Juliet Vedral currently serves as the director of ministry operation for Grace Meridian Hill in Washington, DC. She has also served as the Press Secretary for the faith-based social justice activism organization Sojourners and the Director of Outreach and Community Relations for Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. She is also the founder and executive editor of The Wheelhouse Review.
In September, 2012, I was in my eighth month of unemployment, reliant on unemployment insurance, without health insurance, and generally not trying to avoid any personal responsibility, when Mitt Romney made his famous “47 percent” comment, so I was particularly sensitive to the fact that I was out of work and didn’t really want to be (even though I did try to make the best of it). If there had been any shred of a chance of my voting for him, it was gone with that comment. After that, it was hard for me to see him as anything other than an out-of-touch, rich, paternalistic white guy who only cared about other rich white guys.
And then a few weeks ago I watched the Netflix documentary, Mitt. A film that follows the Romney family during the 2008 and 2012 campaigns and presents the candidate and his family in an extremely humanizing light. It changed my mind about him. As a Christian, it was a convicting reminder that, as my good friend Stephanie wrote on Monday, everyone has a story. Whether or not I believed in Romney’s vision for America, Mitt depicted a man of faith who was prayerful and devoted to his family. For an idealist like me, it’s hard to deal with a leader’s clay feet and harder still to deal with my own. Yet the gospel story is centered on God knowing all about our imperfect humanity, loving us, and transforming us to be like his perfect son.
Here’s the reality: My actions don’t always line up with what I profess to be true. Sometimes, when I’m tired, hungry, or emotional, I say things that I regret. Sometimes I speak (or Facebook) carelessly and communicate something that is not at all reflective of what I think or believe is true.
And sometimes I come across new information—someone kindly pulling me aside and telling me how my careless words affected them—and am given the chance to change my mind. Metanoia (or "repentance," as we know the word in English) means a "change of Mind, a change in the trend and action of the whole inner nature, intellectual, affectional and moral."
In Mitt there was a scene from the 2008 campaign showing Romney lamenting the reputation he’d gained as “the flippin’ Mormon” because he changed his position on some issues from when he was governor of Massachusetts. He rightly argued that it was in fact healthy for people to change their minds when presented with new information. President Obama changed his position on same-sex marriage a few different times before backing it in 2012. We have been conditioned to see changes of mind as “flip-flopping” and we view it with some (hopefully) healthy skepticism: How much of this “evolving” is to win votes instead of to speak truth?
Yet we all know that changing our minds is often healthy and the right thing to do. We also know that having clear-cut, black-and-white positions on many issues is both an unrealistic and dangerous expectation. Never changing your mind or “evolving” on an issue can be perceived as either strength or stubbornness, according to your political leanings. But maybe as people of the cross we should hope to see leaders change their minds because that is a form of repentance.
In other words, we should perhaps be referred to as “flippin’ Christians” for the ways in which we allow the Spirit to guide us into all truth and convict our minds into repentance from wrong to right.
But what leads us to change? It’s usually not a snarky comment on a blog or on Facebook (“Thanks so much for your thoughtful feedback that you shared publicly on my wall calling me out for being a jerk. I see everything differently now!”), nor calling someone out for making a mistake. It’s usually someone I care about coming to me in love and grace to tell me how my words or actions hurt them. Likewise, scripture says that it’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance.
As an overachieving perfectionist, I struggle with grace. It makes me uncomfortable to face my imperfections and flaws. And yet here’s God, the One who should have the biggest problem with my humanity, seeing me, knowing me, and becoming a human like me, because he loves me. Here’s God in Christ, learning obedience through his suffering, and sympathizing with us in our weakness. Isn’t that amazing? That God would condescend himself to not only heal my flaws but to also honor my humanity by wearing it.
That kindness makes me think differently—it changes my mind—about others’ flaws and my own. It leads me to offer grace instead of condemnation. It helps me to receive grace, knowing that God loves me even though I don’t get it right.
As people of the cross—God’s kindness made manifest—we must also be people of repentance. Can we extend the kindness and grace we’ve received—that’s led us to repentance—and offer that to leaders when they say stupid things, when they are for things before they are against them, when what they say doesn’t always match up with what they do? Can we be people marked not by getting it right, but by humble repentance when we get it wrong? Can we change the political discourse if we were known more as flippin’ Christians?