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“Leopards don't change their spots”

A saying very relevant to the UK Conservative Party now led by Michael Howard, about whom Ann Widdecombe famously said there was "something of the night".  She accused him of failing to take responsibility, routinely misleading MPs and being made of "dangerous stuff".  Howard trailed in the 1997 leadership election but now commands the support of the party, promising to have learnt, to be ready to listen, to lead from the centre.  Meanwhile New Labour's Margaret Hodge is in a political mess over her own past, from which she claims to have “learnt lessons”.

The saying is also relevant to my wife and I as we settle into a new community and stories about its characters come to our ears.  What he's like, what she did (sometimes ten or more years ago), how they're regarded.  Neither can we be alone in having a family member wanting to come back from the shadows to make a fresh start.  How should we regard people whose reputation, good or bad, goes before them?

First, Christianity is all about change.  God is unchanging but we are called to change to be like him (Lev 19:2; 1 Peter 1:15).  As Jesus said, “unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3).  So being sceptical of change may oppose God at work, and dogging a person with their past runs counter to the fresh start that God offers us every time we mess up.  Worse, our own clean sheet is bound up in allowing the same to others!  Jesus again: “… do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven …” (Luke 6:37).

But change needs to happen inside.  “The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).  A change of heart is about repentance - accepting that what we said or did was wrong - not just saying “sorry”.  And repentance will be shown by its fruit, as the uncompromising John the Baptist put it (Luke 3:7-9).

Returning to Mr Howard, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (The Independent 3.11.03) correctly bids us to “Watch him …”.  But perhaps she goes too far with “… as he pushes New Labour into more and more punitive postures on law and order, as he savages good policies that … fight discrimination, … as he cruelly and knowingly further demonises asylum-seekers, the most voiceless people in our country.” For Ms Alibhai-Brown, will everything he does be interpreted through a lens that cannot allow change?

Lord, make us like Jesus in our encounters with others, full of both grace and truth (John 1:14).

Yours in Him

Peter Nicholls

So being sceptical of change may oppose God at work, and dogging a person with their past runs counter to the fresh start that God offers us every time we mess up.

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