“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.