Screeching U-turn or Repentance?

When politicians change their mind about something, their opponents (and sometimes their supporters also) lambast them for doing so. Rishi Sunak was accused this week of a ‘screeching u-turn’ for suggesting that he might help people with their energy bills by temporarily removing VAT, when last year he refused to do such a thing. Liz Truss meanwhile has been criticised for changing from a ‘remainer’ to a ‘brexiteer’ and from a Liberal-Democrat to a Tory. Boris Johnson once said that Keir Starmer has ‘more flip flops than Bournemouth Beach’. The presumption is that changing your mind is a thoroughlybad thing to do, even when circumstances change.  This is all very adversarial and as the current Tory leadership race implies: “Whoever is not with me is against me”.

In the New Testament Greek the word that is generally translated into English as ‘Repent’ is ‘Metanoia’, which literally means “to change the mind”. Repentance is therefore concerned with fundamentally changing your mind about something.  Whilst the word Metanoia was actually a military term that described a soldier marching in one direction and then doing an about-face or to turn around, in the context of faith it means a whole lot more.

Contrary to the way that changing your mind seems to be viewed in political circles, repentance has a much more positive sense. A change in the way you think that leads to achange in the way that you live. When you really change your mind about something, it leads to change in the way you think about it, talk about it, feel about it, and the way that you act. Repentance is a decisive change in direction; it’s a change of mind that leads to a change of thinking that leads to a change of attitude that leads to a change of feeling that leads to a change of values that leads to a change in the way you live.

When John the Baptist appeared on the scene at the start of the Gospels, it was as one who was preparing the way for Jesus the Christ and he called everyone to repentance. In the Gospels of both Mark and Matthew, Jesus begins his public ministry with a call to “Repent”, for people to turn their lives around. In addition, the Apostle Paul when preaching to both Jews and Gentiles/Greeks urged them to “turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus”. That is what we are all called to do and to keep doing as part of being Christian.

As I write, Anglican Bishops from across the globe (including the seven from the Scottish Episcopal Church) are meeting at the Lambeth Conference. After a slightly shaky start, the organisers had the courage to have a change of heart in relation to the call on Human Dignity to be discussed next week and rather than deriding them for their ‘repentance’ we should applaud the fact that in the revised call they have opened up the possibility for genuine dialog between bishops who disagree to allow them to hear each other and disagree well. As Mark writes in his Gospel: “Whoever is not against us is for us”.

Let us hope and pray that as people in our communities and across the country face very difficult times ahead, that politicians can learn to have the humility to both change their minds, as situations and people’s circumstances change, and at the same time applaud others who do so. Now wouldn’t that transport us to a better world?


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