Andrew Thorburn quits as Essendon CEO after just one day

Essendon Football club has announced that Andrew Thorburn has quit as their CEO after just a single day in the role.

Fans of the football club questioned Thorburn’s appointment highlighting that he also held a senior leadership role at the City on a Hill evangelical church – a body that has publicly spoken out against homosexuality. Fans asked how Thorburn would be able to promote the clubs commitment to fighting homophobia in sport and promoting inclusion, while also maintaining his church role.

This morning the CEO was on Melbourne radio arguing that he would be able to fulfill the role, but by the close of business he’d tendered his resignation.

In a statement Club President Dave Barham said Essendon remained committed to providing a club where everyone is respected.

“As soon as the comments relating to a 2013 sermon from a pastor, at the City of the Hill church came to light this morning, 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.

“Essendon is committed to providing an inclusive, diverse and a safe Club, where everyone is welcome and respected.” Barham said.

“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.

“We are deeply committed to our values and support wholeheartedly the work of the AFL in continuing to stamp out any discrimination based on race, sex, religion, gender, sexual identity or orientation, or physical or mental disability.

“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, our players, our members, our fans, our partners and the wider community.

Acting CEO Nick Ryan will take over role whilst the club commences the process to appoint another new CEO.

Thorburn’s arrival had been promoted via a slick video that showed him speaking about his excitement in taking over the role. The video has now been removed from the club’s website.

Victoria Premier Dan Andrews weighed in on the appointment on Tuesday saying the views held by the church were “absolutely appalling”, but he would still be renewing his club membership.

Tim Baxter, the Deputy Mayor of the City of Port Phillip, took to social media and announced he’d be resigning his club membership, and those of his children. Baxter said by appointing Thorburn the club had sent a clear message to LGBTIQA+ supporters that they were not welcome.

“Your decision, when the club has desperately needed a solid, uncontroversial path forward, has instead ripped the club back to the dark ages, and alienated your members.” Baxter posted to Twitter.

Speaking on Melbourne radio station SEN today Thorburn said that some of the sermons that had been highlighted in the media were from before his time at the church. The CEO said he’d never heard the anti-gay sentiments expressed at the church since he’d joined it.

The church’s website hosts an article explaining how gay people can ‘survive same-sex attraction’, while another video sermon rallies against the rise of transgenderism” in the media.

A 2018 video sermon focuses on an episode of the TV show Queer Eye and suggests gay Christians could choose to remain celibate, before suggesting that gay people exist because “there is sin in the world”.

While Thorburn did not share his personal views on homosexuality, he said even with his church there was a wide variety of views, and all views should be respectfully said, heard and debated.

“I also want to say in the church, like any diverse place, there are very different views on all these matters. I have different views on all these matters,” Thorburn said.

Thorburn said his formal role in the church was about governance, not the content of sermons.

“I’m not a pastor. My job in a governance role is to make sure it’s run well. I don’t always agree with what’s said, but in a way that’s not the point.

“If you want a diverse society it also means there’s going to be people with different views. And I think as we go forward in Australia, it’s not whether those views exist – because they do – the question for harmony is whether we can coexist and hear each other and respect each other’s views. It’s that point around ‘I disagree with what you say, but I defend your right to say it’.

“I think people forget the church does a lot of great things for disadvantaged people to help them – it still plays an important role in the community. It‘s a diverse group itself, not everyone holds the same view.”

The CEO said he had a proven track record in leading large organisations and ensuring they had a commitment to being caring and welcoming and caring and diverse.

“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 that you should create community care for people and help people be safe and respect them as humans,” he said.

OIP Staff

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