I’m not so sure.
Where I’ve heard this come up the most recently has been in discussions about taking down the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds. Those who wish to see it remain say it’s removal will change nothing; that people will still be the same as before. Others say that all of this racism is a matter of the heart, and that until the heart is transformed, it doesn’t matter what flags you fly. Or who you honor.
Paul speaks of transformation in his letter to the Romans (“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”- 12:2)
Yet the Bible also speaks powerfully of change. “The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person.”- 1 Samuel 10:6. “If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever.”- Jeremiah 4:5-7 “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”- Matthew 18:13
I think that change is something we do. It is action oriented, even when it is interior (change your mind, change of heart), and transformation is something we become. And transformation begins with change.
An example- In the spring of 1970 I was a junior at Dorman High School in Spartanburg. For some foolish reason I ran for president of the student body. There were four candidates. Each of us spoke for a moment about why we wanted to be elected. The fourth person to speak was the grandson of the leader of the state chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. He spoke and said that if he was elected, his grandfather would see that the planned integration of our school for next year would not happen. Several of his campaign supporters waved a giant Confederate battle flag when he said this. (They knew then the real meaning of this flag.) The administration of the school (also known as my sworn enemies) escorted the flag wavers out of the gym, doing the right thing. There was a lot of talk even at that late date saying that black people and white people should not be going to school together. That is was against the laws of God, and should be against the laws of man. That to go against those laws would bring great calamity to all. (By the way, the student body chose wisely- I came in third. The Klan supporters came in a distant fourth.)
Of course, the next year, we integrated, and no great calamity occurred.
Very few people would think of saying those things today. Even here in the deep South. Or in south Boston (racism is not regional). The unity shown in Charleston by all the people there would not have happened if the same event occurred in 1970. We are a new people. We have been transformed. And that transformation came about because of a change in actions. It worked from the outside in, not the other way around.
United Methodist churches for years fought against having female clergy as pastors. Yet women (brave and capable women- the cutting edge has to be sharp) were appointed. And churches found that they continued on well- caring for others, preaching the gospel, living together as a community in Christ. For the most part, female pastors are no longer an issue because we have been transformed. And that transformation started from the outside.
If we want to be new people, we must change the things we do. If we wait until we “feel” like it, we will never get there.
In church we used to sing a little song that said, “Change my heart, O God, make it ever new. Change my heart, O God, may I be like you.” Maybe if we want to be more Christlike, we need to change the way we act. Then we will see God transforming us into new creations.