How do we seek accountability for evil leaders and remain bitter-free?
While serving in another country as missionaries, my family became quite delighted with a drink called a “Chapman.” It was made of Sobo orange drink, bitters, and 7Up.
We enjoyed sipping on them like Southerners sip their sweet tea.
Bitters, for those who do not know, is an alcohol that is used in very small portions in mixed drinks. It is as its name implies, quite bitter. The Chapman was a very sweet drink due to the other ingredients. The bitterness of Bitters was mostly masked by those other ingredients, but gave the drink just the right punch.
Bitterness is described in scripture as…well, bitter. In dictionaries, “bitter” is synonymous with “anger, hurt, and resentfulness.” Not a good thing. I have never heard anyone argue that bitterness is a virtue. Only that it should be mortified (killed) as fast as possible.
So, when someone is called to account for his abusive behavior, Christians will sometimes cry foul. Clearly, the accuser must be overcome by “bitterness” to bring accusations against another Christian. To bring accountability is often seen as “ungracious” or “mean-spirited” by well-meaning brothers in Christ.
When we returned from the cross-cultural mission field, we took steps to bring accountability to the abusive leaders of our organization. Those steps were minimal – a letter signed by forty missionaries sent to the board and we told our story to mission committees determining whether to support the organization or not when they contacted us.
I have no doubt there was bitterness in my heart at that time and which continues to be present even now as I write five years later. The bitterness has certainly diminished and it is more like a drop of bitters in the Chapman. But, I am sure in those dark recesses of my heart, I continue to harbor anger at the treatment we and others received from our abusive leaders.
However, the overriding motivation for seeking accountability in 2013 was what I believed to be righteous anger and a desire to stand for the oppressed, as God would have us do.
I say, “overriding” because present in the motivations of my heart were at least two impulses: one evil and one good. Justice and self-centeredness.
It took much soul-searching, prayer, and discussion to come to the decision to seek accountability. In fact, as I have watched and studied abuse, I have discovered it is commonly an agonizingly slow process for targets of any kind of abuse to take these kinds of steps…as has been evidenced by the #MeToo movement.
In particular, Christians who have a underlying discomfort with vengeance, hesitate to speak out for fear they are driven by bitterness. They want to have pure motive and when they find an inkling of bitterness hidden in their hearts, they become immobilized.
Understanding our creation and the depth of our depravity will help us humbly recognize that we are never completely free in this life from at least two driving forces. Sin and goodness will be with us until Jesus cleans us up when he comes again in clouds of glory.
We are both fallen and redeemed. Both broken and made in the image of God. Both directed by the Holy Spirit into holiness and led astray by sin that crouches at our door.
We will always have mixed motives until glory.
As a warning, Asaph the psalmist calls out our sin of bitterness and the results of it:
Psalm 73:21-22 (ESV)
When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward you.
Bitterness creates “brutishness.” I love that word…but, I do not like its effects. Who wants to be a beast and face the relational consequences?
Say It Loud
But, having said it out loud, admitting the presence of a beast in our hearts, it is then time to get down to justice and accountability for the good of God’s people and witness of the church. As you determine whether to speak out against oppressive leadership, remember that calling evil to account is the God-given task of every Christian. It is high on God’s list of Christian responses to sin.
And, while you are at it, work on your heart.
Anger and bitterness should drive you to godly action – calling to account wrongs done that are deeply destructive. Notice the words, “deeply destructive.” Others will sin against us as we sin against others. We are called to overlook sin, recognizing the grace God has given to us in Christ (Luke 36:37-38).
But, there are those who are destroying others…they need to be confronted despite your mixed motives. Your impurity of motives does not liberate you from standing for the oppressed.
Bitters was a necessary ingredient in a Chapman, but it was not the only one. The other ingredients were the overriding tastes and made it pleasurable.
Embrace bitterness in so far as it drives you to act for justice. But, just as quickly mortify it before it makes you a beast and allow the flavor of justice and grace to overwhelm your heart.