Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “USA Today published an article worrying that accountability groups could become the locale for hiding public sins from public scrutiny. Using the example of the Washington-based Capital Hill house on C Street, the writer wondered,
C Street is a Washington base for The Family, a secretive Christian group that prays together — nothing wrong with that — and holds each other privately accountable for straying from Biblical values. Again, nothing wrong with that — unless the secrecy overtakes things that should be public knowledge, such as hush money payments a la Sen. John Ensign or vanishing to visit a mistress in, say, Argentina, Gov. Mark Sanford style. (See Rachel Maddow’s interviews with Jeff Sharlet who roasts The Family in his book by that name).
Now, I’m not taking a side on this issue. I just want to get leaders thinking deeper about not only the importance of accountability groups, but also the ramifications if something comes up in a group that should be public knowledge (or if something comes up that is illegal).”
Take a look at the article from USA Today (below):
Does ‘C Street’ give ‘accountability groups’ bad name?
USA TODAY, Jul 16, 2009 by Cathy Lynn Grossman.
Retrieved from http://content.usatoday.com/communities/religion/post/2009/07/68494598/1#.VPdaGHaXK7o
Does the Capitol Hill house on C Street — home to several congressmen although it eludes property taxes by being listed as a church — give prayer “accountability” groups a bad name? Should elected officials seek God in secrecy while hiding sins from public scrutiny?
C Street is a Washington base for The Family, a secretive Christian group that prays together — nothing wrong with that — and holds each other privately accountable for straying from Biblical values. Again, nothing wrong with that — unless the secrecy overtakes things that should be public knowledge, such as hush money payments a la Sen. John Ensign or vanishing to visit a mistress in, say, Argentina, Gov. Mark Sanford style.
(See Rachel Maddow’s interviews with Jeff Sharlet who roasts The Family in his book by that name).
But millions of men and women belong to small prayer and accountability groups where they read and discuss Scripture together and hold each other to truthful living in God’s name. Remember Promise Keepers, the men’s group that hit a popularity peak in the 90’s? It stressed accountability groups heavily and even if PK no longer packs stadiums for rallies, many of those small groups continue to enriching lives.
But the original purpose of privacy was never to shield nefarious behavior. As it says on one church site among scores that talk about the importance of such groups:
The secrecy of such closed groups isn’t rooted in anything nefarious. As Carter Shotwell, pastor of a Lake Pointe Church in Rockwell Texas, writes:
The point is that members are available for one another. Members are aware of one another’s struggles and temptations; they commit to pray, listen, and support as needed. They also ask difficult questions of one another. This level of interaction is only possible in a closed group.
Where this goes astray, as it says in the Christian-focused World Magazine look at C Street and its two adulterous alumni, is when members mistake when to stay silent:
Rev. Rob Schenck, who leads a Bible study on the Hill inspired by C Street, wrote on his blog Friday that “all ministries in Washington need to protect the confidence of those we minister to, and I’m sure that’s a primary motive for C Street’s low profile.” But he added, “I think The Fellowship has been just a tad bit too clandestine.” Schenck has himself sent a letter to Sanford calling for his resignation.
But as Ed Stetzer, director of Lifeway Research, says,
It’s good to have a safe place. It’s better to have a safe place that helps you live right.
LifeWay has no numbers on how many Americans belong to “accountability groups” although small study groups overall are hugely popular. One in four people say they meet with 20 or fewer people as “a primary form of spiritual nurture,” Stetzer says.
An accountability group, Stetzer told me today, is intended to promote love and good works.
I think C Street was trying to do that but, accountability groups are only as good as the truthfulness of their participants.
On his own blog, Stetzer lists many of the questions asked in such groups. Reading scripture is stressed, but so is confronting the essentials of righteousness. Most question lists — and variations go back decades — end with something similar. People ask each other, “are you being honest with me.”
Alas for John Ensign and Mark Sanford, no one seemed to consider whether anyone is honest with their spouses or with voters. Should the C Street men have pushed their adulterous prayer partners out the door?
DO YOU … belong to an accountability group? Should elected officials seek God in secrecy while hiding sins from public scrutiny?