When Football, Faith, and Politics Collide

Unless you’ve been intentionally avoiding the news or you’ve been living in a remote cabin in the wilderness without electricity or access to a smart phone (which sounds pretty good!), I’m sure you’ve seen the unfortunate saga playing out south of our border.

On Monday 3rd of October, Andrew Thorburn was appointed CEO of the Essendon Football Club. Fairly unremarkable news, really. Until the very next day, Tuesday 4th of October, when news broke that Andrew had resigned. The reason for his sudden departure? Andrew is Chairman of the Movement Board at City on a Hill, an Anglican church in Melbourne with a number of other locations around the country. It was this association, and particularly City on a Hill’s orthodox views on homosexuality and abortion, that was enough to render him guilty. Though ostensibly Andrew resigned, he was effectively made to walk the plank. He was forced to choose between his role at the football club and his role at the church. He chose the church, giving up on his lifelong dream in the process.

As the sad and chaotic saga unfolded, many believers would have been watching with more than a little interest and perhaps even a little trepidation, wondering: ‘Could I be next?’ It sounds absurd to even ask the question, but the events of the last couple of weeks would seem to prove otherwise.

So, what should we do in the face of treatment like this? How should we respond? Let me offer five brief thoughts.

Firstly, Don’t Forget.

Don’t forget who you are and where you stand. You belong to God; chosen before the foundation of the world, adopted through the finished work of His Son, lavished with His grace (Ephesians 1:4-10). No one and nothing can snatch you from His hands (John 10:28). No government, organisation, or individual can separate you from His love (Romans 8:39). You belong to the One with all authority over everything and everyone (Matthew 28:18). You stand in the most blessed and secure position in the whole cosmos. Don’t forget who you are and where you stand.

Secondly, Don’t Be Surprised.

Opposition is not an optional extra in the Christian life; it’s mandatory and to be expected. If you don’t believe me, check out Matthew 5:11, John 15:20, 1 Peter 4:12, and 2 Timothy 3:12 to name just a few. Opposition from the world is an ordinary part of friendship with Jesus. The Bible assumes it, Jesus modelled it, the apostles experienced it, the church in most places and at most times has lived it, and now the baton passes to us. Let’s not drop it because we’re not ready for it or shocked by it.

Thirdly, Don’t Be Silent.

When the bullets start flying, our natural inclination is to duck for cover. This is understandable, even advisable in some instances (e.g., in Acts 8:1-2 the early church fled violent persecution in Jerusalem). But this is also a time of great gospel opportunity. Let’s continue to be a light, to be a witness, to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

Fourthly, Don’t Be Quarrelsome.

But, as Peter goes on to say in the very next phrase: “But do this with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15b). As we bear witness to Jesus and give an account for our faith, let’s pay attention not only to the words we share but how we share them. Let’s cultivate the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-40), walk the extra mile (Matthew 5:41), and even pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44). By doing so, we will be “…blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life” (Philippians 2:14-16).

Fifthly and finally, Be Happy.

The Apostle Peter, writing to a group of Christians suffering for their faith in Jesus, says: ‘…if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.’ (1 Peter 4:15-16). Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5). Of course, happiness in the face of hatred is not normal. But notice why Jesus says we can be happy when we face opposition? Because opposition cannot and will not stop us from receiving all that God has in store for us (“for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”). Opposition, no matter how unfair or vitriolic or nonsensical, cannot remove us from the love of God nor stop us from inheriting the kingdom of God. We are citizens of heaven; God is our Father, Jesus is our King, the Holy Spirit is our Helper, and the earth is our inheritance. We are going to be OK! When laws are passed, when governments change, when jobs are lost, when others mock and malign, we don’t have to wring our hands, we can remind our hearts that if we have Christ, we have everything we could ever need, now and forever. And that’s a reason to rejoice.

With you on the journey,