People have been saying a lot about accountability. My years of church work and community involvement have taught me something important. For most people, accountability is just another word for punishment. It is unpopular to say this. But it is true nevertheless. Why do we get angry if someone is held accountable but not accountable enough? That last word is the point.
Take a look at this popular meme on social media.
I grew up and began my ministry in the Churches of Christ. “We don’t excommunicate,” we would say, “we withdraw fellowship.” There are a couple of Biblical citations to justify the practice. “If another member of the church sins against you, go point out that fault when the two of you are alone.” (Matthew 18:15a NRSV) Jesus then says the person should be confronted with two or three others. If that does not bring reconciliation, then the whole congregation should be informed and “let such a one be to you as a Gentile or tax collector.” (Matthew 18:17b) Here we have it straight from the Savior’s mouth. The person is to be ostracized according to the One who was criticized for eating with tax collectors and sinners. Does that make any sense? No. It does not. It’s because the whole text is inverted. I can give another example.
My seminary advisor recommended I seriously consider an advanced degree in Pastoral Counseling. I decided that was not a good idea. Why? Because I would be involved in family counseling. By then, I had witnessed enough families with toxic parents or siblings that are never held accountable. I have a strong sense of justice that needs to be tempered. Counseling as a profession was not for me.
Jesus’ words in Matthew 18 are not a prescription to punish. They are a prescription for self-preservation. We often talk about certain people as being toxic or poisonous. They may be family or friends or co-workers. Jesus teaches that such people should be avoided. That’s all it means.
Accountability means removing yourself from the toxicity. But what if that is not enough?
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