Switching Codes


Folau try over Greig Tonks. pic: David Molloy

So here’s the thing. A rugby player says I’m going to be set on fire for the whole of eternity because I’m gay.
But does he really mean it? Could he change his mind?

Everyone’s favourite rainbow right winger, Tim Wilson said:

“Respecting diversity includes diversity of opinion, including on questions of morality. Targeting Folau falsely feeds a mindset that he is persecuted for his opinions. Everyone needs to take a chill pill, respect Folau’s authority on the rugby field, and also recognise that he is employed in a profession that values brawn over brains.”

Or to put it more succinctly, who cares what some meathead rugby player thinks?

No, it doesn’t. What matters is what he says, publicly. Because statements like that can literally kill vulnerable youngsters struggling with their sexuality. A sexuality they cannot change, any more than Folau can change his skin colour. But he can change his religion, and with it, his opinion. He’s done it before.

He used to be a Mormon. Now he’s a Pentecostal. If properly mentored, he might in time abandon the narrow, toxic version of Christianity into which he has currently chosen to straitjacket himself. He might change gods again.

I don’t know why Folau changed his religion, but I’m willing to be it was because of his colour.

if you asked some kinds of Christian what God’s plan is for people like Folau, they will tell you “They’re going to Hell”. Coloured people have the “Mark of Cain” upon them, which means they can never enter Heaven.

The Mormon Church is, or was, one such. Despite a couple of black priests in the early days, they were quickly banned after the death of founder Joseph Smith.

 “It wasn’t until 1978 that black men were again allowed to receive the priesthood and black women were allowed to attend the temple.” 

(If you’re interested in the racist history of the Mormon church, try this for a primer, but don’t expect any of it to make sense)

The change was driven by economics, not faith. President Jimmy Carter threatened to withhold federal tax exempt status from the church for its racist and discriminatory policies and behaviour (a lesson here for Australian politicians on how to teach our church hierarchies to behave properly towards LGBTI).

 “The Lord is willing, if the Negro accepts the gospel with real, sincere faith, and is really converted, to give him the blessings of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get a celestial resurrection.” Elder Mark E. Petersen at Brigham Young University on 27 August 1954

Mormons doctrine regards Australians and Pacific Islanders as a cut above ‘Negros’: they are ‘temporary’ blacks who will become white in Heaven, under certain conditions (I told you none of this made any sense).

So you can see why Folau may have decided he’d be better off in some other faith, one that offered a better class of afterlife. He couldn’t change the colour of his skin: he could only pray that God would do that for him after he was dead. You could say the switch from Mormon to Pentecostal ‘paid’ better. Like his switch of sporting codes.

Why does this matter? Because it demonstrates that, for Folau, religion can be discarded if it collides with immutable personal characteristics, like your skin colour. He abandoned the Mormon faith, and found another more congenial temple.

Which means there is still hope to change his mind again, and teach him a better Christianity. One which recognises the truth: that sexual orientation and gender identity are also givens, exactly like skin colour. And that any religion teaching otherwise is false. We just have to find a payoff that convinces him.

Of course, as far as I’m concerned, they are all false, and he would be better off without religion altogether. But… baby steps.

After all, as Tim Wilson said, “he is employed in a profession that values brawn over brains.”

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)