Andrew Thorburn (seen here in a 2015 photo), a former Australian banking executive and current chairman of church affiliated with the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, stepped down Oct. 4, 2022, one day after being appointed chief executive of an Australian rules football club due to public backlash. / Photo by SAEED KHAN/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Newsroom, Oct 7, 2022 / 10:14 am (CNA).

Two Australian archbishops have warned of the exclusion of Christians from the public sphere after a football club executive resigned because his ecclesial community is pro-life and teaches that practicing homosexuality is a sin. 

One day after being appointed chief executive of the Essendon Bombers, an Australian rules football club in Melbourne, Andrew Thorburn stepped down from the role following a public backlash.

The 57-year-old is chairman of City on a Hill church, which is affiliated with the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews, of the Australian Labor Party, joined critics, condemning the church’s stance on homosexual acts and abortion as “absolutely appalling.”

According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, Essendon president David Barham asked Thorburn to choose between being CEO and his chairmanship of the church.

Thorburn chose his church.

After his resignation, Thorburn said, “It became clear to me that my personal Christian faith is not tolerated or permitted in the public square, at least by some and perhaps by many.”

In a statement published Wednesday, Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne said, “This situation sends a chilling message to ordinary faith believers, … that they can’t be trusted to exercise leadership and service in the community. I offer a word of encouragement to them.”

“But frankly, if Essendon can’t be inclusive and fair to supporters who hold a religious faith, maybe it’s time to find a new club,” he added.

In the State of Victoria, where Australian rules football is simply “the footy” and enjoys fervent devotion and an egalitarian and inclusive reputation, the archbishop’s words drove home his central point: “This has been a polarizing and divisive moment. It has not been about respecting diversity.”

Comensoli added his thoughts were with “the families who have long supported their club, now wondering if their beliefs are acceptable to the leadership of the club they belong to or sponsor.”

Thorburn’s resignation was not the first time that sport, Australia’s once “great unifier, is giving us increasing examples of intolerant and mean-spirited marginalization of Christians,” Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney said in a statement on Oct. 6.

Fisher mentioned the cases of both rugby player Israel Folau and “the Manly Seven,” two recent examples in which another football code was embroiled in a public controversy over attitudes toward LGBT.

“Respect and equality, the ‘virtues’ of our time, are being demonstrated time and time again to be a one-way street,” Fisher said.

“Any organization that trumpets tolerance, inclusivity, and diversity yet excludes people based on their religious beliefs must ask serious questions of itself.”

“People of faith continue to contribute so much to our country in sport, in health, education and social welfare, in professional and political life, in families and in religious communities. They too deserve to be included, not as pariahs but as participants,” Fisher said.

Christianity is the most common religion in Australia, with 43.9% of the population identifying as Christian and 20% as Catholic in the country’s 2021 official census.

More than half of Australians said they were affiliated with a religion, while almost 40% of Australia’s population of 25.7 million reported having no religion — an increase from 30% in 2016.