A not-so-secret fact about my home state of Victoria is that Australian Rules Football is our unofficial religion. It also has a former state religion (Christianity) and a current official faith in the form of sexed-up secularism.
This week saw them all come together as the board of an AFL Club joined with the State Premier to sacrifice a God worshiper.
What was Thorburn’s great sin? He belongs to a local church in Melbourne.
It took less than 24 hours for Essendon’s new CEO, Andrew Thorburn to be appointed and then forced to resign. What was Thorburn’s great sin? He belongs to a local church in Melbourne.
Victorian law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of their religious beliefs. In a statement released last night, a spokesman of Essendon football club explained that this was not about that:
I also want to stress that this is not about vilifying anyone for their personal religious beliefs, but about a clear conflict of interest with an organisation whose views do not align at all with our values as a safe, inclusive, diverse and welcoming club for our staff, our players, our members, our fans, our partners and the wider community.
In other words, it wasn’t about religion, but rather everything to do with religion. Thorburn hadn’t said anything either at his church or the club that was controversial. It was his association with a normal Christian church that proved untenable.
City on a Hill is a church I know well. They hold to the same Christian beliefs and practices shared by many churches around Melbourne—the same beliefs and practices that churches have affirmed since the time of Christ. Contrary to the defamatory language that has been applied so sloppily by news outlets—I mean terms such as ‘controversial church’—this is an ordinary and orthodox Christian church.
Premier Daniel Andrews yesterday joined in the chorus, using his voice as the leader of the State Government to apply pressure to the Essendon board. Like a typical footy fan, he spoke his mind,
I don’t support those views, that kind of intolerance, that kind of hatred, bigotry, is just wrong … Those sort of attitudes are simply wrong and to dress that up as anything other than bigotry is just obviously false.
The Premier’s comments raise very important questions for 10,000 Christians across Victoria who are now wondering about their jobs.
What kind of employment does our Premier think Christians should have in Victoria? He has made it abundantly clear that a Christian shouldn’t hold a high-profile position within the AFL, simply because of association with a Christian Church.
Does Premier Andrews believe that Christians should be able to gain employment in places such as the Victorian Parliament? Can members of City on a Hill and members from my church apply for jobs within the various state departments? Are Bible-believing Christians (and yes, that is a tautology) welcome to work as gardeners or garbage disposal staff for local councils? What about state schools and public hospitals?
The reality is, every industry and profession has Christians working in them, from the lowest to the highest of roles.
The Premier has once again made it clear that people who hold to orthodox Christianity are the very worst and are unfit for employment. Will he be consistent and roll out this ethic across the entire state? And why stop at Christians? Jews and Muslims also believe marriage is between a man and a woman and that other sexual conduct is sinful? Will the Premier publicly call them out and pressure organisations to have them removed from their jobs?
Jews and Muslims also believe marriage is between a man and a woman … Will the Premier publicly call them out and pressure organisations to have them removed from their jobs?
In a personal statement last night, Andrew Thorburn stated that:
… today it became clear to me that my personal Christian faith is not tolerated or permitted in the public square.
Sadly, he is right. But as Jesus once said, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Football or God? An AFL club or his church? Faced with an intolerable choice, Andrew Thorburn chose the better path. There are now countless more Victorians wondering when they will have to face the same test. Perhaps the Apostle Paul had something similar in mind when he said that, “whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.”
The winner here isn’t Daniel Andrews or the Essendon Football Club. By resigning, Andrew Thorburn has directed Victorians to a message that is more meaningful and important than taking charge of a football club. That foolish message preached every week at my church and at City on a Hill and in hundreds more churches scattered around Victoria, is Christ crucified. AFL may be a sport where athletes crash and tackle and break their bodies for the sake of the team. Jesus did more, he laid down his life on the cross for his opponents. Knowing that is worth everything.