Unity without accountability is abuse.
To bully, hurt, oppress, disregard, overstep, seek to erase other people and then turn around and tell those same people that to hold you accountable is divisive is laughable and wrong.
It is a tone-deaf plea from a group that has spent its entire history being abusive towards people who do not think, act, worship, or look like them. It is an entitled demand from people used to getting their way.
The reality is, our country does not do accountability well. For those horrified by last week’s attempted coup at the Capitol, it might be helpful to read books that tell our true history. Last week was far from the first time people focused on keeping whites in power have taken over government buildings to get what they want. Yes, it was the first time they overtook The Capitol, but it is not their first time taking over a capitol.
We have never held those who use terror to instill obedience accountable. We did not do it when they massacred people to end Reconstruction, when they murdered and beat those demanding equal rights in the 1960s. We did not seek to hold cowardly men in white robes accountable for unspeakable acts of evil. Nor have we ever acknowledged the many massacres and acts of domestic terrorism done to keep certain people in their place (and others in power).
For too long the cycle has been – let those in power do whatever they want, and when the tides shift do not even dream of holding them accountable.
The white church in America is built on the sinful idea of racism we carried over from Europe. Our entire presence here has been marked by one sinful atrocity after another. Many within the church do not care to know its history. They have accepted spoons full of sugar around doses of poison that has led to where we are today – a church largely irrelevant to the pressing needs of our day, doing more harm than good, dying of a self-inflicted wound it refuses to acknowledge.
It is ironic (but not) that so many in this camp are demanding no accountability for their arrogance and incredible acts of hatred over the last five years (and more!) given that one of the basic, foundational tenants of Protestant and Catholic theology is the acknowledgment of sin.
Sure, this group will be quick to fling “forgiveness” out like a get out of jail free card. But read The Bible for very long and you will find that for there to be forgiveness one has to acknowledge what they did.
We are called to forgive, yes. But for there to be relationship, community, unity, the offending party must acknowledge what they did and allow those hurt to speak their pain, on their timetable, and in the way they choose.
Accountability is a central tenant of Jesus’ teaching. American churches have done a pretty fantastic job of removing it from its vocabulary and turning God into a passive pushover one can toss an insincere “sorry” to and just move along. They act as if claiming His name once covers the multitude of sins one commits. But that is simply not how things work.
God holds justice in high regard. God repeatedly states that He stands with and among the abused, overlooked, and those fighting not to be erased and denied their humanity. This idea of thinking one can bully their way past accountability and simply demand “unity” like a make-believe base in the midst of a tag game is absurd and incongruent with who God is.
I truly believe the American church (Protestant and Catholic alike) are terrified of taking any responsibility for their racist, sexist, oppressive behavior because once they pull one rock from the dam it is all going to collapse. This need to force “unity” on the groups it has treated like subservient people, empowered for the last four years by a president who “loves” those who trying to coup our country, is a pathetic, gasping attempt to avoid responsibility.
We have been here before. There have been watershed moments when, after terrible acts of horror, racism, violence, etc. those who committed the crimes were allowed to go back to their lives and those they victimized had to figure out for themselves how to adjust to seeing their abusers walk free. (Which is why I believe so many who attempted to storm the Capitol last week thought they would be able to just go back to their lives unchecked.)
But not this time.
Those who have been oppressed and victimized will not go quietly. Those who have waited too long for accountability will not allow the perpetrators to sneak back in and pretend they are somehow the victim. This time we will not allow those throwing a temper-tantrum to get their way. We suck at accountability in this country, but we make strides by holding people accountable. And if people refuse to acknowledge their complicity, I believe we have every right to turn them out of our homes, churches, businesses, social groups, etc.
It is time for those who have been abused to set a boundary and hold it hard until the abusers get the message. It won’t be easy. It will not be pretty. There will be more dramatic accusations, gaslighting, and temper-tantrums in public squares. But in the end, it is the only way to change the history we simply keep repeating.
Jesus tells us that one day we will be held accountable for our actions, for what we have done, for what we have left undone, for how we have treated one another, for our thoughts. And in that moment we are on our own, no excuses, justifications, or scapegoating allowed. This also has been largely erased by churches desperate to avoid having to hold a mirror up to what it has become. But it is there. And it is not a warning for those who don’t believe. Oh no! Read The Gospels and you will see some of Jesus’ (God’s) harshest words and punishment belongs to those who claim His name and then live lives in total discordance with His teachings.
Ultimately this need to push people into a false form of unity is rooted in guilt. I truly believe it is almost impossible for those who have lived lives of racism, white first, oppression, and hate (even if they don’t realize they are) to be totally unaware of what they are doing. We are born with a conscience, and this call to bypass accountability is due in part because theirs is screaming like a fire alarm.
If they felt no guilt, there would be no need to try and skirt the truth. Sure, they can hide behind anger, and “I’m right.” But I raise up to you that this bravado is a cover for the fear they live in that dictates almost every decision they make. Listen to our out-going president, everything he says is rooted in fear, either insulting those he actually fears or making his followers fear someone else.
Fear is a powerful force. But it is not an excuse to evade, deny, and bully one’s way past accountability. If the American church (Protestant and Catholic alike) has any hope of being anything but a safe house for those who refuse to see reality, then it must start with the simple statement: we have fucked up and lost our way. We have followed false idols of comfort, racism, violence, and fear. We apologize and will start listening. And then it needs to sit down, shut up, listen, and change.
Anything short of that is a form of abuse that I, for one, refuse to swallow like a spoon full of sugar.
How we react is a crucial gauge of what’s really going on inside us. And unhealed hurt often becomes unleashed hurt spewed out on others.
Please know… when people or issues or situations bump into our happy, it’s not wrong to feel annoyed or even hurt. But if that annoyance leads to a reaction out of proportion to the issue at hand, we can bank on the fact that there’s unaddressed pain at the root of our eruption. As my counselor Jim Cress says, “If our reaction is hysterical, it is historical.”
Let’s pay attention to our reactions and look for indicators of anything we need to ask the Lord to begin healing in our hearts today.
The quicker we recognize what’s going on inside of us, the quicker we can invite God in to help us address our pain. We can make sure not one bit of the hurt done to us is multiplied back out by us.
#ForgivingWhatYouCantForget Lysa Terkeurst
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