Justice and Accountability
Years ago when my work involved mostly family therapy casework in a local clinic, I learned a thing or two about social injustice in our world.
One thing was that it tends to manifest itself within the family unit. May start within the larger culture. But the family is where the pain is most frequently presented. Someone at home bears the brunt of the pain. And when one person at home was hurting, I learned that everyone else felt pain as well. Pain was what we in the family therapy movement typically called “circular” or reciprocal. After all, hurt people hurt people.
A second thing I learned during those years was that I could get much better therapeutic results when we as “family” relabeled the problem of pain and social injustice, the core of human interaction, not as “abuse” in whatever form it was felt but rather as “non-accountability.” This was a term foreign to the thinking of virtually every family I ever worked with, but as it became the new way of framing or seeing their problem, behavioral improvement seemed to occur and pain relief was achieved through what I would now label as “social justice at the lowest level” in society.
Try to hang with me here as I unpack this a bit.
Injustice and non-accountability are the fraternal twins of social living in this world. All it takes for an entire nation to spiral into injustice is for one leader at the top to be non-accountable. Carry that same equation down to the lowest level of society and it creates the same result at home. In the family. In the marriage. And even between siblings.
Non-accountability creates and then perpetuates injustice and the circle of pain wherein hurt people hurt people.
In the field of addiction therapy, Dr. Bob and Bill W. learned this early on when it came to their own disease of alcoholism. Accountability is the recipe for restoration and justice. Accountability is what ends up empowering hurt people to help people.
From those two lessons I learned over the years as a family therapist, I entered the Christian pastoral ministry field with one purpose in mind. To reveal to a more macro clientele found in parish congregations that healing and restorative justice and accountability was most profoundly biblical. And entirely Christian. Sadly, what I came away with was a sense of how much easier it is to restore a dysfunctional family unit at home than it is a dysfunctional religion of anxious and depressed parishioners.
Today’s Church is still hurting, actually far more than when I started in as a pastor.
But whether we see hurt people hurting people or helping them (the functional Church) may hinge on one major factor. Is everyone in the church equally accountable. And, if so, to whom?
The larger biblical message may well have to do with the problem of non-accountability in our world. So please permit me an attempt, at least, of unpacking this one for us.
The core problem of non-accountability was not just rooted (pun intended) in the Garden of Eden, but its pain of injustice was felt throughout the biblical story. Pharaoh and the Egyptian slavery was the central illustration for the Old Testament; Christ and the Roman crucifixion for the New. And the bridge verse in between these two major illustrations of painful injustice and social dysfunction came from the unlikely book of Micah, from among the minor prophets (or Hebrew Book of the Twelve). There we find Micah situating his message within the metaphor of a courtroom. The Assyrian conquest was at hand. And the people of Israel were complaining that God’s judgment was overly severe. They had tried to follow the Law to the letter but God was an exacting Judge who was impossible to please. God’s judgment was against them; hence, their suffering in Assyrian exile.
Except that the false prophets of Israel had God’s judgment all wrong.
They thought it was all about inadequate sacrifice at their ancient cultural altars.
Says Micah representing God in the courtroom as found in 6:8, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
This is what God’s divine judgment is all about. It is this that we are accountable for. Nothing more. Nothing less. Just this.
Except that we still get it wrong even today. Within religion. Within Christianity. Within our Churches. We resist this divine judgment and holy accountability. And we perpetuate injustice in ways that find hurt people even today hurting people at home, internationally, and at every level of society in between.
When will we ever learn? And from whom?
My next posting will be about Jesus. And about the lesson on "justice and accountability" he teaches through his three parables of the judgment in Matthew 25. Hope to see you again. And thanks for reading and for learning with me as a Jesus-follower.