9 October 2022

It's outdated and harmful views on the nose, not people of faith

| Ian Bushnell
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People in a church

City on a Hill church service: some religious leaders refuse to accept that homosexuality is a fact of life and has nothing to do with spirituality. Photo: City on a Hill.

Andrew Thorburn’s resignation as CEO of the Essendon Football Club only 24 hours after his appointment because of his membership of an Anglican evangelical church that calls homosexuality a sin and made references to the Jewish Holocaust in an article about abortion has set the hares running.

An outlier in the Anglican Communion, City on a Hill holds to a clearly inflammatory line on homosexuality and opposes abortion on the grounds that life begins at conception and it is murder.

Commentators have lined up to condemn Mr Thorburn’s sacking and draw broader conclusions about being judged by association and how “traditional Christians” are now shut out of public life.

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Mr Thorburn himself, who would not repudiate the views of his church while maintaining that he was an inclusive and loving person, went on the attack, saying his departure from Essendon raised questions about religious freedom.

“It is troubling that faith or association with a church, mosque, synagogue or temple could render a person immediately unsuited to holding a particular role,” he said.

“That is a dangerous idea, one that will only reduce tolerance for others and diversity of thought and participation in our community and workplaces.

“People can hold different views on complex personal and moral matters while being able to live and work together respectfully and harmoniously.”

It was “very important” that his church’s strong views on these matters could be expressed in Australian society.

But it is pretty hard to work together respectfully and harmoniously if you know your boss or team leader believes you are an abomination in the eyes of God, or at best, someone who needs saving, or that certain organisations won’t employ you.

And it’s not just gay people, but those who have sex outside of marriage or without procreation in mind. In fact, sex in general seems to be a problem.

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Mr Thorburn may refer to “complex personal and moral matters” but seems happy to be part of a church that reduces this complexity to fundamentalist statements about sin.

The sermon on homosexuality at the centre of the controversy may be nearly a decade old but the pastor who delivered it is not backing away from its essence, only saying he would use different words now.

These are just weasel words. Like many of his ilk, in a time where there are laws against discrimination and hate speech, he wants to slide around the core issue.

They reach out with one hand and condemn with the other, asserting that with Jesus’ help can temptation be resisted.

That’s a practice that has led to much suffering among gay people torn between who they are and their faith.

Hiding behind their ideas of faith and Biblical belief, some religious leaders refuse to accept that homosexuality is a fact of life and has nothing to do with spirituality.

Those who have lined up behind Mr Thorburn, like Simon Kennedy in The Australian have used terms such as “traditional beliefs”, chillingly “prevailing cultural winds on sexuality”, as if the legalisation and acceptance of homosexuality is a passing fad, and “conservative” Christians.

Greg Sheridan, also in The Australian, calls Essendon anti-Christian, and the sacking represents a dark new phase in cultural intolerance. He even calls City on a Hill mainstream.

Janet Albrechtsen, yet again in The Australian, hysterically compares Australia to Afghanistan.

There are many Christians who will beg to differ. And people who have not just been discriminated against but prosecuted for their sexuality will find Sheridan’s claims risible.

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Religious proscriptions have been used for thousands of years as a method of control, particularly over women, and some church leaders continue to cite Biblical sources to prevent women from participating fully in spiritual life.

The Catholic Church burned heretics, churches in the US supported slavery, the Dutch Reform Church in South Africa gave apartheid theological justification, and let’s not forget the role churches in Australia played in separating First Nation families and destroying their culture. Not to mention the Protestant-Catholic feuds last century.

Traditional belief does not necessarily mean it is good or acceptable. In fact, Jesus’ ministry was as much about taking on the hypocrisy and hollowness of religious strictures as it was about personal salvation.

These commentators conflate faith, a personal matter between an individual and whatever concept of God they adhere to, and religious organisation and human-made moral constructs that no longer reflect the realities of modern democratic life.

Much of Christianity has moved with the times, even if church leaders such as those in the Catholic Church and some in the Anglican Church cling to outdated and bigoted views, creating an inner crisis for many members.

For other religions such as Islam, much of which regrettably holds antiquated views on sex and women’s roles, the message should be the same. The freedom to practise your faith should not depend on the freedom to discriminate against and vilify people.

The controversy does highlight the inconsistency in discrimination law, which is more of a political fix than anything, and the continuing tension built into the legislation.

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Legal minds are saying that Mr Thorburn has a clear case of discrimination because of his religious beliefs. But what do we do when those aspects of those beliefs are now outside of social norms and could inflict harm?

The Albanese Government is now coming under pressure to release its promised religious discrimination bill which will somehow have to balance the rights of people and organisations of faith and the rights of individuals.

It’s not going to be easy and expect politics to triumph, especially when the multicultural vote is at stake, and faith and culture can be hard to separate.

Essendon Football Club had to make a choice between its values of inclusiveness and non-discrimination and those that cannot accept that sexual orientation is not a moral and spiritual issue, and the potential harm they may cause.

It may have been done clumsily and Mr Thorburn may be the inclusive and loving person he says he is, despite what his church may espouse.

But for some to suggest that people of faith are no longer wanted in public life is just not true. It may be true that those who wish to continue expressing certain views will find it harder to be accepted.

That just means those ideas, like many before them, have had their time, and were never fundamental to faith in the first place.

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Is holding a position with an AFL football club really incompatible with holding religious beliefs?

Do people really believe that an organisation that’s been around since the 1800s and only last year had its first openly gay player, only 4 years ago established a women’s competition and still holds racist practices can really be considered a beacon of social justice and progress and is above reproach when compared to a church? Maybe I’m a cynic, but I’d say this business is more worried about the optics of rainbow washing if they kept him, rather than any concern for diversity or inclusion.

Capital Retro3:14 pm 11 Oct 22

I was raised with Christian values in a Christian country (Austrlalia). Those values have served me well and I still subscribe to them but I no longer believe the eternal life stuff but I respect the belief that others have faith in.

I guess that makes me an infidel living in a Christian world. Note that infidel isn’t an exclusive word of the Islam faith either.

But it is pretty hard to work together respectfully and harmoniously if you know your boss or team leader believes you are an abomination in the eyes of society or at best, someone who needs reeducating, or that certain organisations won’t employ you…be it religious or vaccination convictions…

Yes the same can be said for religious men who believe women should ‘cover up’. It is very offensive to work with people who wear religious dress or those who believe women should ‘cover up’ for religious reasons. Religion should not be allowed or permitted in the workplace (unless you work for a religious organisation where your religious views are clearly known at the time of hiring e.g. church, mosque or a private religious school).

I find most religious views to be barbaric, and outdated. They cause major issues in our Western secular society. In modern day Australia, religious people should stay home if they want to act (or dress) in a religious way. Most of us going about our daily lives don’t want to be exposed to religion, o see or hear about religion, we don’t want to see religious dress, or see people praying. Most of us do not also do not support the horrific killing of animals in a particularly cruel way for religious reasons (whether it be islam, christian, buddhist or judaism). Keep your religious views to yourself. Most of us do not care one bit about blasphemy and we don’t want to be exposed to ridiculous outdated religious views. Religion should be made illegal in public places as it is offensive in our secular society.

Religion is a personal intrinsic thing that should be kept personal (so please keep your outdated religious values to yourself). Someone should not be able to tell what religion you are just from looking at you. In public secular places (like public schools, public places, restaurants etc.) you should not act religious or wear religious clothing, nor request religious food or do anything religious in a public secular place. Religion should be banned in public places. Stay at home, dress religious at home and practice your religion all you want at home, or go to your private church or worship place, but don’t do it in public.

Fido, I get what your saying but who is he espousing those views to? I had never heard anything from him and yes I know what was said in the Royal Commission which bears little importance to this discussion . Why can’t he be the head of 2 different organisations who have different goals and have no relation to each other? Plenty of people sit on different boards which don’t conflict. Are you suggesting he would have pulled his team out of future Pride rounds?

My point was, his scrutiny comes from being a bald male Anglo Christian. If he had been a bearded male Arab Muslim his views would not be important.

Remember the Muslim Giants woman player who refused to wear the pride jersey during a female, I mean womens AFL match and she was excused because of her faith and beliefs. Compare that to the Manly Christian Men who refused to wear the jersey in the NRL round and the vilification that followed. Remember Israel Folau and his treatment which given the payout in his favour suggests was not legal?

It’s either bad for all or we accept we can different views which if not used against other people in nefarious ways is ok. You might be be surprised at what people think but know better off not saying in your own social circles. You will never know because of the intolerance of those that must be agreed with or your given a label.

The intolerant Left needs to become more tolerant!

“Why can’t he be the head of 2 different organisations who have different goals and have no relation to each other? Plenty of people sit on different boards which don’t conflict”
And if the views and missions of the boards do conflict? Also, he was not only sitting on a board but had a direct leadership role in each case.

Your other comments are highly speculative or merely tendentious. I would be happy to discuss specific other cases if their topic arose here.
In particular, I am quite well aware of the possibly weird views of people around me. Why would I not be?

My reference to Hayne’s comments was in the context of Thorburn’s application for and acceptance of the job, to suggest that Thorburn continues to lack judgement. Essendon’s recruitment seems no better.

Mr Thorburn applied for the role of CEO of the Essendon Football Club and after doing their due diligence including the Essendon President ringing 5 high-profile Referees, he was employed and both parties signed a legally binding employment contact.

There have been no allegations by the Essendon Football Club that Mr Thorburn wanted to impose his own personal religious views upon the Football Club. Essendon’s decision was based on it’s own prejudice against Mr Thorburn’s personal faith.

When the Essendon Football Club told him that he’d need to step down from his role at his church, they acted unreasonably and broke the law.

Whether Mr Thorburn 100% endorses every word of every sermon and every policy of his church, is unknown. While he is the Chair of one of its Parishes, that doesn’t make him responsible for all decisions and policies across the entire church – it’s not as if he owns the church.

Australians voted Yes. The parliament enacted legislation to allow same-sex marriage. It is the law. That said, not everyone in the country agreed with that decision and in a democracy, people are allowed to have their own opinions, including Mr Thorburn.
Does the Essendon Football Club only allow people who voted Yes to attend their games or be members?

Regardless of where people stand on religion, one thing is certain. Mr Thorburn has been not been treated fairly. It’ll be interesting whether he just moves on or whether he engages his lawyers.

Vinson1Bernie8:08 pm 10 Oct 22

Correct – the Church has a similar view to Catholic Church and maybe strict C of E but you dont fire Catholics or Anglicans because of the views of 1 person in their religion. Essendon are having a shocker….I understand the comments were made 10 years ago so again people are held to views of others that are ancientThe

kenbehrens, your certainty with regard to the legal position seems courageous. Experienced and astute lawyers have written to disagree. We shall see what eventuates.

My view is that you miss the irreconcilable conflict of roles rather than personas.

In his press conference, the Essendon President himself said that questions about someone’s religious faith were illegal.

Whether those roles would have been irreconcilable is unknown. Mr Thorburn wasn’t given that opportunity. I think it is very possible to wear 2 hats. There are people every day who do it. The previous PM, Mr ScoMo, a prominent man of faith, brought forward the same-sex marriage bill.

“previous PM, Mr ScoMo, a prominent man of faith, brought forward the same-sex marriage bill”

I feel the need to borrow from chewy14: Bahahahaha!
or in my own terms: Tripe.

Scroll down this page: https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp1718/Quick_Guides/SSMarriageBills
Turnbull was PM, various non Morrison people sponsored it, Morrison voted against it. What was that you were saying?

Also, doesn’t some bible say something about not serving two masters? Oh yes, here it is: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.” Matthew 6:24, see also Luke 16:13
Seems fair, if somewhat obvious. Are you claiming Thorburn was a deliberate hypocrite rather than merely shown to be somewhat lacking in ethical judgement?

Contrary to the bleatings of the UnAustralian this is the simple conflict of interest where the one person cannot be the chairman of an exclusive organisation and the chairman of an inclusive organisation at the same time.

A subtlety that is missed – Mr Thorburn was chairman of that particular church and thus in a position of responsibility for the views the church holds. I believe it was this connection that made his position at Essendon incompatible, not that he was a member of the church.

I’m non religious, I don’t need any invisible friends. The beliefs of his church mirror those of the Islamic faith. Would he have been sacked if he were a Muslim? I doubt it.

Why is his beliefs so important to be denounced when we let immigrants that hold those same views into the country on mass and don’t care? I mean Christian and Muslim or any other religion that think that way.

I see a double standard applied to a white Anglo Saxon looking male who is balding that would not be applied to others. I don’t know the religious status of any CEO of any club in any code of sport and wouldn’t have known his if he hadn’t been sacked. It wasn’t like he had been appointed Chaplain or something where his religious status may have relevant. It’s just more PC garbage to stir up divisions in the community.

Elf, if you notice the error in your assumption then you will see that your case collapses.

Mr Thorburn was not ‘sacked because he was a [insert faith here]’. He was seeking to lead two entities with directly opposed values, chair of one, CEO of the other. In each case it was literally his job to uphold and espouse the entity’s values.
As I understand it, Essendon asked him to choose which organisation he would lead (i.e. which value set he would publicly rather than privately espouse) and from which role he would stand down. He chose to lead the church. Were he quietly a member of either and led the other in its values, no problem would necessarily have arisen.

On a side note, one might wonder why Thorburn even sought the job (did he give the conflict no thought?) but then I recalled Royal Commissioner Kenneth Hayne, who said in his report on banking fraud, after hearing from CEO Mr Thorburn (and Chair Dr Henry), that:
“… I was not persuaded that NAB is willing to accept the necessary responsibility for deciding, for itself, what is the right thing to do…” **

Hardly persuasive of fine judgement or behaviour. Thorburn resigned from the bank shortly after the report (as did Henry).

** Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, Volume 1, p 411

Macquariephil1:55 pm 10 Oct 22


Macquariephil1:53 pm 10 Oct 22

As a Christian and regular church goer, I could not agree more with this excellent analysis. Members of City on the Hill Church no doubt genuinely believe what they believe. However much of it, in my view, would rightly be condemned by Jesus.

Those we ho believe that Thorburn is being discriminated against for his religion should consider this: would cut on the hill or similar churches accept a gay rights advocate, Christian or otherwise, in a paid position, or even as a lay member? If course not. If religious values are irrelevant to employment, then they should be open to to hat circumstance.

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