Andrew Thorburn Case: when values is about religion

The Andrew Thorburn story is returning to media attention. The Age is tonight* reporting that Thorburn “has hired legal counsel and is pursuing legal action against the club after he was forced to resign.”

Thorburn lasted as Essendon’s CEO for less than 24 hours. Journalists went hunting and tracked down several ‘controversial’ comments made in sermons at Thorburn’s local church some 10 years ago before Thorburn had joined. As newspaper columns appeared, Victoria’s Premier, Daniel Andrews came out and publicly attacked Thorburn’s church,

“those views are absolutely appalling.”

“I don’t support those views, that kind of intolerance, that kind of hatred, bigotry, is just wrong.

“Those sort of attitudes are simply wrong and to dress that up as anything other than bigotry is just obviously false.”

Within hours Andrew Thorburn was given an ultimatum by the Essendon board, choose the club or his church. Thorburn chose his church. 

In a statement, Thorburn explained,

“Today it became clear to me that my personal Christian faith is not tolerated or permitted in the public square, at least by some and perhaps by many. I was being required to compromise beyond a level that my conscience allowed. People should be able to hold different views on complex personal and moral matters, and be able to live and work together, even with those differences, and always with respect. Behaviour is the key. This is all an important part of a tolerant and diverse society…

…Despite my own leadership record, within hours of my appointment being announced, the media and leaders of our community had spoken. They made it clear that my Christian faith and my association with a Church are unacceptable in our culture if you wish to hold a leadership position in society.

This grieves me greatly – though not just for myself, but for our society overall. I believe we are poorer for the loss of our great freedoms of thought, conscience and belief that made for a truly diverse, just and respectful community.”

I’m not here to comment on any potential legal action, for such things are beyond my expertise. As this story will fire up again over the coming days, it is worth highlighting once more the extraordinary nature of the decision made by Essendon Football Club and the interference by Victoria’s Premier. 

I was speaking with a member of the Victorian Government recently. He was quite open and adamant in his support of Essendon’s stance against Andrew Thorburn. One on the hand, he acknowledged that it’s against the law to discriminate against a person’s faith, but in the same breath, he insisted Thorburn shouldn’t lead Essendon given his connection with a Melbourne church. Not only that, this MP told me that any suggestion people of faith could lose their job because of their beliefs, is nothing more than ‘scaremongering’. Given that we were literally talking about a live example, I don’t think he was aware of the irony filling his words. Not only that, what a cold response to thousands of Victorians who now feel vulnerable in the workplace.

As I was thinking about the conversation afterwards, the issue is one of semantics or rather, it’s a game of bluff. He sees the issue through the lens of ‘values’, rather than religion.

He could say (correctly so) that it’s against the law to discriminate against someone in the workplace on the basis of their religion and yet he also believes it’s legitimate to force someone out of their job if their values don’t align (Ie their religious values). In other words, we don’t live in a society where there is a neat division between religion and secular, or between private and public. Everything is religious. Every value and action, every job and interest, is shaped by underlying commitments and views of the world, and these inevitably take on a religious flavour. It’s not as though some sexual ethics belong to a neutral space while religious views are found elsewhere. All values are religious in nature.

Victoria is like Ancient Rome where there is a god for everything. We’ve dispensed with the names; there’s no praying to Juno, Diana and Venus. We simply sacrifice to and live for sexual freedom, power, wealth, or whatever is our ultimate aim. Hence, when a religious view clashes with an assumed (or stated) value, the value wins out as though it’s morally omniscient. That is why football, like cricket and rugby league, is no longer about playing the game. Sport is attached to a set of dogmas, and sponsors often serve as the priests, making compliance certain, while the Board acts as bishop.  Of course, an AFL Club isn’t a church or a Christian school where particular religious views are necessary.  Having the right kind of religious view shouldn’t be a prerequisite for senior management in the ‘secular’ business or sporting world, but as the Andrew Thorburn case demonstrates, such distinctions no longer apply.

Values is simply a disguised way of talking about a person’s deep beliefs and practices. Values aren’t distinct from religion; values are always an expression of religious convictions, whether we attribute a god to them or not. The situation in Victoria, as our Premier has expressed, is that if a Christian’s ‘values’ don’t align with a place of employment, they may well find themselves receiving similar treatment to Andrew Thorburn. They may protest, as did my politician friend, ‘it’s values, not religion’, but such smoke and mirrors don’t fool anyone. 

Essendon’s President David Barham also attempted to play this game of dodgeball. When announcing Thorburn’s resignation, he tried to blur the lines, 

“I also want to stress that this is not about vilifying anyone for their personal religious beliefs, but about a clear conflict of interest with an organisation whose views do not align at all with our values as a safe, inclusive, diverse and welcoming club for our staff, our players, our members, our fans, our partners and the wider community.”  

Political theologian, Jonathan Leeman, is right, 

“secular liberalism isn’t neutral, it steps into the public space with a ‘covert religion’, perhaps as liberal authoritarianism…the public realm is nothing less than the battleground of gods, each vying to push the levers of power in its favour.”

That is the world we inhabit. This is the air we breathe. It may take a little time for HR departments to catch up with the reality of what their guidelines and directives signify, but we no longer have to speculate or hypothesize: we have one very public case in point glaring at us.

Before I finish up, I noticed that there are a few details in The Age reporting that are incorrect: 

First, City on a Hill is not a ‘small’ church. It is probably the largest Anglican Church in Melbourne, and one of the largest Anglican Churches in Australia.

Second, it is not a ‘conservative church’ as opposed to normal or standard. City on a Hill adheres to the same beliefs and practices that are typical of Christian Churches across Australia and the world. This Church sits comfortably within the same orthodox Christianity that has existed and flourished for 2,000 years.

Third, there is no homophobic material on their website. What one finds, as with other Christian Churches, is the Jesus driven belief that sex is a great God given gift reserved for marriage between a man and a woman. And let’s not forget, that Australian law reflected a classical view of marriage until 5 minutes ago. There is nothing phobic when Jesus called out sexual transgression. He did so because people matter and ignoring God’s design is a perilous trip. The extent to which Jesus loved was crucifixion. Jesus didn’t bleed hatred on the cross, but love and mercy toward the same people transgress God’s good ways.

One may not like or agree with Christianity but throwing around language like phobic is lazy and untrue. Churches follow Jesus’ example, by loving and welcoming everyone who comes along. We don’t have to agree with every word, action, and value in order to love and welcome another. If that ethic was true, then Jesus is the world’s worst social heretic! Thank God,  that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)


*all the major newspaper were reporting the story by the end of the evening

Churches across Victoria had a great Sunday

Praise God for the good news of Jesus Christ that was preached across Victorian churches yesterday. In a weird kind of way, our newspaper friends seem to be obsessed with the casual clothes being worn by those speaking from the front, but whether in a t-shirt and jeans or in dressed in a robe of some sort, Christ was preached and for that, I say, Amen. Instead of throwing eggs at all of the folk who’ve been deriding Christians and churches this week, we prayed for them and longed for them to grasp how good is God’s grace.

While Christian churches enjoyed time together and welcomed visitors,  I noticed there were a few religious voices preaching on the street corner from a different book. They are unhappy with Guy Mason and Andrew Thorburn, and Christians like them. Some have even come out in support of Essendon Football Club.

Writing in the Guardian, Uniting Church minister, Elenie Poulos, suggested that Andrew Thorburn’s exit from Essendon Football Club wasn’t a religious freedom failure.

“It is about leadership and organisational values. As many commentators and engaged observers have already pointed out, Thorburn’s appointment appears to have been a failure of the recruitment process. He found himself leading two organisations with values that clashed, one just happened to be a religious organisation.”

It seems as though a few people have bought into this theory.

One Melbourne Baptist repeated the rumour, 

“It isn’t controversial or problematic to suggest that someone can’t lead two organisations with opposing values simultaneously. City on a Hill is a church organisation that espouses a very specific set of views on women and sexuality, among other things. They do not allow women to be ministers or to preach. They do not allow LGBT people full participation in the church. They have particular views on divorce and remarriage. The AFL have a different set of views. They clearly promote LGBT inclusion and equal rights for women. It’s clear that you couldn’t possibly lead with integrity toward these two opposing visions. 

The former Essendon CEO was not sacked for being a Christian and was not punished for going to a particular church. He was asked to choose which organisation he would lead. He made his choice. That’s how religious freedom works.

Essendon’s grievous error was in failing to have the conversation before he was appointed. That’s on them.”

These attempts to reconstruct events that transpired only a few days ago is like returning to the scene of the crime and trying to hide the murder weapon while everyone is looking on. 

As we know, revisionists are often the ones who write the history books, so it’s important to challenge this disinformation. Anyone who has read the Essendon Football Club’s statement and read Andrew Thorburn’s statements, listened to Premier Daniel Andrews, and a host of journalists and commentators, will know that this issue is precisely about the man’s religious beliefs and his association with a mainstream Christian Church. 

Let us be clear, the only reason this became an issue is that the church Andrew Thorburn belongs to holds views about homosexuality and abortion that contravene the dogma of 21st Century authoritarian secularism. If only he had chosen the right kind of church, one that our Premier approves. If only Thorburn was Chairing one of those dying progressive churches in inner city Melbourne. We know the ones, we drive by and we see the, ‘for sale’ signs on the front gate. 

Trying to split hairs over being Chair of the Board s vs being a church member, or belonging to church vs holding religious beliefs, is ridiculous and ignores the very words spoken by the various parties involved.

Andrew Thorburn knows why he was forced to resign,

“today it became clear to me that my personal Christian faith is not tolerated or permitted in the public square”.

Essendon has even admitted that had they known about the beliefs taught at Thorburn’s church they would not have hired him in the first place. The Victorian Premier made it clear to the entire State that Christians holding to what are essentially normal Christian beliefs, is unacceptable. It is not without reason that many Victorian Christians are now wondering when they will be asked to leave their places of employment. 

Ro Allen, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner, is under no illusion. Allen told the ABC,

“It’s definitely a values conflict to employ someone who’s not just a passive member of a church [but on the board]…They’ve [City on a Hill] actively worked against LGBTI people.”

By the way, both of those comments are untrue.

If that’s not enough to convince the revisionists, read  what The Age’s Business Columnist, Elizabeth Knight, said,

“A decade or two ago, corporations and their stakeholders may have tolerated Thorburn’s association with a church with strong views on the homosexuality and abortion. But not today.

Whether Thorburn personally holds those extreme opinions is irrelevant, Essendon is a valuable and highly recognised brand, and it cannot afford to be tarnished by any proximity to views that are deemed offensive by a big chunk of its fan base and the broader community.”

It is sad although not surprising to find that among the revisionists are some voices who belong to certain churches. They are our modern-day Demas’ and Alexanders, and so it’s important to call them out. But let’s not allow their efforts to cast a shadow over what took place in Bible-believing, Jesus honouring, people-loving churches across Victoria yesterday.

Let’s thank God and rejoice in what was a great day for churches. I’ve heard exciting things from City on a Hill yesterday and my own church had a super day. 

One of the things that struck me most during church was how the words of the songs came even more to life than usual. The reality of Jesus and his cross, the beauty of God, and the hope found in Him, really does matter more than everything. No wonder the congregation sang with such gusto and praise.

As we opened the Bible together and heard about Jesus, I was reminded how Victoria needs more of Jesus, not less. He may not be welcome at the footy or in the workplace or school, but there are communities of ordinary Victorians meeting every Sunday and getting to know him more. People from all kinds of backgrounds, ethnicity, sex, gender, and jobs, yet find in Christ the greatest joy and hope.

When we read the Bible, we discover how Jesus frequently disagreed with people’s morals, lifestyles, and beliefs. We also find how Jesus could show extraordinary love, grace, and kindness toward those very same people. Biggest of all, in love, Jesus sacrificed his life for people who disapproved of him in the strongest terms. The social and political leaders were so incensed by Jesus’ views that they nailed to a cross, and on the cross, he cried out, “father forgive them”. There really is something astonishing about this Jesus.

CS Lewis once said,

“I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man’s actions but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner. …I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life — namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things.”

Even to our Premier and the Essendon, come along one Sunday and visit a Christian church. You may be surprised by what you see and hear, and perhaps even persuaded.

“Businesses can’t afford to be tarnished” by Christians, writes Business Columnist

Business columnist for The Age, Elizabeth Knight, writes that there is an irreconcilable difference between business and Christianity, which means businesses and even AFL Clubs are right to exclude people on the basis of religious beliefs.

She says,

“Business doesn’t mix with religion in the same way it doesn’t mix with pleasure. Some would argue that AFL is a religion among its legion of fans, but first and foremost it’s a business. Andrew Thorburn and Essendon’s management that stupidly appointed him as the chief executive should have understood this.”

“A decade or two ago, corporations and their stakeholders may have tolerated Thorburn’s association with a church with strong views on the homosexuality and abortion. But not today.

Whether Thorburn personally holds those extreme opinions is irrelevant, Essendon is a valuable and highly recognised brand, and it cannot afford to be tarnished by any proximity to views that are deemed offensive by a big chunk of its fan base and the broader community.”

Victorian Christians are understandably shaken this week, given Premier Daniel Andrews public attack on Andrew Thorburn which added pressure on Essendon’s board to see him out the door after less than 24 hours in the role. And now we have a business columnist for one of the country’s major newspapers, justifying businesses no longer employing people of faith. 

We should note that it is illegal for the workplace to discriminate against job applicants and employees on the basis of their religious beliefs, but here we are with a business columnist pretty much saying that’s how it needs to be.

Let’s not play the hypocrites game that is being kicked around this week: ‘it’s not about personal religious beliefs’. Pretty much everyone who has said this has also added in the same breath, ‘he had to go because of his views and association with that church’.

Elizabeth Knight doesn’t even feel the need to hide the religious vilification that is spilling out this week. Those standing against Thorburn feel as though the crowd is behind them and cheering on them as though they’re at the Colosseum. 

A word to readers who haven’t yet lost their sense of decency and the belief in the good old-fashioned sense of tolerance. When Knight says that businesses can’t afford to be ‘tainted’ by association with churches like City on a Hill, let’s be perfectly clear about what this means.  City on a Hill is a normal, typical, mainstream Christian Church that teaches, believes, and practices the historic faith. They are no more controversial than Jesus and the Apostles and every faithful Christian Church since. 

It is true, that there are a few ‘Christian’ voices speaking in support of Essendon. Let the reader note: those folk are the very same ones who’ve given up the Bible and the Gospel and instead bought the theology from the same book as the Essendon Football Club. They tend to be the same voices who supported Daniel Andrew’s conversion laws to ban Christians from speaking and convincing to individuals of the Christian view of human sexuality. Even praying with people can result in a criminal conviction! Unsurprisingly,  their churches are declining into obscurity whereas traditional churches are far more likely to see growth. That’s not hubris, it’s the way it works.  

My bigger point here, one that I’ve made already this week and one that we’ve been warned about for years now by Christian leaders including Stephen Mcalpine, is that the workplace is not a secure or safe place for Christians (nor indeed for Muslims and Jews). Many Christians were already nervous at work, even fearful, because of the pressures to celebrate all manner of “diversity” events. Admitting you’re a Christian is like telling people you have COVID and you’re about to cough all over them! If Essendon can find a way to remove a high profile Christian man, of course, others can do so, and indeed it’s been going on for some time now. 

Andrew Thorburn was right when he said, 

… today it became clear to me that my personal Christian faith is not tolerated or permitted in the public square.

Elizabeth Knight is nodding her head, 

“Running Essendon was a job that Thorburn could have managed even as a side hustle. But it’s hard to see where he will get his next gig, even after the current controversy dies down.”

Christian, be clear about your convictions and don’t let this temporary and passing age cause you to stumble or fall short. 

Christian, be wise in how you conduct yourself at work and on social media.

Christian, show kindness even toward those who oppose you.

Christian, talk to your pastors and church and shore up ways we can support and encourage each other

Christian, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (James 1:2)

Hezekiah, the early church, and learning how to live in the State of Victoria

Life is often like a game of footy (it’s not really, but Hollywood type tropes are always popular!). Bare with this analogy because it has a happy ending.

Life is like a game of AFL: it’s tough, it’s exhausting and there are two sides battling it out against each other. One of my favourite football moments was the 1999 preliminary final win Essendon played Carlton. The bombers came into the match as raging hot favourites. The Navy blues won by a single point (happy ending)!

The story surrounding the new and now former Essendon football club CEO, Andrew Thorburn, has entered the fourth day. The saga continues to dominate the news with a collation of new articles and opinion pieces in the newspapers and with interviews on radio and TV. 

Andrew Thorburn was forced to resign from Essendon after less than 24 hours, for no reason other than he holds a position of leadership in his local church. The Premier of Victoria and the mob went after him until the football club pressured him into resigning.

Essendon is adamant, the issue isn’t people’s religious beliefs while in the same breath they explain that it is precisely about people’s religious beliefs. The spin is oxymoronic and as clear as day but that doesn’t subdue the voices who cannot tolerate biblical Christianity. Indeed, Daniel Andrews doubled down yesterday, once again calling Christians ‘bigots’ and painting churches as the most awful of people, while suggesting society needs more “kindness”. 

As all of this is going on, I’m reading through the Old Testament book of 2 Chronicles. I was struck by some key moments in this Bible reading, including how ‘right now’ the story feels. Let me share with you 2 encouragements and a warning.

First, faithfulness to God sometimes leads to strong opposition

The reading was chapter 32. In the previous chapters, Judah’s new King, Hezekiah, restored God’s Temple and reinstated the right practice of sacrifices and worship. 

In the opening sentence of ch.32, we read this, 

“After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah. He laid siege to the fortified cities, thinking to conquer them for himself.”

Hezekiah had the difficult job of shaking up a nation that was behaving like a footy team on muck up day and it all going horribly wrong. He worked tirelessly to turn the nation around and restore life and community to how God intended it to be. Then we read, ‘after all Hezekiah had so faithfully done, their very life and worship is threatened.

The idea of faithfulness leading to opposition is a regular motif in the Bible. For example, in Acts ch. 8, the world’s first church (which was of course in Jerusalem), grew in number and maturity when all of a sudden persecution broke out.  The opposition was so severe that Christians were forced to leave the city, abandoning their homes and jobs, and even the church.

We read….

“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.  Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.  But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.”

Christians can live and work with integrity and generosity and kindness, and go beyond for the good of the workplace, and still be called all manner of insults and untrue swipes made against them, and even be forced to resign. Niceness, and not even godliness, will protect churches and careers in our culture that is bent on everyone worshipping from the same high altar of sexular secularism. 

Remember, trusting Jesus sometimes brings significant opposition into your life.

Second, when facing opposition for faithfulness take courage and confidence in God.

Hezekiah’s response to Sennacherib was to exhort people to look to God

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.”

In this example, Sennacherib is humiliated and defeated much like that famous Preliminary final in 1999. It doesn’t always work out that way.  So, in the Acts 8 story, the persecution in Jerusalem forced people to leave their homes and places of work. It pushed families and church communities apart. Nonetheless, this did not weaken Christian confidence in God and their conviction in the Gospel,

“Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” 

God used the terrible situation of unjust and brutal discrimination for mission and spreading the gospel and starting new churches. 

Third, be aware of the dangers of pride

Sennacherib spoke and acted with a determined arrogance and with such confidence that he was on the right side of history. He didn’t need to coat his rhetoric in the language of tolerance. Without equivocation, preached against those God worshippers. 

“On what are you basing your confidence, that you remain in Jerusalem under siege? 11 When Hezekiah says, ‘The Lord our God will save us from the hand of the king of Assyria,’ he is misleading you, to let you die of hunger and thirst…13 “Do you not know what I and my predecessors have done to all the peoples of the other lands? Were the gods of those nations ever able to deliver their land from my hand? 14 Who of all the gods of these nations that my predecessors destroyed has been able to save his people from me? How then can your god deliver you from my hand? 15 Now do not let Hezekiah deceive you and mislead you like this. Do not believe him, for no god of any nation or kingdom has been able to deliver his people from my hand or the hand of my predecessors. How much less will your god deliver you from my hand!”

I’ll admit, as I read about Sennacherib, I couldn’t help but think of a certain Victorian Premier. That’s not necessarily good hermeneutics; I’m just noting a striking parallel.

It ends in disaster for Sennacherib, as it always does for those who think outdoing God is a great strategy.

Here though lays the warning. Instead of turning to humble thankfulness, Hezekiah took a leaf out of Sennacherib’s playbook. He became proud.

“Hezekiah’s heart was proud and he did not respond to the kindness shown him; therefore the Lord’s wrath was on him and on Judah and Jerusalem”.

There is no space in the Christian life for self-righteousness or moral superiority or an us versus them mentality. Hezekiah learnt that lesson the hard way. Sometimes churches do slip into that behaviour and even when Christians face unfair criticism we can exude a certain hubris. We need to guard our hearts against this.

I’m grateful for how Andrew Thorburn expressed himself in his public statement, as I am thankful for the ways City on a Hill staff have responded. 

Of course, the story of Hezekiah does not ultimately end with us or point to us. Rather, it is another historical reminder of how desperately our world needs the perfect King, who sees all things and understands all things and who acts justly and mercifully. 

2,000 years after this promised King came into the world, He remains the litmus test for truth and goodness. This week’s events have again demonstrated that we can’t stop talking about Jesus. No matter how hard the sexual revolution pushes and no matter how loud authorities secularists are, and even when a State Premier denounces Christian employees in the workplace, we can’t escape Jesus of Nazareth. 

No matter how events unfold in the State of Victoria, don’t enter that unbefitting space of hubris. We can speak confidently but never brashly. We can live with thankfulness but not with pride. After all, every Christian knows what it’s like to stand with the Sennacherib’s of this world. in his great mercy of God want us over. That is why when we experience fellow Victorians and even our Premier standing against,  we respond with kindness and resolve, with grace and with confidence in Christ.

As Christians in Victoria wait to see job security crumble and the window for career advancement shrink, keep taking our example from Jesus, and more so, rest your hopes in him

Philippians chapter 2 says

“have the same mindset Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.”

Christian Football CEO Forced to Resign from Essendon

It took less than 24 hours. Essendon Football Club’s newly appointed CEO, Andrew Thorburn has been forced to resign. Late yesterday The Age and Herald Sun newspapers reported and attacked Andrew Thorburn for nothing more than being a Christian and for belonging to a Christian Church.

Premier Daniel Andrews joined the chorus today, but more about his contribution later on.

Just before 6pm, Essendon released a statement, saying Andrew Thorburn has resigned. Or rather, his position was made impossible by the club. 

“The Board made clear that, despite these not being views that Andrew Thorburn has expressed personally and that were also made prior to him taking up his role as Chairman, he couldn’t continue to serve in his dual roles at the Essendon Football Club and as Chairman of City on the Hill.”

The letter also states what can only be read as a contradictory if not disingenuous statement,

“I also want to stress that this is not about vilifying anyone for their personal religious beliefs, but about a clear conflict of interest with an organisation whose views do not align at all with our values as a safe, inclusive, diverse and welcoming club for our staff, our players, our members, our fans, our partners and the wider community.”  

Actually, this is exactly about vilifying personal religious beliefs, as their previous paragraph indicates. Thorburn cannot continue as CEO for the very reason that he holds a leadership role at his home church. 

Andrew Thorburn is not the first who has been forced to choose between a job and God, and he will not be the last. This is the culture in which we are living. 

The sharp end of our society’s movers and shakers do not believe in freedom or fairness, it is about power and control and conforming everyone into their own image. The fact that Daniel Andrews sees fit to interfere with the sporting club appointing the CEO is just another indicator of where things are heading. 

So what exactly did our State’s Premier say? At a press conference Dan Andrews (an Essendon supporter) wistfully said, 

“those views are absolutely appalling.”

“I don’t support those views, that kind of intolerance, that kind of hatred, bigotry, is just wrong.

“Those sort of attitudes are simply wrong and to dress that up as anything other than bigotry is just obviously false.”

To my knowledge, Daniel Andrews has never visited COAH nor listened to any of their sermons nor spoken with any of the 100O+ people who call COAH home. I say that because his comments are false and slanderous, as are many of the words being thrown about today. But careful speech isn’t required if you belong to the ‘right side’ of the culture. Daniel Andrews preaches a popular message and he knows it won’t hurt him politically or socially. All the influencers believe him, or rather he is happily mimicking their gospelling. 

Let the reader understand, Daniel Andrews, as Premier of the State of Victoria, is comfortable telling us what kind of church is acceptable. And this isn’t the first time. For a supposed secular state intruding into religion is becoming a popular past time.

Gray Connolly tweeted, 

“Was unaware that in Victoria you could not be employed by a football club if you attend a church that is not Dan Andrews approved … does this apply to Synagogues and Mosques?”

For the sake of consistency, it’s a legitimate question.

Let’s assume the Premier is serious about his stance against those most evil and terrible and dangerous Christians. He has just told the world that he thinks that AFL clubs shouldn’t appoint Christians. It raises the question, in what areas is the Premier okay with Christians finding employment?

Does the Premier believe Christians can stand for Parliament? What about working for the Government? Is he comfortable with corporations appointing Christians to senior management positions? What about Christians working in state schools, hospitals and the police force? Does he believe local councils should employ Christians as gardeners or garbage collectors? 

Does Mr Andrews believe that there should be some kind of religious test before you can get a job? It’s only been a few months since his Government shredded religious freedom by no longer allowing religious schools and organisations to employ people who share their values. And yet, he can speak imperviously of there being no place for Bible-believing Christians in high-profile positions in the AFL (yes, Bible-believing Christian is a tautology).

If there is any real issue in what was really a non-story it is this, why is senior pastor Guy Mason supporting a football team called the Demons? Let me leave that thought with all the conspiracy theorists out there!

Understand this, the sexular agenda will almost certainly make life more difficult for faithful followers of Jesus. It is already tricky. More and more people share their stories with me and I read of many more. The sexual revolution is still pounding the shore line and with every latest iteration it washes away more and more of the imago dei. It is a destructive social force. As the secular age creeps further inland and consumes everything, it will not tolerate anyone standing up and resisting the wave. It’s like the orcs from Lord of the Rings. They won’t relent until they’re taken Middle Earth.

It doesn’t require any imagination to realise more pressure will be heaped on Christians, bullying us into silence or into giving up precious God given truths for the sake of keeping our jobs. Are we ready to make that choice between God and employment? 

That’s why we need to settle in our hearts and be convinced with our minds, the question of whom we will worship. Will we choose God and worship him or will we choose Baal?

Any student of history and anyone persuaded by the power of the Gospel of Jesus will understand that political bullying and employment restrictions and stifling religious freedom, though real,  cannot hamstring God and his mission. Such confidence should never make us cocky or arrogant or apathetic. Rather, it leads to humble thanks and praise.

Our premier can shout and slander and misrepresent Melbourne Churches, and in doing so he may win political battles and social battles and popularity contests. And yes, he is an expert in doing all of these. But the one contest he isn’t winning and cannot win is the one that is out of his hands because it is firmly held by the Sovereign God whose word will not fail.

Don’t get me wrong, if anything I suspect City on a Hill will grow as a result of this controversy. Why? Because God honours the faithfulness of his people. And yes, the Lord of the church, namely Jesus, promises to build his church and not even the gates of Hades will overcome it. 

Christian worker in Victoria, if you haven’t already resigned yourself to the likelihood of facing discrimination, dislike, and bullying, get ready. If you’re still living that nice life of naivety, believing that hard work and loyalty and integrity should be enough to protect you, think again. If they crucified Jesus, how on earth do we think that we’ll be given a parachute?

Begin pondering Bible verses like the ones I’ve included below, and let’s learn to set our gaze on Christ and to really put our hope only in him. And that means we need thick Christian community. We need local churches where we actually turn up and commit to and then start supporting & strengthening one another for when these hard times come our way.

Don’t get angry with Essendon Football Club, Daniel Andrews and others. Anger is an understandable reaction, but let’s think and feel deeper than that. Let the Gospel inform our response:

“consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” (Philippians 3:7)

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9)

“Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:3)


Here is a statement just released by Andrew Thorburn. Worth reading

Essendon has a new CEO and the media isn’t happy

With the same air of predictability as Geelong winning the Grand Final last week, the media have identified yet another Christian in the sporting world who believes, well, what Christians believe. 

Writing for The Age, Noel Towell and Kishor Napier- Raman, have sounded the siren against Essendon Football Club’s new CEO, Andrew Thorburn. The controversy? Apparently, Thorburn is a confessing Christian who belongs to a church that believes in Christian things. 

They are at pains to tell the world that,

“Andrew Thorburn is chairman of the City on a Hill church that preaches against gay sex and abortion.”

“it was Thorburn’s other gig as chairman of conservative Christian church City on a Hill that raised eyebrows on Sunday.

City on a Hill will look the other way on same-sex attraction, as long as you don’t act on it, but abortion is always a no-no.

It’s not clear where Thorburn stands personally on those issues, but his role as chairman of the church’s board requires him to advocate for the furthering of the church and its beliefs.

We asked the club how Thorburn’s links to the church squared with those commitments to diversity and inclusion that we’re always hearing about from AFL clubs and the league itself.”

Not to be outdone, the Herald Sun’s Sam Landsberger has  thrown more intensity around the ball with comments like this,

“New Essendon CEO Andrew Thorburn is the chairman of a church organisation which preaches controversial beliefs around homosexual behaviour and abortion.”

As a Carlton supporter, I have as much affection for the Bombers as I do for an elbow to the head, but even I can see there is no reportable offence here. The reality is, there is no story. If Thorburn was Jewish or Muslim, would the media be running with this story? Of course not. The AFL is careful to protect religious players (as they should) and even laud their religiosity. This is just the latest round of what is becoming a rough conduct tactic to either knock Christians out of high profile positions or to bully them into submission. As with the Manly 7, journalists see their jobs as naming and shaming sportspeople who stand out from the crowd. We’re all for diversity and tolerance so long as it fits with the current trends! 

Christians are the new version of the Essendon drug saga; dirty and not to be trusted. We are not only seeing this in sport but in academic institutions, some businesses and even in schools. As The Age opinion suggests, Thorburn’s Christianity must raise concerns about his fitness to hold the role of high priest to the footy club’s inclusive policy. Of course one might ask, but what about tolerance toward Christians? Are Christians to be excluded from yet another sporting code because they hold to orthodox and everyday Christian beliefs? Let’s be clear, we’re not talking about some weird cult-like fanatics, this is normal and historic Christianity. 

The name of the game today isn’t tolerance, it’s capitulation. The dominant culture doesn’t allow competitors or opponents, and the AFL wants to lead the way. The new sporting code only has room for 1 team. Everyone is to wear the same colour jersey and sing the same team song, and dissenters aren’t welcome.  No wonder, journos feel the moral compulsion to turn into dibber dobbers and report Christians to society’s favourite umpire: the mob. 

I do find it ironic that despite constant calls to Christians, demanding that we keep our views to ourselves and not talk about them in public, the media yet again wish to draw out a man’s personal beliefs into the public square for interrogation, and possibly to see him lose his job.

I don’t know Andrew Thorburn and I couldn’t tell him apart from the Essendon cheer squad…or firing squad (depending on the season). But I am familiar with City on a Hill. COAH is one of those Churches that believe the Bible and think Jesus is the Son of God and is convinced Jesus really did rise from the dead. And contrary to all those ‘relevant’ churches whom the media approve of, Bible Churches like City on a Hill are growing. Progressive churches are losing people faster than GWS, whereas churches who cherish that ancient faith are the ones holding steady or seeing membership rise  It’s fascinating to see that despite pundits packaging relevance with progressive theology and ethics, the reality is quite different. People long for a hope that is more secure than a Sherrin wobbling about on the deck, and they are searching for a truth that cuts through the thin layer of cultural populism.

I wonder if the journalists have spoken to any of the hundreds of members at Thorburn’s church, and asked, what they think about the church’s teaching? Why are they convinced the Bible stands opposite to phobic behaviour?

What these journalists fail to appreciate is that the high views of God and the Bible that COAH affirms (as does my church and 100s more across Melbourne) are the vital ingredients for showing grace and mercy. Jesus didn’t come into the world because he agreed with our sexual ethics and our mistreatment of society’s most vulnerable. He disagreed in the strongest terms and yet loved. AFL is one of those rare sports where athletes crash and tackle and break their bodies for the sake of the team. Jesus did more, he laid down his life on the cross for his opponents. If that’s the kind of religion City on a Hill preaches and Andrew Thorburn believes, then I reckon he may bring some much needed grace and strength to the world of football.