“Peter said, ‘You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection.’”
Any modern leader will tell you that one of the worst things you can be called is a “flip-flopper.” In 2004, when John Kerry was running for president against the incumbent George W. Bush, the challenger was excoriated for saying he “was for it before he was against it,” referring to a yes vote he had cast in an early version of a military spending bill, and the no vote he cast in the final version. The explanation was unhelpful. Kerry’s statement was political gold for his opponent, who labeled the Senator as indecisive and incapable.
How did the act of changing one’s mind become the cardinal sin of leadership? When did it become so wrong to reverse a position? When did become so egregious to admit to it?
It’s easy just to pick on the politicians here, but it plays out in the most personal arenas. As a parent, there have been times when I have disappointed my children by adjusting plans. Even when there were perfectly rational reasons for doing so, their frustrations were expressed. “But dad, you said…” Most of the time we are unaware at how quickly our minds wrap around an idea or a plan, how we are unable to really understand what is happening inside of us when that idea is challenged or that plan is changed.
I wonder how it felt for Peter, as God spoke to him in a dream in Acts 10, using the image of meat to show him the new thing God was doing. Beyond revising the dietary laws, God revealed to Peter the ways that the message of Jesus would extend past the boundaries of a region and into the wider world, how the Gospel would be proclaimed in cultures that had previously been excluded. We can almost hear Peter explaining himself to the others. “Yes friends, that was then, this is now. God has shown me…”
In “Not Knowing,” D’Souza and Renner write, “we rely on preconceived ideas that are years, sometimes decades, out of date. As the world is changing so rapidly, we increasingly find ourselves in situations where what we know, or what we thought we knew, is no longer useful or correct.” Information changes. Knowledge changes. Understanding changes.
What gift could the Christian community offer by taking such an approach? Yes, the truth of Scripture is timeless, but God’s Word is not bound to human limits of time, space, and understanding. God is always revealing new things. What would it look like for the Christian Church to atone for its part in the harm that has been done to human beings throughout history? To admit where it was wrong in misapplying Scripture to justify slavery and colonialism? To recognize its failure to lead on issues of equality for women and people of color? To confess its misinterpretation of verses to condemn people who love a person of the same gender? To repent of the times and places where it used its position to gain greater power and influence in the political arena?
What do we risk when we admit we were wrong? What might be the fall-out from confessing that while we might have been taught some things at one time, we too are part of this world that God, as the creed reminds us, “has created and is creating.” Perhaps some might see the Church as indecisive and inconsistent. Some may see the Church as shaped by culture, as opposed to the one shaping culture. But many might begin to see the Church for what it really is- a flawed, but faithful witness for the good news of God’s love in Jesus. Not perfect, but striving to be as we imitate the one who is and was. Willing to be honest about our failures. Willing to be changed as God works in us. Willing to stand for some things we might have previously been against.
 Acts 10:27-29a, NIV.
 Diana Renner and Steven D’Souza, “Not Knowing: The Art Turning Uncertainty into Opportunity,” (New York: LID Publishing, 2016,) 83-84.
 From “A New Creed: A Statement of Faith of the United Church of Canada,” (1968.)