Andrew Thorburn resigned just one day after accepting the Bombers’ top job after his role as chairman of the City on a Hill church, which has shared divisive views on abortion and homosexuality, was deemed at odds with the AFL club’s values.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Kochie in heated debate with senior pastor.
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The fallout has left Essendon in another crisis but the events have been backed by AFL chief Gillon McLachlan, who said he regards Thorburn as a “first-class person” and friend.
“I don’t think it’s the same in every situation. I think in this situation it seemed to be a conflict and Andrew had to make a choice,” McLachlan said on Wednesday.
“That’s my read on it, I understand it and I understand the decision Andrew made.”
Thorburn has issued multiple statements since choosing his church role over the Essendon position but has declined to directly address his views on abortion and homosexuality.
Koch put the question to City on a Hill senior pastor and director Guy Mason on Sunrise and was unable to get any clarity.
“You know Andrew Thorburn personally. Do his personal views align with your hardline views of the church on abortion and homosexuality?” Koch asked.
Mason responded: “I know Andrew to be a great man, he’s a man of integrity, generosity, warmth and he’s a man of faith and I admire that in him. It shapes who he is, he loves his faith, he loves his footy and I hope we can live in a world where we can express our faith and we can do that and celebrate that.”
“But do his views align with the church’s on abortion and homosexuality?” Koch reiterated.
“Well, the Christian view is one of life and it’s one of love. That’s what we stand for, that’s what we want to proclaim, that Jesus is all about life and he’s all about love and I’m sure Andrew would agree with that,” Mason said. “You need to ask him his views.”
Koch interjected: “No, no, no, he hasn’t given his views. You know him well. He wouldn’t be chairman of your board unless he shared exactly the same views that the church does.”
Koch questioned the church’s sermon comparing abortion to the Holocaust and comments surrounding homosexuality as a sin, saying it is not love or inclusion.
“There are so many other churches that are tolerant, are inclusive, you all read the same book, why do you have this hardline and not-so-loving view?” he asked.
Mason said the intention of the sermon “was not to be inflammatory” and admitted “the words were wrong, I’d use different words today”.
Koch then took issue with Mason’s claim that the church is not homophobic and its reliance on the Bible’s view on marriage.
“It’s a 2000-year-old document. It was a different time, it was a different era. So many other churches are loving and read it completely differently to you,” he said.
“We’re a very diverse community. We are about love, our community’s made up of all kinds of people from different nationalities, different backgrounds, different sexual orientations,” Mason responded.
Koch asked: “But you say it’s a sin? Anyone in your community that has a different sexual orientation you say ‘You’re going to go to hell’.”
“The point of the Bible is we’re all sinners, I’m a sinner, right? The good news of the gospel is Jesus came to …” Mason said, before Koch jumped in.
“I’m not going to have a battle of the Bible,” he said.
Koch, who is president of the Port Adelaide AFL club, posited that Thorburn should not have applied for the Essendon role if, as Mason said, he is a “man of integrity”.
“Pride round comes up with AFLW in a couple of weeks. How could he have honestly stood there and encouraged the sentiment? It would go completely against your views and beliefs and completely against his,” Koch said.
Thorburn’s appointment as Essendon chief executive came after he was originally on the panel to select the club’s next boss, before being invited to apply for the role himself.
It was his first major role since resigning from NAB in 2019 after receiving scathing criticism during the banking royal commission.
But Essendon’s lack of due diligence over Thorburn’s link to the church has emerged as the most pressing issue.
Former club chairman Paul Little cast doubt over current president Dave Barham’s claims that Thorburn was “reference checked thoroughly” and deemed to be nothing other than a “suitable candidate”.
“He wasn’t new to the club, he was well known to the club,” Little told ABC radio.
“He had a number of roles there, that is my understanding, so I don’t think it should’ve come as a surprise.”