JULY 20, 2017
I have become addicted to a new Hulu series, The Path.
It’s a compelling story about a man caught up in a Meyerist cult. The prime belief held by the Meyerists is in a supreme “light” and followers of this light must ascend rungs of a spiritual ladder in order to advance within the movement and have the “truth” opened to them. From the beginning of the series, you realize that this cult is one giant slippery slope of morals, where those the highest up the ladder actually have the darkest secrets. The movement refers to these leaders as guardians of the light. The Meyerists are big on what they call “unburdening,” forcing all new members to sit and spill their most grievous of sins to one of these guardians, while being recorded.
One scene hit me like a tidal wave. A woman, Mary, has been sexually abused and impregnated by one of the guardians, though this was being covered up by the fact that she’s married to someone else. She’s struggling with her faith, and confesses to her mentor that she and her husband are thinking of leaving the movement; the baby is likely not her husband’s, and it’s causing a strain. When her mentor pushes to find out who the father is, she senses fear in Mary and says,
“I can’t help you if you’re not transparent.”
Mary stands up and in anger answers,
“It’s just that all of you believe in it, but none of you practice it.”
That line sent shivers down my spine because it hit so close to home. Many Christian cultures have attempted to create environments for transparency but go about it in a way that cultivate relationships which invite us to hide the darker parts of ourselves, meanwhile pretending to ascend spiritual ladders together. We call it “accountability” and believe in it wholeheartedly, but we set it up in such a way that none of us end up practicing it.
For a solid decade, I was part of this transparency culture. We each had our “Paul” (mentor) and our “Timothy” (mentee). The idea was that you should always have someone more spiritual than you are pouring into your life as well as someone less spiritually mature that you can pour yourself into. It sounds like the spiritual thing to do, on the surface. “Iron sharpens iron” and all that jazz. The problem with this, right away, is that everyone automatically begins to measure one another. I take a look at you, you take a look at me, and we’ll determine which one of us gets to sit on the stool.
The one who gets the stool is the one who appears to have their spiritual act together the best. Which one of us is more faithful to attend Bible studies, memorize scripture, and have quiet times? Who doesn’t cuss or speed? Usually if only one of you is married, that person wins the seat automatically. What I’m saying is, it’s all based on a rock-paper-scissors game of external aptitude. My Bible study teaching role trumps your nursery rotation spot every time. As if that isn’t sad enough, the level of transparency is also not equal. Since my keister is on the stool, I can’t kill the existing mirage that I have my act together better than you do, therefore, I can’t be honest about my failings. I’ll never forget being in leadership and hearing, “People need you to be stable. You can’t share too much because people will hear whatever you have done, and will always use that as permission to take it a step further.”
While the TV show cult is complete fiction, the Meyerist’s ideas of helping one another spiritually are anything but fiction. Even with the best of intentions, accountability becomes a dynamic where we demand the act of confession from the “less spiritual” person so that their mentor can make feeble attempts to fix them. This always ends in shaming because the last thing the mentor can say is, “Me too.” Playing by the accountability partner rules, the mentor must give a list of things that their mentee can do to improve their behavior; i.e. law, usually the cheap kind. Week after week, the person on the stool will ask their mentee if they’re getting any better, and week after week the mentee will either admit that they are still failing or they will begin to lie. In this situation, both the mentor and the mentee are forced into roles where neither party is truly free to be honest.
When we remove the gospel, making Christianity all about getting better, and turn confession into performing for a mentor, it naturally causes us to go into hiding with our sin because it’s no longer safe. We will only offer the small things we can handle admitting continued failure in, but we’ll never share anything that is a real struggle. Everyone wants to get better, don’t we? The idea of an accountability partner is appealing because we think having someone to “get in our kitchen” will keep us in line. The motivation for good behavior becomes the fear of having to confess our embarrassing failure to another person, one who we think has a better handle on this obedience thing than we do.
But what if we talked about our sins with a friend who simply reminded us of who we are in Christ? What if that person said, “Me too, and I’m glad Jesus promised to love us even when our behavior, and our hearts, stink.”? In accountability partnerships, we set ourselves up to rely upon impending judgment from man when temptation arises, but what if we found someone willing to give us a word of absolution, to remind us that all impending judgment has been removed, that our sins are as far as the East is from the West, and that God will remember them no more? Why would we trade the beautiful love and freedom that we have in the gospel for a person who brings up our past sins week after week by asking us “How it’s going?’ when God Himself promised that He will not bring our sins up again nor will He hold them against us?
I’m not against transparency and sharing our failures with others; we need that. Confession is a beautiful part of the Christian life; the gospel does free us to admit we “don’t got this.” It’s just that our tendency is to confess things to people because we want them to fix us with law, rather than sharing our struggles to hear the one thing that makes a hill of beans to sinners. Christ came here for the sick, for the ones who perpetually fail, for the ones who don’t qualify to sit on the stool, and for the crazies (that’s all of us) who think they can climb up to God by our goodness. Confession is not the opportunity for another person to become your self-appointed soul mechanic. Rather, confession is the Holy Spirit’s work in the heart of a believer whereby they find mercy and forgiveness from God (Prov. 28:13, 1 John 1:9), and healing (James 5:16). Confession brings the thing out of darkness into the light, weakening the power it has over us. Confession takes all our keisters back to the cross, where there are no stools for anyone to sit on.
So sure, confess your sins to a trusted friend, one who knows spiritual ladders are but a myth, one who laughs at the idea of sitting on a stool above you. Unburden yourself to that friend with the things that are weighing you down. They will most likely nod and say, ‘Me too,” and you can take turns pointing each other back to Jesus.
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