Sometimes an event occurs which is of much more importance than the mere sum of what happened. This week one such event has shown the Australian church has just how far down the rabbit hole our society has gone. 

Essendon AFL is an Australian rules football team.   Based in Melbourne it has a membership of over 80,000 and although having fallen on hard times recently, it is still considered to be one of the big four in Victoria. This week it appointed a local businessman, Andrew Thorburn as its chief executive. He lasted one day. The story is best summed up by the Herald Sun headline.  

“Essendon’s chief executive Andrew Thorburn has stepped down after shock link to church was revealed”.

Notice the language. This was a ‘shock link’. Not to a strip club. Not to a gambling syndicate. Not to a drugs scandal – they would barely have raised an eyebrow. This was a shock link to a church. This was not a link to ‘controversial’ social media posts (aka Israel Folau). The new CEO was forced out not because of anything he said or did, but simply because he is linked to a mainstream Christian church which teaches the Bible.

The implications of this are enormous. The message is clear. According to much of the Australian press, the business community, the sports administrators and politicians such as Dan Andrews, no Christian should be permitted to play any significant part in public life.  At least in Victoria, and doubtless coming soon to a State near you.  

Why was Andrew Thorburn forced out?

It’s worth noting the comments of the Essendon President, Dave Barham.  Earlier in the week when Thorburn was appointed he enthused: ““In Andrew, we have secured a highly credentialed leader, with a proven track record in development and building the leadership capabilities of his people……Andrew’s focus will be on running Essendon like a club, with a renewed focus on our members and the core reason which we exist – football……Our recent appointments of Brad Scott and today with Andrew, demonstrate our commitment to leadership and providing the right environment to ensure we achieve sustained success as a club….Andrew is a man of great integrity and exceptional vision.”

So, what changed? Why was this ‘’man of great integrity and exceptional vision” forced to resign? Barham made it clear ““Essendon is committed to providing an inclusive, diverse and a safe club, where everyone is welcome and respected. 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 couldn’t continue to serve in his dual roles at the Essendon Football Club and as chairman of City on the Hill.”

The Board declared that this was nothing to do with religious beliefs. (Clearly the club’s ‘values’ don’t include telling the truth. This whole debacle was entirely about Thorburn’s religious beliefs.) There is a sense in which you have to admire Barham’s chutzpah. If Essendon really were a club where everyone was welcomed and respected then he would welcome Andrew Thorburn – but by ‘acting’ on the basis of the beliefs of Thorburn’s church, the Essendon Board have told all Muslims, Catholics, Evangelicals and others that they are not welcome. Only those with pre-approved beliefs will be welcomed. Those who blaspheme against ‘progressive’ doctrines will be suitably excommunicated. Welcome to the fundamentalist church of the Woke!

In theory it is illegal to discriminate against someone because of their religious beliefs. As Barham pointed out ““In interview processes you’re not allowed to ask about people’s religious beliefs. It’s against the law. But what we did, as soon as we saw them, we acted”. In other words, once they did check Thorburn’s religious beliefs (or the beliefs of the church he belongs to), they then decided to discriminate and determine that he was not a suitable candidate.  

What are City on A Hill’s Unacceptable Beliefs?

Reading the media and listening to Dan Andrews, one would think that City on a Hill was a Westboro Baptist type extremist cult. As it happened I shared the platform at the Belgrave Heights Convention with their senior pastor – Guy Mason.

He was gracious, compassionate and articulate. Not someone who you could in anyway describe as intolerant, hateful or bigoted. Unless you have switched off your mind and swallowed the Dan Andrews dictionary of approved words and thoughts!

The press trawled and this is what they found from a 2013 sermon: “We believe that we must be a voice for the voiceless, stand for the rights of the unborn baby and be pro-life…Human life begins at conception. All women and men have intrinsic value and worth as images of God. Abortion denies the voice of the most vulnerable……. Whereas today we look back at sadness and disgust over concentration camps, future generations will look back with sadness at the legal murder of hundreds of thousands of human beings every day through medicine and in the name of freedom”. 

Sex is designed for marriage, and marriage for fulfilling God’s mandate for humans to ‘be fruitful and multiply’…. Lust is a sin, sex outside of marriage is a sin, practising homosexuality is a sin, but same-sex attraction is not a sin.”

Like the Catholic church, the Orthodox church, the Evangelical church, the Muslims and many others, City on a Hill holds that abortion is wrong and sex outside marriage (including homosexuality is wrong). And yet the demons are in so deep that even The Australian referred to these beliefs as ‘controversial’. 


Premier Dan Andrews is not a stupid man.  He knows exactly what he is doing. Hence he commented referring to City on a Hill: “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 sorts of attitudes are simply wrong, and to dress that up as anything other than bigotry is just obviously false.”

Andrews said this without ever having been to City on a Hill or spoken to its people. He just spouted his judgmental bigotry, knowing the impact it would have. Once you stir up the Twitter mob you know there will be blood. He threatened Essendon with withdrawing his membership. Little gets done in the Victorian Establishment without the approval of Chairman Dan. Unless you have the Andrews approval sign you are going nowhere. It astounds me that almost none of the press picked up on the bigotry that was being displayed here. If Dan believes that belonging to a church which disapproves of abortion and homosexuality disqualifies you from public office (or even being a CEO of a private company), then why does he not immediately resign? After all he is a member of a church (Catholic) which disapproves of abortion and homosexuality). Andrews condemns City on a Hill – but says nothing about the Catholic Church or the Muslims. He is a hypocrite. Of the worst sort.  

When Dan Andrews stated that ‘that kind of intolerance, hatred and bigotry is wrong’, he spoke better than he knew. He wants to ban the wrong kind of intolerance, hatred and bigotry. His kind is perfectly acceptable. The question then becomes: if a Christians cannot be CEOs, can they stand for parliament?  Work for the Government?  Or in hospitals, schools and the police? Given that the Anglicans, Presbyterians, Catholics, Muslims and many more all share these ‘wrong’ views, is Andrews seriously suggesting that none of us are welcome in Australian public life? How tolerant, diverse and inclusive!

Those who warned that the passing same sex marriage would lead to this kind of discrimination have been proved correct. And that the failure of the Coalition government to protect religious freedom is going to prove devastating – allowing Dan Andrews and his fellow ideologues to bully, coerce and remove from public life, any who do not share their doctrines. 

The New Religion

This is a new religion – one which has largely taken over the elites and civic institutions of our society.  The Age newspaper again expressed it well: “Thorburn’s personal beliefs could upset the Bombers’ AFLW side, which preaches diversity and inclusiveness”.  

They ‘preach’ diversity and inclusion. They preach it, but they don’t practise it. 

They even have their own heresy hunters. Witness Purple Bombers (the LGBTI Essendon supporters’ group) founder Jason Tuazon-McCheyne who triumphantly declared: “It’s the right decision. Andrew made the correct decision for himself and the football club, but I did not expect him to choose the church. We’re very relieved as a result. This is a good outcome.” 

Jason clearly thought that, as it often does, the intimidation would work. He was surprised that anyone would choose the church rather than bow to his ideology. 

How Should We Then Live?  

The comedienne Tracy Ullman forewarned us about where we were going a few years ago.  Her short skit on the BBC was prophetic.

But things are even worse than she foresaw.   It’s not just that we are discriminated against because people think we are weird – in the progressive Brave New World we are now the Bad Guys. 

We must also pray for and against leaders like Dan Andrews. We pray that like Saul, God will change their hearts, cause them to repent and become more gracious, loving and tolerant.    And we pray that he will restrain the arm of wicked men.  That we may have peace to proclaim and live the Gospel. 

Some Christians (including sadly some Christian leaders) will feel that this is all just a storm in a teacup and that if we just shut our eyes, it will all go away. In an Aussie perversion of the doctrine of God’s providence and sovereignty, they just declare ‘she’ll be all right’!  How does this affect ordinary people?

Let me go back to the Belgrave conference I shared with Guy. I think of the young people who said to me ‘you can’t say that.  You go to jail here for saying that.’! Or the young Catholic teacher who thought it would be breaking the law to teach Catholic doctrine. Imagine that.  We live in a country where young people think they are breaking the law if they teach the Bible, and Catholic teachers think they are not permitted to teach Catholic doctrine. They may well be right!

As Christians we have to speak out.  It may be the wise thing not to put online sermons which can be used as evidence in our blasphemy trials – (although that is at best a  delaying measure because the progressive inquisition will find their way – so expect the knock on the door and the Twitter mob to follow).  I am inclined to think we need to go the opposite way. If the feminists can have the courage to take on the Trans ideologues publicly, perhaps we can have the courage to proclaim God’s truth in all circumstances.  If enough Iranian young women can stand up to their own fundamentalist mullahs – can we not stand up to ours? 

If this had happened to my football club (Dundee FC) I would no longer support them. ‘Go Woke, Go Broke’ is a lesson that Essendon need to learn. Dave Barham said the reaction from club members, staff and players to the rapid dismissal was positive. “I think they appreciated the fact that we have values and that we stand our ground,” he said. Maybe Mr Barham needs to hear that the hateful, intolerant and bigoted values of Essendon are not our values. Why would Christians give their money to a club that is determined to discriminate against Christians?!

If I had the vote, there are no circumstances in which I could be persuaded to vote for an anti-Christian hate filled bigot like Dan Andrews. But I guess there will always be some turkeys who vote for Christmas. 

Steve McAlpine’s Being the Bad Guys has turned out to be prophetic.  I suggest you read his take on what has happened here. 

Perhaps we could follow the example of Andrew Thorburn. His response has been gracious, thoughtful, compassionate and intelligent (not that that matters to the Progressive Inquisition). These words in particular struck me:

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. 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.

Despite my own leadership record, within hours of my appointment being announced, the media and leaders of our community had spoken. They made it clear that my Christian faith and my association with a Church are unacceptable in our culture if you wish to hold a leadership position in society. This grieves me greatly – though not just for myself, but for our society overall. 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.

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.

As it happens, I do sometimes disagree with things I hear in church – but I believe strongly in the right of people to say them, especially when taken in context. Reducing complex matters to a sentence is dangerous. Australia has a long tradition of diversity and religious freedom, and that must include preserving space for religious people to be able to express their religious beliefs.

– David Robertson