Anglican bishop lashes out at Essendon as pressure mounts on club president after CEO’s messy departure

A debate over religious freedom has erupted after former bank chief Andrew Thorburn lasted just 24 hours as chief executive of Essendon.

The Bombers accepted Thorburn’s resignation on Tuesday amid backlash over his role as chairman of the Melbourne-based City on a Hill church.

WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Bombers in discrimination storm over shock CEO exit.

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In sermons from 2013 – a year before Mr Thorburn became chairman – the church described the practice of homosexuality as a sin and compared abortion to the killing of people in concentration camps.

The former NAB boss opted to remain with the church after being told it was untenable to remain in either role.

In a social media post hours later, Mr Thorburn said he had always advocated inclusivity, but it was clear that his personal Christian faith “was not tolerated or admitted in the public square, at least by some and perhaps by many.” .

Opposition leader Peter Dutton said the church’s comments on homosexuality and abortion were abhorrent but did not reflect Thorburn’s views.

“The fact that a person can be fired because of their religious belief has no place in our country,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

“Whether it’s Christianity, whether it’s Judaism, whether you’re part of a mosque or a temple – it doesn’t matter. We do not tolerate any discrimination on this basis.”

City on a Hill is described on its website as “established as an Anglican parish in 2007”.

Sydney’s Anglican Bishop Michael Stead claimed City on a Hill’s sermons on abortion and homosexuality were “not extreme” and reflected the beliefs of different faiths.

Andrew Thorburn during the Royal Commission in Banking Misconduct in 2018. Recognition: AAPIPICTURE

In a statement for the Freedom of Faith group, Bishop Stead said Australians should be shocked by Thorburn’s treatment and urged the Albanian government to implement a promised religious discrimination law as a matter of urgency.

“He was pushed out of his new role solely because of the moral and religious views expressed on a church website he is associated with,” the bishop said.

“This action demonstrates that Essendon’s board is not committed to accepting a diversity of moral or religious views.”

Thorburn’s resignation was welcomed by the Purple Bombers group, which campaigns for Essendon’s LGBTQI supporters and gamers.

The opposition says Andrew Thorburn’s resignation as Bombers boss amounts to religious discrimination. (Ellen Smith/AAP PHOTOS) Recognition: AAP

Victorian Prime Minister Daniel Andrews has called the church’s published views “absolutely appalling”.

The Albanian government has promised laws to ensure freedom of religion but has not set a timeframe for their introduction.

Five Liberals crossed the floor earlier this year to block then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s religious discrimination legislation over insufficient protections for LGBTQI people.

Meanwhile, new club president David Barham is feeling pressure as the club faces widespread criticism after the botched appointment.

Barham accepted responsibility for Thorburn’s reference review but called the appointment a “misstep” that could easily be remedied.

However, former Essendon chairman Paul Little said the club was in “chaos”.

“The mistakes that were made — there are just too many, honestly,” Little said.

Essendon great Matthew Lloyd said he doesn’t like it when the person responsible for finding the CEO becomes the CEO, as was the case with Thorburn.

“To be honest, I’m pretty taken aback. It’s embarrassing… and another hit at the club,” Lloyd said on AFL’s Trade Radio.

Essendon President David Barham is facing the media over the shock departure of the CEO.

Essendon President David Barham is facing the media over the shock departure of the CEO. Anglican bishop lashes out at Essendon as pressure mounts on club president after CEO’s messy departure

James Brien

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