Former banking boss Andrew Thorburn believes his “personal Christian faith is not tolerated or permitted in the public square” after his 30-hour stint as chief executive of the AFL’s Essendon football club came crashing down. The former National Australia Bank (NAB) CEO said he was forced to step down from Essendon because of his role as a church chairman. “I was being required to compromise beyond a level that my conscience allowed,” he said. “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 an important part of a tolerant and diverse society.” A day after he was appointed to run the club he supported since childhood, Mr Thorburn resigned after it emerged he was chairman of a church that preached views on homosexuality and abortion.

Essendon president Dave Barham said the club acted swiftly to review revelations that the City on a Hill church posted a 2013 sermon to its website that said acting on same-sex attraction was “a sin” and another likening abortion to concentration camps. Mr Thorburn said: “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.” He said within hours of his appointment on Monday, it became “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 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.”

Mr Thorburn said he had been a Christian for 20 years and indicated he didn’t agree with all statements made by the church of which he is Chairman. “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,” he said. “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 religious beliefs.” Mr Barham said: “As soon as the comments relating to a 2013 sermon from a pastor at the City of the Hill church came to light, we acted immediately to clarify the publicly espoused views on the organisation’s official website, which are in direct contradiction to our values as a club.

“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. I want to stress that neither the board nor Andrew was aware of the comments from the 2013 sermon until we read about them this morning. “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, players, members, fans, partners and the wider community.” Earlier, Victorian Premier and Bombers supporter Daniel Andrews denounced the views as “absolutely appalling” but said he would renew his membership to the club next season.

“There are many reasons to be a disappointed Essendon supporter,” Mr Andrews said. “I don’t want to make light of this but I don’t appoint the CEO of the Essendon footy club or the CEO of any footy club, that’s a matter for the board.” The views expressed by the church “are absolutely appalling,” he said. “I don’t support that kind of intolerance, that kind of hatred, bigotry. It is just wrong. To dress that up as anything other than bigotry is just obviously false.” Mr Thorburn said his faith had not previously led to any issues with his leading large and diverse companies.

“I understand that some of these views are offensive to people and upset people, and I really respect that,” he told SEN Radio. “Firstly, my faith is a very personal thing. I think my faith has helped me become a better leader because at the centre of my faith is the belief you should create a community and care for people, and help people be safe and respect them as humans. “Second is 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.” Mr Thorburn said some of his views were different from his church. “Look at my actions, look at my words as a leader and the organisations I’ve created to enable safe, diverse, inclusive workplaces. That’s my record that I want people to look at and have confidence in.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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