It seems that everywhere I turn in the North American Christian subculture there are "accountability partners." That's great.
For a while.
The short term intensity of an accountability partner can be just the kick in the pants that we need to accomplish that elusive task or to stay clear of that overwhelming temptation.
But after the initial intentions, promises and letdowns, I believe that most "accountability" relationships suffer an inevitable lull in passion and purpose. Accountability can be draining, for both partners. The one tired of being answerable to another failing human being. The other tired of having a relationship based on checking-up.
The reason so many accountability arrangements lose their effectiveness over time is that accountability relationships are based almost purely on negativity. Yes, the desire is to do well, to succeed, to overcome, to stay pure, to quit messing up… ALL GOOD STUFF, yes. BUT, that doesn't change the fact that "accountability" partnership exists in order to address the tendency towards failure.
Accountability presumes failure. Without a repeated tendency towards failure there is no need to be held accountable. Accountability partners are chosen precisely because people are convinced that without external input they will mess up. Accountability is based on the negative fall-short-comings of our lives.
Fidelity is optimistic. It presumes trust and loyalty. Distrust and letdown are unfamilar words. Fidelity promotes simplicity, innocence and unselfish passion. Fidelity creates an ever deeper groundswell of life directed towards others. Fidelity is a freeing relationship. It equips and releases and encourages and doesn't hold back.
So why do we keep searching for accountability when fidelity is what we are truly after? I believe it is because accountability is our natural fall back. Accountability is what we resort too… because we don't trust ourselves and we don't trust others to have fidelity.
Now, don't get me wrong. I believe we must have accountability relationships built into our lives. But they should never be considered the ultimate in relationships… as if because we have an "accountability partner" that we are somehow more spiritual… or more together… or more "good" in the eyes of God and others. In fact, having an "accountability partner" reveals to everyone that we need help being faithful… that we are struggling to do what is right… that we are adulterers in life… tending toward disloyality to our values or goals or responsibilities… that we regularly hand ourselves over to our lusts or whims or impatiences or worries. Accountability partners reveal our lack of faithfulness perhaps more than our fullness of faithfulness.
But the person who lives with fidelity is free. There is nothing owed, nothing stolen, nothing abused by their hands. No one needs to step in to confront the faithful man or woman. In fact, their example inspires the faithfulness of others. Fidelity relationships are contagious… people are amazed and enthused when they see faithful living with their own eyes… or when they hear high fidelity with their own ears.
Fidelity is an other-centered lifestyle. Accountability is an ego-focused relationship. Giving faithfulness to someone is a powerful gift. Fidelity is the foundation of marriages, it is the heart of families, it is the structure of communities, and it is the soul of the Gospel.
Can I trust myself to live with fidelity? In all things?
No? Not completely? Then I will need accountability in my life… but only so that I can learn the pattern of faithfulness. I must not be held accountable for ever… for eventually I must break the clutches of shame and embrace the run of freedom. The goal is not nor should it ever be "accountability." So I'd like today to hold our obsession with accountability accountable. The end goal, the prize, the telos in this life both now and forever is fidelity.