Accountability vs Responsibility

Words matter. Time matters. Energy matters.


Because our space, time, energy and words are finite, and it matters how, why, where and who we share these gifts.

Today, I want to use my time, energy and words to discuss the difference between accountability and responsibility.

Personally, the word accountability makes my skin crawl. Perhaps, the main reason is because I am a Christian. This means I have not produced my own finite standard of law and order but I submit to the Creator and giver of mercy and grace, who I have been called to follow and imitate here on earth.

The best place to understand this Creator is in creatures and creation. Another amazing resource is the Bible. In nature, in loving relationships and in The Bible, we will find the truth of who we are and how we are naturally designed to be healthy, whole and holy, and the way of living a healthy, holy and whole life.

Interestingly enough in the Bible, the God-man Jesus talked a lot about accountability. Seems like he knew that human beings were obsessed with wanting to hold each other accountable. I guess Jesus wanted to make sure our accountability scale was correct, if we were going to use it.

In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Jesus demonstrates and defines accountability, he speaks about the single individual being held accountable in thought, word and deed, including sins of omission and commission. He talks about anger being the same as murder and lust being the same as adultery. He talks about not loving your neighbor being the same thing as not loving God.

You see Jesus wasn’t joking around when he talked about accountability, he made sure that every single one us knew that holding people accountable wasn’t a game that we should want to play around in. Because with the beams in our own eyes, we’d have a lot of trouble running around trying to remove the splinters in our neighbors. See, Jesus made it perfectly clear that if we are making accountability our way, it means that we must start with ourselves and every time we choose to be selfish, angry, and/ or judgmental in thought, word or deed, we are guilty of many, many, many things, and that’s just the tip of the accountability iceberg that we are standing on.

I guess another reason I hate the word accountability is because it such a farce. When everything and everyone are interconnected, interrelated and interdependent, then how can one person really be held accountable for what they have done in one moment, when so many things have happened beyond their control to dictate and determine who they are, how they are, where they are and why they are the way they are. Seriously, how can we load everything on the back of a single individual that has shaped them and everything they have done as fallible ignorant and arrogant human being to just survive, and pretend that we have created a just and fair way to hold them accountable.

Looking at myself, how can I sit in the judgement seat to hold any one person accountable knowing my own ignorance and arrogance? More specifically, how can I as a Christian judge aka “hold people accountable” when I am explicitly told in The Bible by none other than Jesus Christ “Do not judge.”

We cannot and we should not be in the business of weighing people in balance of our fallible standards, because that type of judgement and accountability simultaneously weighs us in the eternal balance. When we talk about holding people accountable for their actions, we are also talking about holding ourselves accountable and whether we realize or not, that’s a level of accountability that includes the responsibility that I have been given for my neighbor.

See their is difference between accountability and responsibility and that is “accountability cannot be shared but responsibility can.” If the truth be known, then it is “all of us depend and live depending on shared responsibility.” We do not hold ourselves accountable nor do we want to be held accountable.

For example, let’s say you define yourself as an American. By all accounts you cannot talk about accountability, unless you realize that when you talk about accountability, you are still not being held “accountable” for the many legal things that you do that have a negative impact on yourself, your neighbor, your community or your world.

Look at the epidemic of diet-related disease and sickness alone. 88% of Americans have diet related disease and sickness and 88% of Americans are costing American taxpayers at least one trillion dollars a year for the daily decisions we make to not give ourselves the foods we need to prevent, treat or fight diet-related disease and sickness. We do not hold ourselves accountable for consuming junk or the businesses that sell junk, the government that subsidizes junk, corporations that mow down the rain forest to produce palm oil, the countries that pretty much use slave labor to produce junk for us, the adults who feed kids junk and the educational system and communities that do nothing to prevent the consuming of junk. In the case, cause, consequences and costs of diet-related disease and sickness, we assume and demand shared responsibility. In other words, we all pay the cost.

But how do we avoid accountability and instead depend on shared responsibility, and allow the entire country to pay for the 1 trillion in medical costs that come from millions of individuals refusing to hold themselves “accountable” for what they buy, eat, produce and sell every single day that feeds diet-related disease and sickness. Are we the same people wanting other people to be held accountable? Particularly, are we the people wanting “people to pay for themselves?” Did you know that “The total cost of poverty assistance programs in America can add up to $1 trillion a year when combining both federal and state level program budget.”

So let’s get this straight, on one hand we want to hold one group of people accountable for so many things that have contributed to them living in poverty and being poor but we do not want to hold ourselves accountable for our own dietary choices or anyone and everyone profiting off the sale of junk.

Isn’t that ironic?

Now to Christians. If you are a Christian, then I would like to know how you justify any talk on accountability? Again Jesus explicitly and clearly tells us that all the law comes down to “Love God with all your heart mind soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” This is a command of shared responsibility. It is crystal clear that Jesus asks you (the single individual) to weigh yourself in the balance of perfection to see that when the Law is applied to you- you are crushed in thought, word and deed.

Accountability correctly applied to ourselves weighs us in the balance and leaves us wanting nothing but mercy and grace. Being held accountable and then being pardoned because Jesus has taken our place of being held accountable for all our “sins” should make us leap from our bed like Scrooge did on Christmas morning looking to help our neighbor, and not judge them.

In this time of political hubris and hypocrisy, it’s important that we remember who we are and how we are naturally designed to live in relationships and a community of mutual responsibility. Even more so, as Americans we must remember that this country is “We the people” and as Christians it is “We the church” who are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.

We will not make it without each other nor will we become our best selves without each other. Don’t you think it’s a good time to lay the scales down and resurrect the practice of what we all desperately need and depend on…which is the giving and receiving of love, forgiveness, mercy, help, kindness, compassion and empathy. Don’t we have a responsibility to share what is true, excellent and good? I agree with Mr Rogers- it is a person who shares responsibility for their neighbor, who is my hero.

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