Accountability

A number of responses, public and private, to “Running free” have focused on the issue of accountability.  If there is no formal church organization with rules and consequences, will there be any accountability?  Perhaps it is worth saying a little more about that.

In an independent sacramental context, I may well be the founder of my church, the author of its rules, and be sitting in a current position of authority.  Even if that is not the case, if I get crosswise with my church’s rules or teachings or the people in authority, it is extremely easy to create or join another jurisdiction.  A huge percentage of us have served in more than one jurisdiction, for just such reasons.   Where is meaningful accountability?

I am accountable to each human being who enters my life, as well as to my culture and society, to animals and plants, to the earth.  I am accountable to my local faith community, to the larger Christian tradition, and to Christ himself.  Much of the most valuable feedback I receive comes from non-Christians.  In all these webs of relationships, is there any person or group who can say authoritatively just how badly I am failing, at any given moment?  No.  

If I seek out a priest, how do I know that she is a good person, and spiritually prepared to be of service?  Anyone who reads the news knows that all the best theological education and appropriate credentials from a large denomination do not necessarily mean anything.  If I seek a community, indie or mainstream, organized or free-form, how do I know that they are not an unhealthy bunch of crackpots?   There are no easy answers to these questions, no Good Housekeeping seals of approval.  I simply must choose, drawing on the best wisdom I have in the moment, and see how things play out.

 A paradox of the spiritual life is that, as we discover our deepest spiritual individuality, we simultaneously find our most profound connection to all people and all creation, in the love of the Spirit who holds us all in being.  How to embody this realization, in communities which truly set us free, is an ongoing question.

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4 Responses to “Accountability”

  1. Will Says:

    Your understanding of accountability continues to engage me. As has been recently evident in the TEC defections there is not much accountability to a larger organization or even a local diocese. This is, interestingly, replicating in several jurisdictions. Perhaps it is a sign of the need for more grassroots accountability to one’s community and a more integrated approach? Or, as you might argue the need for less restrictive barriers and more tolerance of an accountable individualism?

  2. John Says:

    Hi Will – Observation has led me to the conclusion that, when problems or disagreements arise and resolution does not happen quickly, people simply move, and groups re-constellate. Perhaps this is as it should be. +Nicholas Whitehead used to say that he felt it was a mistake to try to build lasting organizations (in terms of alternative spiritual communities). Rather, people come together for a time. At the end of its natural lifespan, the community comes apart, or reshapes itself, or seeds other new ventures, without anyone being surprised or disappointed. Just a natural, organic life process. A dandelion grows, blooms, produces seed, and then the wind carries it to new places.

    If there is a problem with a person in a group, obviously the group can address it – and, if a solution cannot be found, the person may have to move on. However, ultimately, accountability is a mysterious realm of integrity and faithfulness, which it is very difficult (if not impossible) to define for other people.

  3. John Says:

    Every approach has its risks for less than balanced application, and downright abuse. No way to avoid that, given that we are all human. I think we are all familiar with unhealthy examples of “more formal affiliation with explicitly covenanted communities” but I assume that you don’t think that such unfortunate examples mean that all such formal communities are bad.

  4. Alexis Says:

    “I am accountable to each human being who enters my life, as well as to my culture and society, to animals and plants, to the earth. I am accountable to my local faith community, to the larger Christian tradition, and to Christ himself.”

    Amen! Amen! Amen!

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