If there’s one thing we know as Christians is that we won’t always get vindicated in this age.
The slurs and opprobrium may well stick this side of the Parousia, and we know that there have been millions of Christians who have suffered greatly for the sake of the gospel, including the loss of their lives, who are in the “How long oh Lord?” category.
Former Essendon CEO, Andrew Thorburn, did not lose his life, but he did lose his livelihood over his connection to a church that the cultural narrative says believes “controversial” things. Things that up until five minutes ago were standard for Christians down the centuries to believe.
But guess, what? After the dust has settled, Andrew Thorburn has been vindicated, and in this age too! Essendon has now apologised to Thorburn, reached a settlement, and promised “to do better next time”.
Here are four lessons we can draw from the whole saga.
Mob Rule Is Increasingly the Norm. If there’s one thing to be drawn from this event, it’s that the mob has set the rules of engagement. It’s a case of go in hard, punch down as much as you can, ensure you have the backing of the media, especially social media, and then wait for the likes of Essendon to cave in. And it works. Or at least it did. And hey,, it might work again. But at least the Essendon Football Club has seen through the fog of war, and realised that it was in the wrong. The club said:
“Mr Thorburn is a person of integrity who treats others, whether at work or elsewhere, with dignity and respect. The club acknowledges that the events of October should have been handled better and apologises for the impact it had on Mr Thorburn, his family and others,” the statement reads. “Both parties consider that elements of the public commentary at the time were extreme and wrong and counter-productive to the respectful community dialogue they agree is critical.
In other words, they blew it and they knew it. In other words he’s the exact opposite kind of person that the commentators and banshee wailers on Twitter were claiming. Shame on them. The same level of spine the club requires of its players in the face of a fierce opposition was found sadly lacking at board level. Perhaps this is an apology through gritted teeth, but that’s because the club knows it was in the wrong.
Incidentally, I’m sorry I had to quote The Australian newspaper once again in this matter. At first I thought it wasn’t deemed important enough to make The Age in Melbourne (the city where it all started). Turns out it was, but I missed it (thanks for the eagle-eyed readers who pointed it out). But I guess it will be a quiet story that the mainstream now wishes to go away, and their reporting of it will be along the lines of acknowledging an error. It would be good to have some reflective processes in the mainstream to ask why they seem hell-bent on burying the redress of such issues.
Which simply emboldens the mob for next time. It’s clear that the new rules of engagement in our Sexular Age, and in our social media age, is to incite a mob, gather together in the virtual market square and yell out the equivalent of “Great is Diana of the Ephesians” for two hours in a kind of childish mantra, stamping one’s feet and hoping against hope that the equivalent of the brave town clerk doesn’t call you out and tell you to go home and take a cold bath or some such (Acts 19).
The Law Is On The Side of Religious Freedom. In addition to that, it would seem that the law is still on the side of religious freedom, even if the law makers in the likes of Victoria do not like that. Premier Daniel Andrews may have won an election recently in a landslide, but it’s clear that Essendon saw the writing on the wall. Who knows what was happening behind closed doors in the Essendon Football Club. But there’s one thing for sure, the club’s leadership are most likely hard-headed realists. They most likely realised that they’d dropped the ball on religious discrimination issues. And perhaps it was Thorburn’s enemies who made their job a little clearer. When one was reading article after article saying that public companies can’t afford to have such Christians in their senior ranks, perhaps the club woke up at that point and realised the seriousness of the situation. This, incidentally, demonstrates that Christians should not give up hard won religious freedoms in the West (for everyone) too easily. There’s nothing noble or beneficial about rolling over and saying “Oh well, that’s the way it should go in a secular situation.” There are plenty of fine legal minds who will show that the law is on the side of the likes of Andrew Thorburn. On, and on the side of many a Christian school that gets the mob rule treatment as well.
A Godly Response Goes a Long Way. The only person not losing their head in this whole saga was Andrew Thorburn (and City on a Hill Church too actually). Which proves at one level he’s got what it takes to be CEO of a large company. But more than that it shows that he’s got the integrity of a Christian in the public square. Like his example and Saviour the Lord Jesus, he did not revile others as he has been reviled (1 Peter 2:23-25). Awful things were said about him, and he probably lost a lot of sleep over this, while his family probably shed more than a few tears. But Thorburn’s responses have been honest and clear and irenic, even while the mob was baying outside the door. If anything this shows up the true problem at the heart of these issues, spiritual darkness. There is a deep hatred for many things Christian by those who are ungodly. I’ve seen all sorts of “Yes buts” (even from Christians and supposedly Christian academics) on this issue. I hope they hang their heads in shame as the colluders they are. Thorburn kept his integrity and has been vindicated in this age.
This Is a Taste of Future Last Day Vindication. Andrew Thorburn won’t get back the job he loved. That’s probably okay, as he doesn’t need it. But he was vindicated in a way that is a pattern for last day vindication by the Lord Jesus. When the Lord says to him “Well done good and faithful servant” this will surely be one of the good and faithful ways that Thorburn has served his Lord. Now of course there are small ways – invisible ways – to do that same faithful service, but I’m pretty sure it might cross his mind at the time (if that’s how this thing even works!). The reason it’s a taste of such last day vindication is that in even fractured ways in the present age, the truth has a habit of coming to the surface. Even in this age God has ordained that truth and integrity matters, and that wisdom is proved by her children.
And the present has also demonstrated what a fool the likes of David Koch of Sunrise TV actually is, with his refusal to even afford the City on a Hill pastor, Guy Mason, decent air time to respond to his battering ram. Koch may feel like he was vindicated in the slander he handed out, but that final day will prove otherwise. Now in the scheme of things perhaps you’re sitting there with some “whataboutism” going on in your head, and thinking that this issue is a trite one that does not deserve God’s attention. After all, look at the awful things Christians have experienced down the centuries and indeed around the world now.
Perhaps. But then again, 1 Peter was written into pretty much the same set of circumstances, in which social pressure to conform was the carrot held out against the stick of social rejection for refusing to conform. That whole letter is not about Christians being killed but being scorned. That’s what makes it so appropriate for now. And besides, if Jesus says that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without our Heavenly Father knowing it, and then goes on to use that example to show how much more God will look after his children, then there’s a good chance God cares about the ungodly response towards one of his children in this situation. He’s no person’s debtor, after all.
Which all means, it’s nice if you get vindication in this age. Nice but not necessary. Andrew Thorburn’s response wasn’t just the response of a great CEO, but of a godly Christian who doesn’t throw the furniture around the room when he doesn’t get his own way, but who takes the long view that those who love Jesus in this age will face trials and persecutions and scorn, yet one day will receive a crown of glory.
The most instructive comment in the whole matter came at the beginning of it all, when the leader of the Purple Bombers LGBT organisation at Essendon expressed surprise that when it came down to a choice between his job and his church, Andrew Thorburn chose his church. Of course he did. Why did he choose his church? Why was that a no-brainer? Because with all the language of love flying around and the term “love is love” being abused and misused, Andrew Thorburn knew where true love lies, and it lies in the love of a Saviour who went through far worse scorn and hatred for his sake. A worthy reminder at this time of the year of the most precious gift we have been given.