Thursday, October 05, 2006

the problem with accountability

as i wrote in my previous post about porn & the church i stated that i believe there is a problem regarding the church's love affair with accountability.

i wish i knew when it started. i think it's roots are fairly new and probably cropped up in the 70's. if anyone has any more information on this i would be very interested. but i can't trace where it really came from. was there pop psychology out there that used the term and it found it's way into the church, or did it begin there? i see no evidence of it's roots in scripture. none. no accountable relationships were modeled, no verses to support it. none. how did this concept root it's way into what we today believe is the solution to solve sexual temptation and habitual sin?

i know that some might think that accountability crept into the church through 12 step groups, and it might have - but it could have only happened through a misread of the 12 & 12 - there is really no place in recovery for accountability either. and yet pairs and groups of individuals scattered across north american churches (possibly globally, but i have no experience of this) sincerely hope to bring light and life into the dark corners of the soul through accountability.

i think there is a flaw, actually a couple of flaws, that end up doing more harm and perpetuate the sin cycle far more than even 'going it alone' might.

accountability partners or teams set up a well intentioned group of people - sometimes all struggling with the same issues, sometimes it is a mentor/mentee type of relationship. either way unless they are extraordinary people there is a level of false intimacy established even before any words are spoken. we all long for those people in our lives who can 'know us' and love us still. the relationship begins with great intentions and usually with a first layer of self revelation. this forges the commitment between the parties involved. an "i'll show you mine, if you show me yours" kind of sharing.

unfortunately what happens afterward is that expectations of further intimacy cannot be met, distance happens and people fail. the wounding that occurs is so great it convinces the person who bared their soul that they are unworthy of love and truly being known in community and drives them farther into isolation and their addictions.

this might not always be the case - there truly might be some groups that start with this intention and actually go deeper, get stronger and find healing. but i don't believe that it's because it has it's roots in accountability. i think that intimacy and healing happen in spite of that.

accountability by it's very nature is a law based system. it says 'this is the bar, you will reach it, and if you don't you will have to answer to 'the group'. at it's core it is a power based structure. we are confusing true friendship based in love with an imposed construct based in law. i believe that there are some true friendships that do occur that are labelled accountability groups - and there is the rub - distinguishing the difference to those on the outside is impossible. one based in love, one based in law - only the healing tells the difference.

those who are habitually struggling will rarely come to a monthly (or weekly) appointment to disappoint those in the group over and over again. the thumb of the law will sit squarely between their shoulders and drive their face into their shame. with all of their heart they long to move past this - to be free, to stop disappointing those they love and want to please more than anything. but they must continually come to the meeting - and they are given a choice - be vulnerable and disappoint those who they long to please or live the lie. the failed accountability partner begins to separate body from soul and revert to facing their failure alone. possibly showing up physically still to keep the commitment, but emotionally distant and very isolated.

the false intimacy that comes from the structure of the accountability group works against it's own goal. it's so very close to what we all want that it masquerades long enough to convince us that we're the broken reason that it doesn't work, not that it's broken and it doesn't work. the wounds this creates when the wheels fall off are deeper than we know because we are convinced that community will never really work for us and we withdraw.

accountability says i have the power to overcome this. and if i don't, the power of the whole will help me.

the first step says:
we admitted that we were powerless over our addiction
and that our lives had become unmanageable.

powerless and unmanageable. can you hear the bar clang as it drops to the floor? there is an admission that happens here that rarely makes it's way into accountability groups. this is why people get healthy in 12 step groups. every week, if not daily they admit, over and over that they have tried everything and cannot do it, they are powerless. like the prodigal they come to the end of themselves.

steps two and three is where the decision happens - i can't, god can, so i will let him. i know it sounds too simplistic to work, but it's not. it is the humbling of hearts that can truly break the power of addiction not the legalism of accountability. one brings continual shame, the other grace and light.

an addict is always one who wants to buck against the restraints. YOU WILL NOT TELL ME WHAT TO DO! i will decide. me. now. me. accountability, no matter how well intentioned, is really just another restraint. and eventually when the white knuckle addict who has shown some hope of recovery hits a crisis former behavior will raise it's ugly head and the addict will fail. the dog will return to it's vomit. and then the accountability group itself becomes the enemy that must be resisted. addicts have an inherent ability to blame. it is YOUR fault - not mine. YOU didn't meet my expectations and therefore i hold no responsibility for my actions - i couldn't help myself.

many para-church organizations have made great strides in trying to reach out to the sexual addict. ministries like and their internet accountability program x3watch are valiant attempts at helping the struggling. but i think they are band-aids on gaping wounds. another truth about the addict is that they have no sense of delayed gratification. the NOW is far more real than the possible future. in their time of need they will not care who they hurt, who sees or who they'll have to apologize to later. they've done it before, they can do it again. i have needs NOW. it's what puts the needle in the arm of the heroine addict. NOW.

an internet filter cannot be installed in the brain. that is where the real problems take place. most addicts have filled their heads with so many images they wouldn't have to watch or look at another image for the rest of their lives. they are seared on the backs of their eyeballs and replay themselves every time they try to pray or sleep. filters are a stop-gap. a band-aid. an addict will have their fix with or witout a filter. accountability is legalism. at it's roots it is inherently flawed.

external pressure for an internal change will never create the kind of healing that can take place when the addict finally decides for themselves that they want wholeness more than they want their addictions. outside pressure will never truly affect permanent, lasting change.

this is why it is confession, not accountability that is the key to healing. i quoted this verse at the end of my post dirty little secrets:

confess your sins one to another,
pray for each other
and you will be healed.
james 5:16

healed. healed. how do we miss this? people are important - confessing in community is where healing happens. we need these strong, lasting relationships if we are ever going to find the healing that god is waiting for us to have.

this is why step four and five are so crucial- the cause of sexual addiction isn't an overwhelming need for sex. it's a need for soothing, a need for control, a need for distraction from the overwhelming problems of life. this is the chosen outlet - other things could be substituted, but this one meets a need because of where the addict was broken.

step 4 - we made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves

step 5 - we admitted to god, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs

it removes the shame in our past that drives us to our addictions. this is why healing happens.

isn't this what we all long for ? to know and be known and loved because of it.

i posted this quote by henri nouwen back in february, but i think it fits here so well:
We like to make a distinction between our private and public lives and say, "Whatever I do in my private life is nobody else's business." But anyone trying to live a spiritual life will soon discover that the most personal is the most universal, the most hidden is the most public, and the most solitary is the most communal. What we live in the most intimate places of our beings is not just for us but for all people. That is why our inner lives are lives for others. That is why our solitude is a gift to our community, and that is why our most secret thoughts affect our common life.

Jesus says, "No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house" (Matthew 5:14-15). The most inner light is a light for the world. Let's not have "double lives"; let us allow what we live in private to be known in public.
Henri Nouwen

1 comment:

Hope said...

When I think of accountability the word judgement comes to mind. When I think of confession the word forgiven pops up.

My problem with accountability is that being accountable by not giving in to my addicitions will not necessarily get to the root of the problem. It could simply mask it. I could think that because I wasn't giving in to the addiction that I was somehow free of it. After 18 years of not having a drink I have realized (since going back to AA in June) that not having a drink is a world away from living in sobriety.

I thought when I went back to AA that not having a drink for 18 years made me some kind of saint. I learned very quickly that the one sitting beside me with only a few days of sobriety could often be more honest and vulnerable than me. And that puzzled and humbled me and eventually led me to seeing that in the end it isn't a pissing contest at all.