Don your faith at work?
It was just before I went to bed last night that I saw the tweet: “Andrew Thorburn is chairman of City on a Hill church that preaches against gay sex and abortion”. Earlier in the day Thorburn had been named as the new CEO of Essendon (the 'Dons for those who don't follow the real sport they'll play in heaven, namely AFL). My immediate thought was “Here we go again”.
The former NAB CEO has not been shy about his Christian faith. Indeed I had the privilege of hearing him speak about how it shapes his work at an event hosted by us at City Bible Forum in 2020. He spoke passionately and winsomely about the influence for good it has on his leadership, and the way it also directs the kinds of work he does. Pardon the pun, but he was clear he dons his faith at work.
But Thorburn is now the latest Christian to have their suitability questioned for a particular job because of his faith. By lunchtime today everyone from the Victorian Premier down had weighed into his appointment, criticising the Bombers because Thorburn attends and is chair of the board of a church which teaches traditional Biblical ethics.
There are many ways we could respond to this, but for me it has raised the question again of exactly how our Christian faith should integrate with our work (something we go on and on about on this blog).
An inherent contradiction
As a starting point there seems to be an inherent contradiction in much of the commentary about Christians in the workplace today. On the one hand, in the secular public square the message to Christians is often “Keep your views to yourselves and don’t let them shape your work”. And yet, when a Christian is perceived (rightly or wrongly) to have acted in ways that are not in accord with their faith they are challenged that such behaviour is “Not very Christian of you”. Don’t get me wrong - I’ve got no problem with Christians being pulled up when we don’t live in line with our calling. How we live and work matters, and our colleagues notice. It is a key part of our witness, and if how we act is impacting our witness negatively then we need to address that.
But we can’t be expected to both “leave your faith at the door” when it comes to work, but on the other hand also be held to the standards of that faith! I think this inconsistency is something we can gently, winsomely, but also clearly point out when the proverbial water-cooler conversation turns to this topic.
How to integrate faith and work - an example in Andrew
In the case of Andrew Thorburn I find it puzzling that he is being judged before he even begins the job, based on the ethics of his faith (particularly around sexuality). Indeed our ethics should shape how we work, but I wonder if our ethics are actually an asset not a liability. Thorburn seems to think so. In his first interview since this news broke he made these comments:
“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…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…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”.
Thorburn is to be commended for such a winsome response. Indeed it is a model to us all both in terms of how we should integrate our Christian faith with our work, and also how we should respond to the inconsistency I outlined above.
Let’s be vocal supporters of all people bringing “their whole self to work”. Let’s not shy away from having our Christian faith shape every nook and cranny of it, because we know that when it does it will be a powerful and positive witness for good. And when the opportunities arise for us to speak (perhaps not in as quite a public forum as Thorburn has found himself in, although you never know) let’s take that opportunity to speak of the difference our faith makes for good…and may we be able to, like Andrew does, point to our track record of treating people with love, just as Christ has loved us. Don your faith!
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