Friday, February 5, 2010

Accountability Partner or Parole Officer?

I was thinking recently about the ideas of accountability partners. I've never liked the idea of them, and I think I finally know why.

The theology of accountability partners is in many ways rooted in the moralism my friend discussed on here yesterday. It's about being morally holy all the time. Avoiding doing bad rather than encouraging to do right (there can be that, but really the point of these partnerships is avoiding sin).

From this perspective, accountability partners are almost more like parole officers: You were just released from prison (saved from Hell by Christ), but you still need to check in with your PO regularly because if you do something wrong, you'll just go right back. The goal is to keep you out of prison rather than building you up and growing you.

While it can be good to have someone help keep you away from doing wrong, there is so much more to life and our spiritualities than that. Really, moving away from sin is part of moving towards Christ. So spiritual formation partnerships more along the lines of spiritual directors seem a lot more biblical and helpful.

Additionally, accountability partners are often thrown together and expected to be totally honest with one another. Sorry, it doesn't work like that. If anything, it would lead to more denial, which just causes more problems. And further, from what I hear, accountability partners usually give overly simplistic answers to complex problems. Not that they are honestly trying to help to the best of their abilities, but it just doesn't seem to be all that great.

It's not great in part because it's so shame-focused. "How did you screw up this week?" is kind of the theme of accountability. I think a better question is "What did you do right?" And rather than giving an simple answer to screwing up, we should ask, "How can I help you?" Just reminding other people to not do certain things is rarely helpful. And frankly, temptation is not always indicative of spiritual weakness; it can be a sign of something deeper going on.

An example of this is sexuality. And let's be honest, when people talk about accountability partners with regards to men, it's about sex. The list of no-nos for men who are in accountability partnerships are likely to include: lust, noticing another woman, thinking about another woman, dreaming about another woman, and the biggest sin: masturbation.

While these things could be problematic as an addiction, they can also indicate that there are relationship problems going on. Just as I talk about with symptom management in psychology, these "sins" may actually just be the symptom of something else and only focusing on the symptom ignores the problem, making it come out in another way.

Accountability is an important thing, but it should occur within the context of a supportive, encouraging, trustworthy relationship. What do you think?

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