After an executive of a local Australian football club was forced to step down due to his traditional Christian beliefs, the Archbishop of Melbourne said he might have to find a new team to support.
Andrew Thorburn was appointed CEO of Essendon Football Club, nicknamed the Bombers, on Monday, but resigned on Tuesday after sermons from his local church condemning abortion and homosexuality were made public.
Thorburn also serves as board chair at the City on a Hill church, which is affiliated with the Anglican church although having a more Evangelical worship style.
According to a statement from the Essendon president, Dave Barham, the club said “comments relating to a 2013 sermon from a pastor at the City on the Hill church” were 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 couldn’t continue to serve in his dual roles at the Essendon football club and as chairman of City on the Hill,” Barham said.
Archbishop Peter A. Comensoli of Melbourne said that if the situation at the club “is a litmus test of the value and place of people of faith in Victorian society, then we are in big trouble.”
Victoria is the Australian state of which Melbourne is capital.
“It is outrageous that a person of good character has felt that he must choose between a public leadership role and being an active member of a Christian community,” the Catholic prelate said in a statement on Wednesday.
In a statement announcing his resignation, Thorburn said he was not a pastor and his job was in a governance role to make sure the church was run well.
“I don’t always agree with what’s said. If we want a diverse society, it also means there’s going to be people with different views,” he said.
In a further statement issued on Wednesday, Thorburn said he had received many messages that “expressed genuine worry for jobs and employment prospects due simply to faith.”
“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. That is a dangerous idea, one that will only reduce tolerance for others and diversity of thought and participation in our community and workplaces,” he said.
Comensoli said he commended Thorburn “for his charitable and Christian response to this awful treatment.”
“Sadly, this situation sends a chilling message to ordinary faith believers in Victoria, that they can’t be trusted to exercise leadership and service in the community. I offer a word of encouragement to them,” the archbishop said.
“This has been a polarizing and divisive moment. It has not been about respecting diversity. I feel for young women and men currently seeking to further their football or other careers, now asking whether their personal faith might hinder their progress. I think of the families who have long supported their club, now wondering if their beliefs are acceptable to the leadership of the club they belong to or sponsor,” he continued.
Comensoli pointed out he became a supporter of the Bombers on his first day of coming to Melbourne.
“But frankly, if Essendon can’t be inclusive and fair to supporters who hold a religious faith, maybe its time to find a new club,” he said.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome