about the earth being devoured after laws have been broken and rules changed.

“Therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned and few men left,” Folau read from the Bible in a sermon on Sunday at the Truth of Jesus Christ Church, set up by his father after cutting ties with the Mormon church. “Look how rapid these bushfires, these droughts, all these things have come in a short period of time,” Folau said at the end of a week in which out-of-control bushfires killed four people and destroyed 437 homes across two states.

“Do you think it’s coincidence or no? God is speaking to you guys. Australia - you need to repent,” Folau said.

Bushfires, which are common in Australia, have broken out earlier this year during the southern spring and worse is expected this summer due to a three-year drought that has left forests and grasslands tinder dry.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who considers himself a devout Christian and attends weekly services at a Pentecostal church, called Folau’s comments “appallingly insensitive”.

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“He is a free citizen, he can say whatever he likes, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have regard to the grievous offence this would have caused to people whose homes have been burnt down,” Morrison told reporters in Adelaide.

Morrison was a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage in the lead-up to its legalisation in Australia before he was prime minister. He has since said he supports the practice as a law of the country.

Folau’s four-year contract with Rugby Australia (RA) and the New South Wales Waratahs was torn up in May after he was found guilty of a “high-level” breach of RA’s code of conduct. In September, he announced he planned to return to rugby league with the Tonga national team.

Reporting by Sonali Paul; editing by Jane Wardell

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