Israel Folau's battle with Rugby Australia has divided the nation.
Israel Folau's battle with Rugby Australia has divided the nation.

Anti-Folau mob’s worst fear comes true

THE Israel Folau debate has raged along the same lines all divisive issues do in 2019 - everyone shouts at each other and no one changes their mind.

The please-notice-me environment of social media and the make-sure-I'm-invited back attitude of TV and radio appearances leave an absence of nuance in modern conversation. So Folau was either the second coming of Hitler or the greatest Christian figure since Paul the Apostle depending on which side you fell.

In these hold-your-ground-at-all-costs battles, we refuse to give an inch, so if we're against Folau we could never admit he might be genuinely acting from a place of love.

And vice versa if we're for him - there's no place for consideration about whether this is the best way to spread God's message. It's a style of discourse we've learned from politicians and sporting executives.

But the needle moved over the weekend. For the first time since Folau put up the most infamous Instagram post in Aussie history, the debate turned to something that more of us have in common than our views on free speech or sexuality.

Cash. And more importantly our cash.

In the riskiest PR move of this saga, Folau asked Australians to reach into their own pockets to support him - and it felt like the first time one side had started to budge.

A well-paid athlete taking money from the average Australian - and even worse from terminally ill children - was the one move that could actually swing the nation's position. It's what Labor discovered at the federal election. Have your cause, sure, but leave my bank balance out of it.

Israel Folau has asked for donations to fund his legal fees.
Israel Folau has asked for donations to fund his legal fees.

Even so, Folau's GoFundMe page was incredibly well supported, drawing more than $750,000 in donations in four days. It appeared a lesson for the left on the generosity of Christians. When you give up 10 per cent of your pay packet every week - as many churchgoers do - dipping in for a cause comes naturally.

But then GoFundMe - with its rainbow flag flying - gave the Folau camp the biggest handball he's received since a short stint with the GWS Giants. They punted his page and sparked a situation the anti-Folau mob feared most.

Not only the perception of Folau the persecuted, but a feeling among the public it was being controlled.

Because if there's one thing Australians have more in common than cash, it's a hatred of being told what they can and can't do.

The impact was immediate.

A new donation site created by the Australian Christian Lobby to take the place of Folau's GoFundMe page was even more popular.

Israel Folau may well be saying
Israel Folau may well be saying "thanks for the handball".

Within 10 hours of operation it was closing in on half a million dollars and that didn't include a $100,000 pledge from the ACL.

If the donations being sent back by GoFundMe were still yet to land, then there's a fair chance that number will skyrocket if some of that money is redirected.

To be fair, the success or otherwise of Folau's fundraising endeavours isn't really GoFundMe's concern. It protected its platform and perhaps that's all it wanted to do.

But one wonders whether keeping the page - and perhaps using the 2.9 per cent fee it keeps from every donation towardss one of the social causes it backs - was the smarter play.