October 4, 2022

Eight Short Lessons From the Essendon CEO Saga

It’s been a breathless 24 hours. Essendon CEO, Andrew Thorburn was barely in the job a day and then he resigned. And lots of media and social media flurry around it all. I’ve obviously had a bit to say on it, but while the virtual ink is still a bit damp on my previous posts, here are eight lessons (so far) that we can take away from this whole saga. Not definitive, but worth thinking about.

  1. We Are No Longer a Society Committed to Genuine Pluralism. Issues like the one Essendon and Thorburn faced shows that for all our declared love of an open, diverse society, Australia is no longer genuinely pluralistic. The number of caveats around what that means in the public square is large and increasing. This will be looked back upon as a drawing of a line in the sand.
  2. Sexual Freedom is the Public Religion. Any organisation or person who puts a limit on what that means (and eventually that will be all limits, given how even the language around paedophilia is being shaped towards “attracted to minors), is going to face problems. The holy days in our calendars are increasingly painted purple.
  3. Don’t Expect a Level Playing Field. There’s a naive optimism that somehow if we just keep to our patch as Christians, and maintain the line between the public square and our lives, that we will be okay. That if we honour this new secular frame, and pay homage to it, we will be free to get on with our own set of values within our own ethical communities. Wrong. This is already clear from how Christian schools are being squeezed on sexuality matters, and state governments such as those in Victoria and WA are already pushing hard to ensure schools cannot employ according to their own standards. This is not about funding. If Christian schools were fully self-funded, accreditation would be on the table on these issues.
  4. Most Aussies Either Don’t Agree with Us Or Don’t Care. Don’t expect a conga line of horrified non-believers to be behind us on this. The vast majority of Aussies are committed to the idea of deep personal autonomy when it comes to sexuality, and don’t get why we care about sex in the way we do. Most probably want us to have our freedoms, but at the same time agree with Dan Andrews when he says those ideas are hatred and bigotry.
  5. Don’t Expect a Fair Hearing. I thought that much would have been obvious by now, but it isn’t. We end up like rabbits in the headlights trying to argue a case that no one believes, and most people in the media not only see as wrong, but as evil.
  6. We Need to be Monitor What We Put Online. Most pastors may be already thinking this. Don’t do it for the sake of your church’s safety, do it for the sake of your congregants. Why? See point one above.
  7. Winsome is A Faithful Stance, But a Failed Strategy. Be winsome as a Christian (in line with 1 Peter 3), because it’s the right thing to do and it reflects the attitude of Jesus in the face of those who sneered at him. But don’t expect winsome to win the day for you. It’s a failed strategy that will not keep at bay those who wish to bring you down. Be winsome for principled reasons, not pragmatic ones, because if you’re only being winsome because you think it works, you will get angry, feel despair, or become entitled, when it doesn’t.
  8. Every Situation is an Opportunity to Witness to Jesus. The response by Andrew Thorburn online was excellent. And it was humble. It did not seek to blame others. When the head of the Purple Bombers (Essendon’s Pride group) heard that Andrew Thorburn had chosen to remain on the board of City on a Hill church, his response: “”Andrew made the correct decision for himself and the football club, but I did not expect him to choose the church.” Of course he didn’t expect it, because unlike Andrew he hasn’t met Jesus and seen how worthy he is.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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