Day # 26: Accountability

For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.
Esther 6:4

“Our deepest fear,” wrote Marianne Williamson, “is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” It’s often true that we do not fear failure; failure only confirms our belief that we are worthless. Often, our deepest fear is success. If you step into your power, you will have to release the easy excuses that you are too young, too old, too unqualified to change the world. Resilience requires us to be honest about when we have the power to change lives for the better. In the above verse, spoken by Mordecai to his niece Esther (who happens to be married to the leader of a political superpower), Mordecai challenges Esther to claim her power. The Jews are about to be massacred, and it is within Esther’s power to stop it—or at least, within her power to ask the king to stop these events. Esther generates all kinds of reasons she is powerless and the plan will end in disaster. And it’s true, the king does not have to listen to her. She could fail. But Mordecai responds with this: you are accountable for helping others. He insists on her power, when she fails to see it in herself. Sometimes it takes a mentor, a teacher, in this case an uncle, to remind us that it is okay to claim power. It is more than okay; when it is in your power to improve the lives of others, you are accountable to do so.

Takeaway: Who, recently, has asked you to step into a role beyond your comfort zone? Is it someone you trust, or have been mentored by? Is it possible they’ve identified gifts you’re afraid to embrace? It’s not worth nothing when people who know and love you identify your power and ability to help others. Listen for that stretching, scary invitation. Be open to the possibility that you are more powerful than you realize. Perhaps your power is needed at such a time as this.

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

The Case for Suspending Credentials: Lindale, Virginia Conference, and Definitions of Accountability

(Trigger warning: sexual abuse, mishandling of sexual abuse cases.)

“We talk a lot about accountability, but it’s the conference’s job to figure out what that means. We want to ask you, pastors, how do you expect us to hold you accountable?” Last Thursday, Michael Danner, Executive Conference Minister of Illinois Mennonite Conference, asked us this question. Sitting with a dozen Chicagoland credentialed leaders, we discussed the mechanisms we appreciated and the mechanisms we needed to handle concerns about financial management and sexual abuse, among other issues.

As the conversation closed, I raised a tentative hand and said: “Michael, whatever else comes of this accountability conversation, please don’t let a Lindale happen in Illinois Conference. Please, feel empowered to step into any congregation dealing with allegations of sexual abuse. Please, feel empowered to be proactive.”

I don’t mean to call out or condemn Lindale. They are in a difficult position of responding to Lauren Shifflett’s report of abuse. And if you aren’t familiar with Lindale and the fallout from Luke Hartman’s solictiation-of-prostitution arrest, there are plenty of articles in the public record so you can make up your own mind.

As a Mennonite pastor, I cannot help but look at Lindale with an eye toward, “What would I do?” We pastors know our professional risks. We know that the very nature of our profession–peacekeeping, relationship-building, hours of potluck and Dutch Blitz–will tempt us to handle concerns in-house with a minimum of fuss. We are mindful that when pastors exercise church discipline, we are sometimes put in the uncomfortable position of disciplining our friends–as Duane Yoder was at Lindale. As a pastor, I look at my own congregation and think, “Dear God, if that happened here, my professional and spiritual role mean that I am one bad decision away from defending and justifying a sexual predator.” Continue reading