Well you can say what you like about the new Essendon CEO, Andrew Thorburn and his bigoted hate-filled ideas around sexuality (The ever irenic Premier of Victoria’s, Dan Andrews’, descriptors not mine), but rest assured he won’t be pressuring the club’s indigenous players to get their partners to have abortion for the good of the game. Not this bloke.
No sireee! Not with his Neanderthal views around abortion (he thinks it’s wrong), plus his personal commitment to upholding and teaching an orthodox biblical sexual ethic. He’s got a reputation for being a great leader and has had to guide organisations through major change. But apparently, from what we’re being told today, his appointment as head of Essendon may just add to the public problems that the club has had. I wonder how long the club will be able to withstand the pile-on from media, from fans and from interested parties?
For rest assured, with the media pitching in and joining the conga line behind the most progressive Premier in Australia, every slight error by Thorburn will have people baying for his head.
Turns out, Thorburn is one of those evangelical Christians (probably a Trump supporter then surely!!), and probably goes to a church which, if in America, would probably vote for Trump and probably turn up en masse on January 6th ready to wreak havoc.
Though the fact that Thorburn attends Melbourne’s City on a Hill church, run by a well-thought out, outwardly focussed, gospel-minded, culturally aware, and sensitive to the social setting pastoral team who are as far away from Trump as is possible, seems to have escaped both the Premier and the media. In fact the name “Jesus” seems to be on every page of their website. So the opposite of Trump really.
Yet if even if it didn’t escape the media and the Premier, once again it doesn’t seem to be in there best interests to highlight the differences. They stand guilty of stoking the fires of the culture wars for their own ends.
I mean, I look at City on a Hill, and I think, wow, if ever there’s a church that’s read it culture well, and knows how to navigate the tricky waters around identity in one of the most progressive cities in the world, it’s that church. I’d never realised all along that they were just an Australian front for Westboro Baptist. (Apart from those killer hairstyles 🙂 )
This is even how the AFL website posited it:
But within hours of his appointment, Thorburn’s links to a controversial church organisation were thrust into the spotlight.
I did a Google search. That term “controversial” came up time and time again to describe City on a Hill. Since yesterday. Since the appointment. Never before, funnily enough. I should go back in my Delorean time machine and see if I can find any references to “controversial” relating to City on a Hill, shouldn’t I?
Controversial eh? Makes you sounds like a spooky cult. Makes you sound like you’ve got something to hide (they don’t, they’re clear about their beliefs on their website). Sounds almost like that crazy Moonies church that the assassinated former Japanese Prime Minister Abe, was tied up with that some say led to his death.
Except it’s not. It’s an orthodox and non-revisionist church that preaches the Bible, loves Jesus, encourages its people to love others, and holds to views that were not considered particularly radical all of five minutes ago. And now they’re in the firing line. Maybe as I long suspected, secularists don’t simply have a problem with the church but hey they kinda like Jesus (as some post-evangelicals tend to think), but in fact they actually have a problem with Jesus himself! The Jesus of the church that is. Not the Jesus of their own imagination, who tends to act and think just like they do.
Heck, City on a Hill even have this at the conclusion of their very orthodox Christian statement of beliefs:
“We seek to do this in the Anglican tradition working with and in concert with Anglican Dioceses where applicable and possible.”
Those crazy Anglican types! Who knows what nefarious activities they’re getting up to!
But if you do want to talk about “controversial” and “Essendon Football Club”, then you’re gonna get a bunch of hits if you type in words like “supplements program”, and “James Hird”, who – controversially – was still seen as a front runner to return to the club as coach, despite his less than celebrated past. One things for sure, when it’s come to all things controversial at Essendon in the past decade or so, you haven’t needed an orthodox Christian on board to be it.
Cos here’s the thing, you can be as savvy as you wish to be culturally as an evangelical, orthodox church these days, but if there’s even a whiff around what you think about sexuality or human identity that differs to the Sexular Age, you’re for it. This latest episode simply proves what another solid Melbourne church pastor, Mark Sayers, says about those who hold to “second culture” (Christianity) values in this post Christian (third culture) age:
In the third culture, you can reach levels of blistering hipness, gain position within a key industry, hold an encyclopaedic knowledge of popular culture, throw yourself into the great justice causes of the day, and still your belief in the second culture values of faith will see you viewed as beyond the pale.
Anyone who holds to anything other than the Sexular Culture’s take on matters around human identity is going to be labelled controversial. And any attendee of a such a church who seeks to do good in the public square in some form of high level role in an organisation is going to sweat a little waiting to see what the media makes of it.
And of what opportunistic leaders make of it.
Here are the actual words of the Victorian Premier, a man never known to refuse any opportunity to be divisive and hostile on his way towards creating the utopian third culture ideal:
“Those views are absolutely appalling. I don’t support those views; that kind of intolerance, that kind of hatred, bigotry is just wrong. All of you know my views on these things. Those sort of attitudes are simply wrong, and to dress that up as anything other than bigotry is just obviously false.”
In other words, Thorburn is actually being disingenuous. He knows he’s a bigot and he’s simply hiding bigotry behind a mask of religious belief, and it’s the Premier’s duty to unmask this. What would we do without noble, brave secular knights such as Dan Andrews riding to the rescue, to create even more division in the public square? I guess we’ll never know, because for some strange reason Victorians keep voting the bloke in!
This is the same Premier whose government is holding educational forums for pastors so that they can come and hear what is and what is not allowable to be said in church around matters of sex and gender.
Not that the media would care to offer any nuance in this regard. So once again, as in all of these cases, Thorburn has to trot out the lines that he’s not bigoted and will take everyone on face value, and that he’s managed to be a CEO in large organisations with diverse views before.
The report in Melbourne’s The Age newspaper wrote more than it knew when it observed:
Thorburn’s personal beliefs could upset the Bombers’ AFLW side, which preaches diversity and inclusiveness
Yep that’s the right word there: “preaches”. For as we all know this is a gospel issue – an alternate gospel issue for sure, but a gospel issue nonetheless. Dan Andrews is the one who can see, Andrew Thorburn is the one who is blind. Andrews is the one who is found, while Thorburn is groping around lost.
Thorburn’s response was weighty and significant, as indeed you’d expect from someone who is CEO material:
I’ve been a CEO for 13 years, this is my third CEO job. I was CEO of a bank that had 5000 people, I was a CEO of a bank that had 35,000 people, now I’m going to a different organisation but in all those, there’s a diversity of people.
You see, Thorburn can cope with actual diversity. Andrews cannot. That’s why, to be honest, he runs such a ruthless tight ship. The staff and Ministry turn over during his time in office indicates that, until Thorburn, here is a man who is hard to work with, doesn’t like anyone challenging his perspective on anything, and who, if Victoria were an AFL footy club, would have picked up the wooden spoon across a range of league tables, including public transport, public health and response to the pandemic.
Personally I like that from the bouncedown Thorburn has played the ball and not the man. On the AFL’s webpage he responded thus:
I haven’t been a perfect CEO, but my respect for people, my care, my love, my welcoming style – I welcome all those people. Look at my actions, and look at my words as a leader and the organisations I’ve created to enable safe, diverse workplaces.
I like that: “Look at my actions”. I wonder if Premier Andrews can say the same thing. Some of his actions in the past couple of years would not pass muster in any organisation that too integrity seriously, yet still he hums along. Meanwhile Christians who are further down the food chain in organisations are left wondering why they constantly have to dodge and weave the same sorts of questions Thorburn has had to face today.
It’s a good time to pray for Thorburn and those like him. And it’s a good time to pray for City on a Hill – and churches like it – as they seek to bring the good news – the only gospel that when preached has the power to save – to a city like Melbourne that desperately needs it.
I also hope that even those in Melbourne churches who don’t hold the same line on sexuality as City on a Hill can at least come out and support them in this. Because, as seems to be the case over the past few years – and the church in the state of Victoria especially – the silence from those churches who have rolled over on this is deafening.
They’ll never support brother or sister churches who hold the orthodox line. Never. They’ll never refute the words of the likes of Dan Andrews. Ever. Or maybe, just maybe – and sadly – they’re in full agreement now with what the Premier said in his description of Andrew Thorburn. I trust the Last Day will have a better descriptor of Essendon’s new CEO than Dan Andrews does.
And it also puts to the sword the statement that Christians in the workplace only get into trouble around sexuality and gender issues because they keep talking about it or bringing it up. I hear that so often from more progressive Christians who assume that orthodox Christians keep blabbing about sexuality in the workplace. They don’t. Their views are hunted down, even if they keep them private. Andrew Thorburn is proof of that.
Meanwhile, indigenous players at Essendon, breathe easy, a man is in charge of the club who doesn’t think that football is actually a matter of life and death.
Update: Andrew Thorburn resigned two hours after I posted this online. They got their man again.