Andrew Thorburn, who resigned as Essendon’s chief executive over his links to a church that condemns homosexuality and abortion, says workers are now worried their faith will impact their employment prospects.
Thorburn was appointed to the role on Monday but resigned on Tuesday afternoon after sermons by the City on a Hill church, of which he is chairman, were made public.
The sermons likened abortion to a concentration camp and included claims that “practising homosexuality is a sin” – views which Victoria’s premier, Daniel Andrews, said were “absolutely appalling”.
The AFL club on Tuesday said Thorburn, despite not holding the same personal views as his church, felt he could not serve in both roles and had offered his resignation.
Thorburn on Wednesday evening said he had received “hundreds of messages of support”.
“Concerningly, many messages expressed genuine worry for jobs and employment prospects due simply to faith,” he said in a statement.
“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.”
On Wednesday, the Victorian opposition leader, Matthew Guy, criticised the premier for weighing into the debate, which he said encroached too far into private religious views.
“What are we now banning people from going to church, banning people from going to a synagogue, banning people from going to a mosque? Where have we got? This is ridiculous,” Guy told 3AW radio.
“Football clubs can hire who they choose. I don’t see, if I was the premier, why I would be telling people who they can hire and fire; why would you?”
The Anglican archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Philip Freier, issued a statement in support of Thorburn and archdeacon Guy Mason, the clergy leader of the City on a Hill movement, who is also a senior leader in the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne.
“In 2016, I joined the archbishop of Canterbury and other international Anglican leaders in agreeing a statement that rejected homophobia and affirmed that ‘God’s love for every human being is the same, regardless of their sexuality, and that the church should never by its actions give any other impression’,” Freier said.
“I have seen nothing in Andrew Thorburn’s reported comments that contradict this position. It would be unfortunate if people of faith are sidelined from participation in professional and public life on account of personal religious belief. Everyone should expect to be judged on their behaviour not on their religious beliefs.”
At a press conference in Melbourne on Wednesday, the premier stood by his earlier comments.
“Who runs the Essendon football club is a matter for the board. But I was asked a question and I simply put to you my longstanding, consistent view,” Andrews said.
“I’ve had a longstanding view that termination services are a private matter between a woman and her doctor and I will speak out against people who seek to intrude on that.
“What’s more, when it comes to rampant homophobia, when I lead the Pride March every year … I do that with a sense of genuine concern and support and commitment to make sure every LGBTIQ+ Victorian is safe, respected and valued.”
Andrews said same-sex-attracted young people were more likely to take their own lives or self-harm than members of the broader Victorian community.
“Let’s not lose perspective about this. It’s not about who runs a footy club. This is about issues that are much, much bigger than that,” he said.
When asked whether Thorburn’s resignation showed people with conservative religious beliefs needed to hide their opinions in a public role, Andrews replied: “No. They might want to have a think about whether they want to be a bit more kind-hearted. A bit more inclusive. Aren’t we all God’s children?”
Andrews said he would be renewing his Essendon membership and reiterated he did not have a role in Thorburn’s appointment or resignation.
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