December 10, 2012
Online Journal - What Would Jesus Do? – Mercy, Grace and Accountability
R. Lee Richards, Principal, Cariboo Adventist Academy, Williams Lake, BC

I can still see the parent sitting in my office – anger emanating from him as a blazing campfire on a cold night.  Even from the other side of my desk I could feel the heat as his eyes bore right through me.  “So that’s it then?” he asked coldly.  “This is your final decision?”
 
I tried to look as compassionate as possible, raising my hands, palms upwards, and slightly shrugging my shoulders.  “I’m truly sorry, but there really isn’t much more that I can do.”
 
Then came the blistering attack.
 
“And you call yourself a Christian,” the parent sneered derisively.  “I thought this was a CHRISTIAN school,” he said, nearly spitting the word “Christian”.  “But, I guess I was wrong.  You really don’t care about my child, and you are treating him so unfairly.  I just want to ask you one question, just one question!  In this situation, ’What would Jesus do?’”
And isn’t that really the question we need to ask ourselves, for any circumstance or situation that we find ourselves in?  What WOULD Jesus do?
 
Unfortunately, when school administrators make decisions that others disagree with or do not like, and it becomes evident that the decision is going to stand since they cannot use regular avenues of argument to dissuade, then some people turn to the ultimate appeal – the foundation of our Christianity – “What would Jesus do?”  What they are really asking, or rather telling us, is that we have failed to deliver on the Christian promise of mercy and grace.  By asking that question they are implying that we are not being true to the Saviour we espouse and love; that our decision is not in line with our Christian beliefs.  In essence, they are telling us “Jesus would not do this.”
 
Being merciful, and giving grace, are at the center of the message Jesus had for our world.  But what many people miss, particularly when they are upset and believe that you are making a decision that is going to negatively impact them or their children, is that right along with Jesus’ message of mercy and grace was another tenant that these days does not get a lot of airplay, and that is accountability.  When you come down to it, everyone wants mercy and grace, but no one wants to be held accountable.  While mercy and grace are the nice, warm, fuzzy feelings we look for, we try to avoid the hard, cold reality of accountability.  The major reason for this is that with accountability comes consequences, and who really likes consequences, especially when it means something uncomfortable for us.
 
If I am going to err on one side or the other, I prefer to err on the side of mercy and grace.  This is because, as I am making decisions involving other people, I know I cannot truly know their hearts.  As the Bible says, I can only see the outside, I am not able to see what is really in their heart, and I also do not have full knowledge of everything that is taking place in their lives that is impacting their actions.  Even so, we still need to hold people accountable for the things they say and do, so they recognize the impact their actions have on the people surrounding them, and that there are natural consequences that come from those actions, that cannot always be avoided.
 
When we are holding people accountable, we need to do it as Jesus would.  The decisions we make need to be made from love, care and compassion.  They should not be delivered as punishment for punishment’s sake, or as retribution for a wrong done, or as vengeance.  The human reaction that comes to us when we are wronged, or perceive a wrong, is to lash out and retaliate, or make sure that person “gets what they have coming to them.”  As administrators and teachers in Christian schools, we need to rise above our natural human tendencies, and try to reflect the teachings Jesus gave us.
As I am writing this, you need to realize I am writing this for myself as much as for you.  Currently on my computer is an e-mail from a parent criticizing a decision I recently made.  I am in my third draft of the response to that parent.  I have chosen not to send either of the first two responses because, even though it felt good to vent my feelings, after I read each of them I paused to ask myself the question “What would Jesus do?”  What I have said has been accurate, it is the truth, and I feel vindicated by what I have written.  But when I reflect upon what I am communicating through the lens of the question “What would Jesus do?”, I am uncomfortable sending those responses, because I realize this is not what Jesus would do.  He would show them mercy, He would give them grace, and He would hold them accountable.
 
When I was interviewing for the principal position at a school, one of the board members during the interview said, “You don’t remember me, do you?”  I responded that I indeed did not remember her, and apologized for that.  She then proceeded to refresh my memory, and share with the rest of the board, the circumstances surrounding our last meeting:   “You kicked my daughter out of one of the schools where you had been principal.”  I sat there in stunned silence for a moment, realizing my chances of being hired probably had just dropped from slim to none, then said, “Well, I hope I did it in a kind, caring and considerate manner,” to which she responded, “Yes, you did.”  I’m not sure if it was in spite of, or because of, that little hiccup, but the board did decide to hire me.
It did teach me one thing, that how we choose to carry out the decisions we make, especially those that have the potential to cause others pain and hurt, makes all the difference in the world, for them and for us.  We need to show mercy, we need to give grace, and we need to hold people accountable, in a loving a Christ-like manner.
 
I know that is what Jesus would do, because as I read my Bible, I see that that is what Jesus did.