Sunday, May 27, 2007

Authority and Responsibility

If you have been affected by Gothardism or know someone who is you will benefit from this post.

Let me start by saying, that there are some who believe that someone's authority is valid merely because they hold a position of authority. I do not believe that. It should be obvious that the position defines the extent of the authority and does not permit unbounded authority.
When we speak of position we think of privilege; however, we know this privilege comes with responsibility. In carrying out the duties of the position a person discharges their responsibility.
Is authority part of the privilege or the responsibility? As the level of privilege is tied to the level of responsibility, the level of authority is also tied to the level of responsibility. Authority and privilege are independent; both are tied into responsibility.
Responsibility is the most important part of position- authority second, and privilege third. The reason for this should be obvious- privilege is a by-product of position. Position exists for the discharge of responsibility; people who use position as a means for personal privilege are rightly said to be abusing their position.
The person who holds any position has as his first and foremost objective the discharge of responsibility wherein he or she enjoys some level of privilege as a by-product.
Now to our main issue, which is, how does authority fit with position? The areas of responsibility confer the requisite level of authority to the person in the position. The authority, in turn, is used to discharge the responsibility.
And here is the important conclusion: authority which is not tied to responsibility is invalid authority. When invalid authority is exercised over people, it is called tyranny.
With this in mind, let us consider a parent-child relationship. This is a case where the position remains the same; but the responsibilities change over time. Therefore, the parents' scope of authority changes over time as well.
A normal parent wants their children to become more and more responsible. Hopefully, this happens. What is the parent looking for? The parent is looking for the child to exhibit two things: a willingness to take responsibility, and the capacity to perform the responsibility. As the child demonstrates these two characteristics they assume greater and greater responsibility.
And greater and greater authority. To take a simple example, lets say a child demonstrates a willingness and capacity to clean his room. Along with that comes the authority to decide how to organize toys on the shelf and what time of day he wants to tidy up.
As the child moves into adolescence they begin to make lifestyle choices. Very eagerly a teenager shows a willingness and capacity to make choices concerning dress and music and beliefs. They become their own person- very possibly a different person than their parents or siblings. In these years the parents are often uncomfortable with the choices and attempt to exercise authority where the child has already assumed responsibility. The teenager rightly points out that the parents are trying to run his life. His parents are tyrannical and he considers himself justified in rebellion to invalid authority.
A child's personality is 75% set by the time he is 15 years old. It is only natural and right that the child should assume such responsibility around this time. In very many cultures around the world a boy is considered a man by this time. In Western culture we school them until 18 and in doing so create a period where the child is becoming an adult psychologically and mentally but not often recognized as such.
We look for our children to demonstrate the willingness and capacity needed to shoulder responsibility but when the responsibility involves who they are becoming as people we turn 180 degrees, exert our position as parents, put our foot down and create rebellion. We exercise invalid authority.
One reasonable solution would be house rules. The parents provide food and shelter. In the discharge of this responsibility they have the right to exercise authority concerning conduct inside the house. No rock music in the house... when you have your own place you may play it all you want. Too often though we insist on what we want based on our position and not on our responsibility. BIG MISTAKE.
Once the child is no longer supported by the parents responsibility drops to zero. So does the authority. But for the parent who is high on their position as a parent they insist on the children submitting their decisions for parental approval. They ignore the fact that authority is rooted in responsibility and start demanding things like "respect" and "honor" when what they really mean is "submit." They twist Bible verses to demand submission where it is not warranted. They attempt to exercise authority where they have no responsibility. Their adult children are sometimes already cowed from listening to parents twist verses like Eph 6:1 or the "leave and cleave" verse during their teenage years. They good-naturedly submit where the responsibility is theirs, not their parents.
What's the harm? Children who take much longer to become the INDIVIDUAL God wants them to be. Children who look to their parents for direction instead of God. Children who will one day be judged by God for how they discharged their responsibilities as young adults when they basically turned decisions over to their parents. Perhaps the greatest torture: Children becoming depressive because they do not feel like they will ever be their own person. And all the while their parents told them that submission was the God honoring thing to do.

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