England and Saracens No 8 Billy Vunipola has revealed why he didn’t take a knee to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Vunipola, who is of Tongan heritage, remained standing before Saracens’ Premiership defeat by Bristol this past Saturday while his elder brother, Mako, and several other teammates knelt.
Vunipola’s Samoa-born England teammate, Manu Tuilagi, also opted against taking a knee, as did the majority of South African players involved in round 14.
‘A similar situation happened with the Black Lives Matter movement last week when we were asked if we want to take a knee or not,’ Vunipola told ‘The Good, The Bad & The Rugby’ podcast.
‘What I saw in terms of that movement was not aligned with what I believe in. They were burning churches and Bibles. I can’t support that. Even though I am a person of colour, I’m still more a person of, I guess, Jesus.’
Vunipola was embroiled in controversy in April 2019 when a post on his Instagram account read: ‘Man was made for woman to procreate; that was the goal, no?’
The 27-year-old was acting in support of Australia fullback and Christian fundamentalist Israel Folau, who stated on social media that ‘hell awaits homosexuals’.
‘I could easily have been, “I’m not going to support this”,’ Vunipola said.
‘I didn’t sleep for two or three days after I saw his post because something inside me was saying, “Do you actually believe in Jesus Christ or do you not?” That was the challenge I was battling with, not what Folau had said.
‘It was something that challenged me to step up to a level I’d never been before in terms of, “Am I actually going to put myself in a position where people dislike me and ridicule me?”.
‘I didn’t enjoy being ridiculed, I really didn’t. But, at the same time, what I did find comforting is that I stood up for my faith and I didn’t just fall by the wayside.
‘Now I wouldn’t go about it the same way, it would be more of a conversation from my point of view. I’d talk to whoever had any questions. If it happened again now and I was asked, “Billy, do you stand in support of it?” I would have to say yes, because I’ve made my position clear.
‘The way Folau came out with it was very abrupt and direct. Sometimes the Gospel is direct. But, at the same time, we need to accept people for who they are and what they want to do with their own lives. It’s not for me to judge, it’s for God.
‘At the middle of it all – to have forgiveness or to go to heaven, or to not go to hell – is believing in Jesus Christ and essentially that’s what I wanted to get across.’
— The Good, The Bad & The Rugby (@GoodBadRugby) August 19, 2020
Photo: Getty Images