The Accountability-From-Afar Factor

The Accountability-From-Afar Factor July 8, 2010

I’ve been trying to figure out an eloquent way of saying this for a while. But alas, I can’t wax poetic, because it’s still a thought in process. Either way, bear with me.

While touring with Jennifer Knapp and Derek Webb, I watched and listened as a lot of “Christians” acted like the devil.

Jennifer told the world through a couple of specially chosen interviews that she is – as many already assumed and/or suspected – gay.

Thereafter, I watched as her message boards and blogs were flooded with comments like, “Burn in hell, Lesbo!” Some were more blatantly condemning than others; some were simple notes sending kind though not necessarily welcome prayers and advice; some were words of praise and gratitude for being the hero the Christian gay community has been waiting for.

Some people ignored Jennifer altogether and just wrote blogs, using the words “Jennifer Knapp” and “Homosexual” interchangeably, as if her sexuality is the whole of her personhood.

Some called for a modern witch hunt; many screamed from the rooftops that a “Gay Christian” is about as real as a unicorn; many threw around Bible verses they were told in Sunday School served as “proof” that gay is wrong and gays will burn.

And I received a modest share of comments and notes asking me if it was true, how I could tour with her, whether or not I was using my influence to “bring her back to Christ” or “win back her soul from the devil.”

I responded to most of those with a simple word of advice: “If you think it’s really that important that she know and hear your opinion on the matter, get in touch with her yourself.”

To which I received many a response of, “But I don’t have a relationship with her – you do!”

To which I responded, “Exactly. And you don’t have a relationship with me either. So what business is it of yours?”

To which I received many a response of, “But God commanded us to hold one another accountable!” Or “But Paul said, ‘blessed is the one who brings his fallen brother back to Truth!'”

And it got me thinking. About accountability. About our responsibility to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, and our responsibility for one another to God.

Do we really believe ourselves capable of changing another person’s heart or mind?

Do we really believe we are responsible for saving others’ souls?

And if changing hearts and saving souls ARE our responsibility as humans…then what need have we for God? What work does the Holy Spirit have to do? If Christ alone and His work on the Cross are insufficient and He needs us humans to help Him out in the process…well, is He really worth it?

Obviously, I believe we were created for relationship and have great influence in the lives of those to whom we’re close. We’re meant to walk together, crawl together, run together. To carry one another’s burdens and lighten each others’ loads. Sometimes, we’re there to help each other see when we’re carrying unnecessary baggage, and then help each other unload.

For instance, I know that I – perhaps more than anyone else – have power and influence to change my husband’s mind or affect his heart-attitude. I know him, and he knows me, and we trust one another to such a degree that honesty is both expected and honored. If he’s being a jerk or is struggling with something that’s hurting us both, I can tell him so and he’ll listen. If I’m being a b!tch or am dwelling too much on vanity or pride, he can tell me so and I will listen. We listen because we know we want only the best for each other. And because we’ve developed a depth of intimacy in which that sort of accountability is being perfected daily.

But on the other hand, when some unknown Joe Shmoe from Facebook messages me about how immature or “out of sync” I must be in my spiritual life to have gone on tour with an artist he doesn’t know, won’t listen to, and despises simply because she’s gay (and therefore despises me by association)…well, I’m disinclined to do anything but tell him to shove it. He claims he’s holding me accountable, but in reality he’s just sticking his nose in someone else’s deeply private business.

I get it, though. Everyone has an opinion and feels “spiritually led” to share it when a public figure falls from grace. Everyone wants to be the one who leads her back to Jesus. Everyone wants to be the one who gets that extra shot of glory for bringing the lost lamb home. (And let’s be honest – we say we’re doing it for God’s glory, but we’re really doing it for ourselves and our long-overdue fifteen minutes, right Pastor Botsford?) It’s kind of like how every girl wants to be The Girl who makes the Bad Guy turn good.

But here’s the thing: Jesus was the one who went after the lost sheep, not the other sheep. Why? Because the other sheep were just as prone to getting lost.

And when Paul preached about holding one another accountable and winning the lost brother back, he wasn’t telling the Ephesians to hold the Philippians accountable, or the Galatians to hold the Corinthians accountable. I believe I’m safe to assume he was telling the church at Ephesus to care for its own, and the Galatians to care for its own.

But we’ve lost that reality today. Instead of taking seriously the responsibility to hold those *actually* close to us accountable and to invest deeply in those with whom we commune and fellowship on a daily basis, we’ve become a worldwide pool of public pastors who hold all the public figures accountable, whether or not we know them personally.

I’m pretty sure it can all be blamed on the advent of the social network. We “friend” one another on Facebook and Myspace and follow each other on Twitter, and suddenly we believe we’re close enough to the Stars to insert ourselves and our opinions into their lives…the lives of people we “know” based on 140 character snippets, and carefully chosen and worded dialogues.

When you add to this new “friendliness” (which isn’t authentic friendship at all, I might add) the natural anonymity the worldwideweb provides, we each are suddenly gifted with a platform from which to safely and anonomously spew venom at those we don’t know from Adam.

From behind a computer screen, we can play preacher and savior without anyone ever knowing we’re addicted to porn, are morbidly obese, or are stealing from the government. We can create a personality that doesn’t remotely mirror reality. And with our perfectly manicured fake personalities, we claim all authority to brazenly condemn to hell those who, if ever we saw in real life, we wouldn’t even have the balls to approach…much less berate.

My point is this: Over the past few months, I’ve watched a lot of people say (type?) a lot of truly hateful things…things they would never say to true Friends; things they would never say to another person in real life because, in real life, they know it’d be wildly inappropriate; things they themselves would never listen to or learn from if their dirty laundry was aired in public; things they would certainly never say to another person in the presence of Christ.

And yet every single day we – you, them, me, we – vomit on the internet.

I just wonder, which version is the real you or the real me? Am I, in real life – in real reality – the person who thoughtlessly speaks her mind regardless of how hurtful the words might be, simply because I don’t intimately know the person to whom I’m responding and thus don’t think or care about how it might damage them in the long run? Or am I the person I want to be? The person who strives to see and illuminate the Image of God in everyone, whether I’ve met them face to face for coffee or just word to word on a Facebook forum…

When so much is lost or blanketed in web translation – when we can’t see facial expressions or hear tonal inflections or read body language or see the rage or fear or sadness behind the eyes – I think we lose some of our humanity too, and instead treat each other like avatars rather than people with beating hearts.

Anyway, I’m just thinking out loud and wondering if it’s even truly possible – much less reasonable or Biblically mandated – for Jane Jones from Podunk, MS to hold me accountable or “speak into my life” when she’s never seen me or met me, much less known my very heart?


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