Your soul or your job? You choose
Your church may cost you your job. Your job may demand your soul
Will your church membership cost you your job? It’s not just a hypothetical question. The new chief executive of a major Australian sports franchise lasted exactly one day on the job after a hideous scandal was discovered—he attends an evangelical church and leads its board. That was enough to get him booted from his job and roundly pummeled in the press. Christians had better pay close attention to the story, for this pattern will not remain safely south of the Equator.
The executive who lasted one day is Andrew Thorburn, who on Monday of this week had taken over as chief executive of the Essendon Football Club. Essendon football is a big deal in Australia, and in the world of Australian rules football. I know very little about sports, and it was news to me that Australian rules football (or “footy”) is different from American football. I did learn that the Australian game is played on an oval, which makes sense to me given that the ball is a leather oval. I am told that the shape is a coincidence. Frankly, I find that suspicious.
In any event, Essendon needed a new chief executive and Andrew Thorburn seemed to be quite a catch, given that he had served as CEO of the massive National Australia Bank, known as NAB. But as soon as Thorburn was announced as executive, controversy erupted over his membership and lay leadership in City on a Hill, an evangelical Anglican multi-site church that, though relatively young, has attracted controversy over its teachings on the sanctity of human life and the sinfulness of same-sex behaviors.
Thorburn is listed as chairman of the church’s board, and the attacks came swiftly. Daniel Andrews, Premier of Victoria, referred to the Melbourne-based church and its views by saying: “Those views are absolutely appalling. I don’t support those views, that kind of intolerance, that kind of hatred, bigotry. It is just wrong.” The premier was raised and educated as a Catholic, and the Catholic Church holds to the same moral teaching as City on a Hill, in this case. But Andrews, who belongs to the socialist left, has made clear that he is pretty much over being Catholic as well. He clearly wanted Andrew Thorburn’s tenure with Essendon to be over, and within hours it was.
Shortly after the controversy went white-hot, the team’s president, Dave Barnham, threw Thorburn and his church (which he misnamed) under the bus: “As soon as comments relating to a 2013 sermon from a pastor at City on the Hill came to light this morning, we acted immediately to clarify the publicly espoused views on the organization’s official website, which are in direct contradiction to our values as a club.”
Thorburn, we should note, was not exactly a profile in doctrinal courage throughout the ordeal. “My faith is a very personal thing,” he said. “I think my faith has helped me become a better leader because at the center of my faith is the belief that you should create community and care for people and help people be safe and respect them as humans.” Not quite the Apostles’ Creed.
Further, when confronted with language on abortion and sexuality from the church’s web site and archived sermons, Thorburn demurred, saying: “I’ve never heard these things expressed in my time, I’ve been on the board two years.” He went on: “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.”
We can hardly escape the suspicion that this executive could well lose two jobs at once. It’s a bit difficult to imagine how you stay on as board chairman after distancing yourself from your church’s beliefs.
But the point is that he did lose his job with the team, and after only one day. The signal is now sent: Be careful who you hire. Better check on church membership. Better look closely at the archived sermons. Might be dynamite there.
Make no mistake—this is the shape of the future. This canceling of Christians because of church membership will not be limited to Australia, to “footy,” or even to sports. Law firms and other professional organizations have been doing such checks for years already. You can count on the fact that the media, old and new, will be looking for incriminating evidence in the form of church membership disclosures.
And don’t miss the other big message. Trying to distance yourself from your church will not work unless you are willing to renounce your preacher and your church’s teaching. Now, that’s a bit harder to accomplish when you are listed as chairman of the board on the church’s website. In any event, renunciation and denunciation will be the new demands, if you get caught as a member of a “wrong” kind of church.
If you want safety in your job, you had better join a liberal Episcopal church that flies a rainbow flag out front. On the other hand, if you care about the safety of your soul, you will have to care much less about the safety of your job. God honors those who are faithful to Him, but you had better decide now which you will choose.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to support WORLD's brand of Biblically sound journalism, click here.
These daily articles have become part of my steady diet. —BarbaraSign up to receive the WORLD Opinions email newsletter each weekday for sound commentary from trusted voices.