Last Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald ran an extended piece on the theological College that newly instated NSW Premier Mike Baird attended in the 90s. North American correspondent Nick O’Malley spent a few days digging around at Regent College, a graduate School of Theology in Vancouver, to see what kind of influence the place might have had on Baird. This is the same College I attended a few years after Mike, so I was especially interested to see O’Malley’s assessment of it.
Despite what O’Malley actually wrote in the article, which was mostly fair, subeditors went to some lengths to make the Premier’s year in British Columbia sound alarming. The headline, “Mike Baird’s Dangerously Virtuous Education” was followed by a sub-heading that claimed Regent College is renowned for its hard line Christian views. That idea is amusing to anyone who knows the College, as in Christian circles, critics are more likely to find it overly progressive.
The irony of the article, evident to those who actually read it, is that the views articulated by the professors formative in Baird’s education sound less dangerous to the unsuspecting secular public and more to the forces that stand to oppress them. Professor Iain Provan’s speech at the Regent Convocation Ceremony was quoted at length, urging the graduates to live lives of risk and action. “Be dangerous to those who worship money and material possessions – the idols of mammon. Lay bare the utopianism at the heart of modern economic ideology. Deride the universal expectation of more … be dangerous to all who, in the pursuit of [false] gods, damage other people, and damage God's good creation. Be dangerous to the powerful who want to use and oppress the weak, and to the rich who want to use and oppress the poor.” Plenty of Herald readers would surely say Amen to that.
Christianity ought to be ‘dangerous’ in that it will conflict with the things within our society that stand in the way of human flourishing. Rather than a threat to freedom, the Christian vision, rightly understood, entails the pursuit of healthy communities and relationships, justice for the poor and mercy for the vulnerable. It is concerned with forgiveness and reconciliation, the environment, and, ultimately, peace. These are social and political aspects of life that can’t remain private, and do conflict with powerful interests. Any politician motivated by such a vision will seek, primarily, to serve the common good. If a seminary in Vancouver has had that kind of influence on NSW politics, that is something, not to fear, but to celebrate.