Let me be crystal clear.

Unborn children, the most vulnerable among us because they have no voice of their own, have only ourselves to make the plea for their just protection.

Let me be equally clear, faithful and fruitful marital covenants, which men and women freely enter into, also deserve our committed support and encouragement.

I hold these beliefs, and always have, and so do many others, because they speak to the good of our humanity.

To hold these beliefs does not mean I am excused from pursuing the good of people who hold differing beliefs, or who struggle to live by such beliefs. Everybody matters, and the good of everybody matters. Unborn children and expectant mothers both matter. My efforts to ensure this are the measure of my commitment to the common good of all.

What is this common good? It is the pursuit of the good of everyone, while also pursuing the good of each individually. It is where justice and mercy meet, so that all may live and flourish.

There has been little evidence of the common good being pursued by the leadership of the Essendon Football Club over the last couple of days. It has been a polarising and divisive time, that has abandoned any genuine respect for honouring diversity.

Helpful diversity draws people together. Harmful diversity pushes people apart.

The Premier was right in saying that the Essendon affair is much bigger than the forced resignation of the Club’s new CEO because of the beliefs he holds. And indeed, as he rightly noted, our language about other people matters.

However, the Premier’s own words about his beliefs and how they play out for the sake of others have tended toward the harmful, because they have sought to uphold the good of one by undermining the good of another.

Referring to Andrew Thorburn’s church and the Bombers’ decision to sack its new CEO, the Premier used words like ‘intolerant’, ‘bigotry’, ‘absolutely appalling’, and ‘no sympathy’. Such language pitches some members of the community against others and contributes to an unhelpful spirit of division. It leaves ordinary people of faith questioning if they can publicly hold their committed beliefs, or even to be able to exercise leadership and service in the community.

The Premier stated, ‘Aren’t we all God’s children?’ The answer is yes, absolutely and irreducibly, every person is a child of God. But for a leader of Government to distinguish between particular ‘children of God’ stirs up a spirit of divisiveness between people instead of one of inclusion. In this election year there is an onus of responsibility for all political leaders to appeal to their better judgment.

We cannot claim to be inclusive if we stir up polarisation between sectors of the community, because in our Nation and, I hope, our State, every person, and every community, matters.

If the Essendon situation, and some broader reactions to it, is a litmus test of the place and value of people of faith in Victorian society, then we are in big trouble.

This opinion piece was published in the Herald Sun on 6 October 2022.