Accountability and Individuality

For my write-up today on my church’s service this morning, I’ll use as my starting-point a question that was part of the service of installing a new deacon: “Will you be governed by our church’s polity, and will you abide by its discipline?”

The terms “discipline” and “accountability” within evangelical Christianity give me the creeps.  They sound authoritarian to me.  They sound like they repress human individuality.  I seriously doubt that my church takes these concepts in an abusive and authoritarian direction.  But there are settings within conservative Christianity in which these concepts have been abused.

And, to be honest, I don’t think that such concepts are abused only within conservative Christianity.  They’re also abused by liberal or progressive Christians (not all, but some of them).  I recently read a post that argued that Mark Driscoll should be accountable to the larger Christian body on the Internet when it comes to his offensive tweets.  I am far from being a Mark Driscoll fan, and I certainly believe that people should feel free to criticize him.  I also hope that Driscoll, as a Christian, will recognize why his comments are offensive and will reach out to those who feel hurt by them.  But he’s entitled to his own opinion.  I don’t think that he’s obligated to check his individuality at the door of Christian “accountability”.  I don’t agree with Driscoll’s belief that President Barack Obama is not a true Christian (not that I think that Obama’s religion has anything to do with how well he governs), but that’s Driscoll’s opinion, and he has a right to express it.  “But that makes Christianity look bad”, one could argue.  Do you know what makes Christianity look bad?  The way that it tries to pressure people to think and act the same way, in the name of “discipline”, “accountability”, and “witness”.

I one time read a conservative Christian lady say that, if a blogger sees her blog as a ministry, that blog should be supervised by the blogger’s pastor.  Hogwash!  That blogger has a right to be an individual and to express her own thoughts on her blog, without having to get the approval of any pastor.  Why are there religions that are so authoritarian?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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3 Responses to Accountability and Individuality

  1. “Why are there religions that are so authoritarian?”
    I see your point, but I feel that there does need to be some discipline and accountability. Otherwise you have churches that blatantly violate the Bible and give Christians a bad name in another way.

    For deacons especially, the Bible is clear that they be upstanding men of moral character. We, as Christians, have a responsibility to hold them accountable as spiritual leaders. Of course no one is perfect, but we do have to make sure the right people are in positions of influence so that they serve as Christian role models.


  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Good point. I’m sure there are a variety of angles at which one can look at this issue.


  3. jamesbradfordpate says:

    I’d have problems saying there should be no standards at all, for example. I agreed with a lot of the liturgy for deacon installation about what a deacon should do: be concerned for the needs of others, especially the poor, etc.


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