Due to CEO Andrew Thorburn's resignation after one day, the turmoil at Essendon Football Club may turn out to be a game-saver, writes Alan Austin.
"... this is a very gravely disturbing moment in the cultural history of Australia. Essendon football club has effectively declared itself an anti-Christian organisation."
Sheridan’s nonsensical anger was provoked when Andrew Thorburn, who started work as Essendon footy club’s chief executive on Monday, resigned on Tuesday. This followed the discovery that the former NAB boss was also a leader of a church which stridently condemns abortion and same-sex relationships.
Passionate Essendon footy fan Dan Andrews, who is also Victoria’s premier, shirtfronted Thorburn on Tuesday, asserting that his church’s teachings were “absolutely appalling”, adding, “that kind of intolerance and hatred is just wrong”.
This will cause short-term angst inside the football club, in Victoria’s sporting community generally, within the Christian community and, particularly, Thorburn’s church, City on a Hill. But if the destructive nonsense taught by this and other groups is exposed and debunked, this will eventually score heavily for the Christian faith, religious tolerance and community safety and wellbeing.
Abortion in Judeo-Christian texts
Two passages in the scriptures that Christians, Jews and others regard as authoritative refer to killing a foetus. Neither supports the view – forcefully proclaimed at Thorburn’s church – that a foetus is sacred human life and abortion is murder.
According to teaching in 'Exodus', violent acts that cause the death of a pregnant mother demand capital punishment. But, if those acts kill the unborn baby, not the mother, the penalty is a fine.
Even clearer, teaching in 'Numbers' describes the procedure for an abortion when pregnancy results from rape, adultery or other exceptional circumstances.
When does life begin?
All scriptural passages which address the beginning of human life link it with taking the first breath. Every single one.
'Genesis 2:7' instructs:
‘Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.’
More than 30 texts connect life with breathing. None suggests sacred life begins at conception.
Bible-believing Christians, therefore, have the choice of three possible positions: first, that sacred life begins when breathing starts. Secondly, life begins when the foetus has developed to the point where it is capable of breathing outside the womb. (This accepts the biblical experience of Elizabeth’s unborn baby which 'leapt in her womb' when Elizabeth met Mary who was pregnant with Jesus — a pivotal passage for some anti-abortion activists.)
Or, thirdly, we don’t really know for sure and should therefore leave medical matters to women and their doctors.
Sexual orientation — the reformation of our age
The struggle within religious communities to accept same-sex unions as having the same validity and divine approval as heterosexual unions has been the greatest area of religious reform over the last half-century. There is still a way to go, but progressives are kicking with a stiff breeze.
This, again, is because scripture properly interpreted is on the side of inclusivity. Many – most? – Judeo-Christian scholars, teachers, ministers and congregations now understand that the five scriptural passages that condemn same-sex behaviour, refer to coercive and abusive homosexual activity, not to loving, faithful unions.
It is increasingly understood that approved same-sex unions appear throughout the biblical record and that the Christian church historically has frequently blessed same-sex marriages.
Calls to condemn social evils
Ancient Jewish prophets railed against prevailing social evils. So did Jesus of Nazareth and his followers. These were nearly always for economic exploitation — usually of the poor by the rich.
There is little, if any, biblical warrant for publicly condemning the sexual or medical decisions of individuals. In fact, one distinction between the followers of Jesus and the hypocritical Pharisees – the good guys and the bad guys in the gospels – emerged when the Pharisees wanted Jesus to condemn a woman caught in adultery, a capital offence at that time. His response – “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone..." – has become a proverb beyond Christendom.
If this Essendon saga widens community understanding that most religious folks are not bigoted meddlers in other peoples’ struggles, this will strengthen the team. If it encourages religious folks to get back to basics and be more tolerant, then that will also add scoreboard pressure.
As for the Greg Sheridans and Andrew Thorburns of this world, they appear locked into a pharisaic position. But there is still hope.
“Straight through the heart of them righteous uprights,
Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goalposts of life.”
This would seem closer to Essendon’s club song today rather than that of some churches.
Alan Austin is an Independent Australia columnist and freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @alanaustin001. Alan was a council member of the Evangelical Alliance of Victoria in the 1980s and '90s. He is now a practising Anglican in Europe.
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