Essendon CEO Andrew Thorburn asks to be judged by his actions

Andrew Thorburn, the new CEO of the Essendon Football Club, has asked the club’s supporters to judge him on his actions in the role, rather than making judgement about his church’s views on homosexuality.

The former CEO of the National Australia Bank was announced as the club’s new CEO yesterday. Club President Dave Barsham said Thornburn was a “highly credentialed leader, with a proven track record in development and building the leadership capabilities of his people.”

“Andrew is a man of great integrity and exceptional vision. He brings significant business acumen having led many large complex organisations, most notably as CEO of NAB from 2014-2019, and Bank of NZ from 2008-2014. More recently, he has been involved with start-ups, entrepreneurs and a number of not-for-profit organisations.” Barsham said.

Following the announcement some club members questioned how the new CEO would go supporting the AFL’s commitment to stamping out homophobia in the sport, given he also holds a leadership role at the City on a Hill evangelical church – who are strongly opposed to homosexuality and abortion.

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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