Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Accountability Trap

My little family is in a heavy season of life right now.  And so, I'm often pondering heavy thoughts.  Sometimes I feel bad that all I ever write about is heavy stuff, and not those cute anecdotes about the children's escapades or fun stories from our adventures out in the great wide world.  But, this is where we are, and these are the words coming out of my head, and there will be a season for lightheartedness again.

Recently, I've been musing about the Golden Rule from Matthew 7:12, "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."  It's been one of those seasons in life when every basic truth I've ever known suddenly comes alive, and suddenly I get it!  You know?  It's not like it was ever hard to understand; it always made sense in my head.  But now when my heart, soul, spirit, emotions, and every dimension or layer of my being understands what my mind always did, the truth comes to life and revives the soul! 

The Golden Rule is golden for good reason.  It's a good way to live our lives and to test our actions, and no one would contest it.  But, it kind of seems like we're inconsistent in our use of it.  What I mean is: when we are giving advice to others or confronting someone who's offended us, we are quick to claim the Golden Rule in our defense.  Yet when the tables are turned--when we have been offended, or when we notice a failure in another--suddenly the Golden Rule becomes mere brass dulled against the glimmering responsibility of Accountability.

Keeping each other accountable is good and right and beneficial.  Our human natures are cunning, and we are so good at lying to ourselves if the end result is pleasurable; Accountability keeps us honest with ourselves and with each other.


It is my opinion that the Church (not intended to be all-inclusive) has gotten all bent out of shape on the subject of Accountability and is in need of a serious adjustment.  Instead of a beautiful exercise in trust, grace, and forgiveness, Accountability has become a Bible-mandated permission slip for treating those with whom we don't agree with judgement, hostility, legalism, and a controlling spirit. 

In many (dare I say most?) Christian circles, if someone is found to be guilty of an action that is either truly sinful or merely deemed sinful (by tradition or interpretation), what happens can be one, some or all of the following:
- The "non-offenders" expose the guilt of the offender, often publicly, and preach eloquently about how far the offender has missed the mark; shame is a choice weapon.
- The offender, if repentant, is subjected to "penance" activities as a means of reforming his/her behavior (heart??).
- The offender, if not repentant, is chastised more harshly with shame-preaching, and if he/she remains unrepentant is cut off from the community of believers (ie, excommunicated).
- becomes okay, grace is no longer required, the lost sheep are pushed out of the fold rather than drawn in...all in the name of Love and Accountability.

Because if we don't save their lost souls, then who will?

Hmm...I can think of one Name.

I get that the intent may be one of love, but I also think our human natures are more naturally drawn to justice, and our cunning hearts convince us that justice (judgement) is love.  Such a theme could not be more un-Biblical. 

So, what's wrong with this Accountability picture?
- We're forgetting that we are all sinners, and that every single sin is defiance toward God and deserving of death, even if it is acceptable in our culture (yes, even in the church culture).
- We fail to realize that behavior does not always reflect what's in the heart.  Are we more concerned about people acting and looking right, or having hearts transformed by Christ?
- We become arrogant and put too much stock in ourselves and forget that it's not our job to save people!  God has given us one job: Love.  Love God and love people.  Period.  Part of loving is bearing with each other, forgiving whatever grievances we have with one another, long-suffering, not judging, doing unto others as we'd have them do unto us...

I've found it helpful for myself, when faced with a decision on how to respond to an erring neighbor, to ask myself questions about how I would want to be treated in a similar situation:
- When I fail, do I want others to publicly (or even privately) point out my failures and shame me?  Or do I want them to gently take me aside and say, "Hey, I see that you're struggling, I'm here for you"?
- When I fail, do I want others to preach Scripture at me like a verbal lashing?  Or do I want them to gently remind me of God's grace and forgiveness and His strength to help me through?
- When I fail, do I want to be cut off from the community until I acceptably change my ways?  Or do I want to be brought in, accepted, supported, and helped?
- When I fail, do I want to be treated with disrespect, to be judged and branded by what I do wrong, or treated as a person of value who struggles with sin (like every other person on the planet and in history) and be extended grace?
- When I fail, do I want to be lashed, or come alongside and helped?

I've noticed in my own experience, when I am wrong and stuck in sinful behavior, what really gets my attention and pierces my heart with grace.  When people point out my flaws, preach Scripture at me, offer advice for how to fix myself and my problems, or in any way judge me and place themselves superior to me, the response in my heart is always the same: defensiveness, further hardening of heart, despising everything they say (even if I normally agree with it), developing pride and self-sufficiency, withdrawing into myself to not need or depend on anyone, and the list goes on. 

But when I am wrong and stuck in sinful behavior, and someone comes to me and extends grace, loves me, encourages me, gives me hope, reminds me of Jesus' unfailing love, gets down on my level and helps me up...the kindness heaps burning coals on my head and I fall to my knees in deep repentance, despising my sin instead of the person who pointed it out, with whole-hearted motivation to change. I mean, really, most of the time we're all acutely aware of our shortcomings.  What we need is not a finger pointing but a helping hand.

Any soldier will tell you, if a comrade falls in battle, he isn't shamed and left to die--he is helped and treated with honor!  Believers, we are in this together.  Our enemy is not each other. 


  1. Hi Angela, I am sorry you all are going through a heavy time.
    I don't mind at all when you write about heavy stuff as it makes me feel like someone out there experiences similar things. It makes me feel less alone and it makes me want to be living close to you so we could help each other.
    Thanks for your thoughts today.
    I wish you peace and love and strength.

    1. Manuela, thank you! I always appreciate your comments and am encouraged, and I too wish we lived closer together. I really enjoyed our times together, as short lived as they were! I actually think of you guys often...maybe we can arrange a visit sometime :)

  2. Angela, it is wonderful to read your wise thoughts. I entirely agree. I miss you, my dear friend!

  3. Sarah! I miss you too! Wish we could meet up...