Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Do we believe in change?

The recent case of Jared O'Mara has prompted me to think about what we as Christians mean by repentance or making a new start. Mr O'Mara is the Labour MP who famously unseated Nick Clegg from his Sheffield Hallam constituency. He recently resigned from the Women and Equalities Committee following the discovery of online posts he made back in the early 2000s which are homophobic, derogatory about women and also about people who are overweight.

Mr O'Mara is now 36 years old, so these posts were made in his early 20s. He's clearly embarrassed about them, and has very publicly disowned the views he articulated then. Those who are standing by him say that the change is sincere and real, and that he should not be judged now on the views he articulated then. However, social media and the press are often much less forgiving, and there will doubtless be plenty of people saying he's only sorry because he was caught out.

Now I don't know Mr O'Mara or his innermost attitudes and feelings, but his predicament asks us all some interesting questions. I have no doubt that no-one reading this post would like every view they have ever articulated to be replayed. I am sure we have all said or even written things which we would certainly regret, and which we would now disown. It's all too easy to join in the vilification of a public figure on Facebook or Twitter, but what if all of our own faults and foibles received the same scrutiny. It's always worth pausing for thought before being carried along with the crowd. 

The second question it poses for me is whether we ever really believe in change. What would be sufficient proof for me to believe that someone had indeed put their past behind them? If we are too naive in accepting someone's word about their change in character, that has the potential to be very damaging. This has been seen acutely in the way abuse allegations have been handled in church circles in the past. Once offenders have been dealt with by the law, there have to be safeguards in place to ensure that the risk of a repeat offence is minimised and everyone involved is protected.

On the other hand, we know from our own experience that we do indeed change in other respects, whereas the media (and especially social media) can be very unforgiving, particularly if the person under scrutiny holds the opposite view politically to those making the comments. 

All anyone can do to prove that change has really occurred is to be consistent and develop a track record of speaking and behaving in ways that demonstrate that. That may mean making certain decisions about the situations we place ourselves in, or the influences we expose ourselves to. In Christian circles, we call that repentance, which is turning round from walking one path, and walking a different way - the way of Jesus. We may sometimes be met with scepticism, cynicism or complete disbelief, but the possibility of change offers us all hope that our mistakes don't have to have the final say.

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