One of Australia’s most prominent sports teams forced out its new CEO on Tuesday after it became public that he was a member of an evangelical church that affirms biblical teachings on sexuality.
On Monday, Andrew Thorburn, 57, was named CEO of the Essendon Football Club, which competes within the Australian Football League – the highest level of competition in the unique sport of “Australian rules football.”
But Thorburn stepped down barely 24 hours later, saying the club had forced him to make a choice between his new position and his association with an Australian-based evangelical church, City on a Hill, where he serves as chairman and is a member.
The congregation affirms biblical teachings on gender and sexuality and believes marriage is defined as the union of one man and one woman.
The church’s beliefs on LGBT issues and its pro-life stance on abortion were the subjects of most criticism.
Thorburn, a life-long fan of the “Bombers,” said his appointment as CEO was “one of the proudest days of my life.”
“However, today, it became clear to me that my personal Christian faith is not tolerated or permitted in the public square, at least by some and perhaps by many,” Thorburn said in a statement. “I was being required to compromise beyond a level that my conscience allowed. People should be able to hold different views on complex personal and moral matters and be able to live and work together, even with those differences, and always with respect. Behaviour is the key. This is all an important part of a tolerant and diverse society.”
He formerly served as chief executive of the National Australian Bank.
“Let me be clear – I love all people, and have always promoted and lived an inclusive, diverse, respectful and supportive workplace – where people are welcomed regardless of their culture, religious beliefs, and sexual orientation,” Thorburn said. “I believe my record over a long period of time testifies to this.”
He wrote of his being forced out, “This grieves me greatly.”
Dave Barham, president of the Essendon Football Club, said a 2013 sermon in which homosexuality was called a “sin” was the focus of the controversy. Thorburn didn’t preach the sermon.
“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 could not continue to serve in his dual roles at the Essendon Football Club and as chairman of City on the Hill,” Barham said.
Thorburn, though, asserted that society is better when people of different beliefs learn to work together.
“I believe we are poorer for the loss of our great freedoms of thought, conscience and belief that made for a truly diverse, just and respectful community,” Thorburn said. “My faith is central to who I am. Since coming to faith in Jesus 20 years ago, I have seen profound change in my life, and I believe God has made me a better husband, father, and friend. It has also helped me become a better leader. That is because at the centre of my faith is the belief that you should create a community and care for people because they are created by and loved by God and have a deep intrinsic value.”
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/s.c.s.
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.