New Essendon CEO Andrew Thorburn has spoken for the first time since it was revealed he is the chairman of a controversial church.
The City on a Hill church movement – of which Thorburn admits he has been on the board for two years – has controversial views on abortion and homosexuality on its website.
One sermon likens abortion to that of concentration camps, while another says practicing homosexuality is a sin.
Thorburn, who describes himself as a “lifelong” Bombers supporter and Christian for 20 years, was announced by Bombers president Dave Barham as the new CEO on Monday afternoon.
But the revelations linking Thorburn to controversial beliefs later on Monday threw a dark cloud on his signing and ability to reunite an organisation that has notably struggled to connect in recent years.
Thorburn - who was most recently CEO of NAB - made his first appearance as Essendon CEO on Monday night at the club's best and fairest.
Asked to speak to the Essendon faithful on SEN Breakfast on Tuesday, Thorburn said he was grateful for the opportunity and wanted to have the conversation needed.
He asked to be viewed by his actions and record but added that people have the right to speak their beliefs.
“I understand that some of these views - and I’ll come to them - are offensive to people and upset people and I really respect that,” Thorburn said.
“Firstly, 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 you should create a community and care for people and help people be safe and respect them as humans. That’s actually helped me become a better leader.
“Second is I’ve been a CEO for 13 years, this is my third CEO job, I was CEO of a bank that had 5,000 people, I was a CEO of a bank that had 35,000 people, now I’m going to a different organisation but in all those, there’s a diversity of people.
“There’s a diversity of people. Different races, sexual orientations, faiths and cultures, that’s society. My role as a CEO is to ensure that the organisations that I lead, which I think my record stands for this, is inclusive and welcoming and caring and diverse.
“I think that makes us a more human organisation and makes us a higher performing organisation. My commitment - and it’s always been this, and I think my record stands - is that I will create that organisation and lead that organisation. Personally, I feel I have role modelled that. I haven’t been a perfect CEO, but I think my respect for people, my care, my love, my welcoming style, I welcome all those people, everybody is welcome. That’s really what I want people to look at, look at my actions, look at my words as a leader and the organisations I’ve created to enable safe, diverse, inclusive workplaces, that’s my record I want people to look at and have confidence in.”
The new Dons CEO was then asked how he can claim to be inclusive despite the controversial views of the church which could offend some at the club.
Thorburn insinuated that views of the church were not necessarily all his, but reiterated he is welcoming to all.
“I would say… I respect and care about you and you’re welcome in this organisation and I want to hear what you think to ensure you feel safe and can speak out,” he said when asked to speak to those at Essendon.
“Now I want to come to the church. I haven’t read all of that (reports on Monday night)… I’ve never heard these things expressed since my time, I’ve been on the board for two years. But I also want to say in the church - like any diverse society - there are very different views on all these matters. I have different views on some matters, 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 we 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 co-exist and hear each other and respect each other’s views.”
He continued: "I totally respect that people will have different views to what was expressed, and I'm sort of saying in some ways I do.
"The church itself has very different views, very diverse views, not everyone in the church agrees with those views, but it's very important in a society that those views can be expressed.
"And people should disagree with them, but sort of respectfully.
Thorburn officially commences his new role on November 1.