A close look at Geneva of the sixteenth century should include an assessment of the Reformers' approached to the third main principle they used in rebuilding the city: Accountability.
Accountability is a powerful means for affecting transformation of places and people. Without it, good ideas often remain nothing more than "good ideas." Accountabitily is healthy, when handled properly. Often it is necessary.
This was why the Reformers designed a civil system in Geneva that divided power among three separate branches: the executive, legislative and judicial. [No, the Americans did not invent this.] The pattern of civil government designed for Geneva influenced the later development of Swiss federalism, which divided power between the national government and its various states (or cantons).
"The Swiss system of federalism," writes Bloomer, "provided the model for the Americans who designed their government in the late eighteenth century, since they also mistrusted an all-powerful central government because of their experience with the King of England. Albert Gallatin, who actually wrote much of the American constitution while working for Thomas Jefferson, was born and educated in Geneva."
While there are many positive things about the Reformers' application of biblical truth to the city-state of Geneva, things went sideways when it came to the matter of personal accountability.
Thomas Bloomer tells of one individual in Geneva who was punished because he (or she) would not convert to Christianity. (Whoops!) In addition, Bloomer notes, "neighborhood tribunals" set up to help families, actually "demonstrated the negative effects of the church overstepping its bounds and exercising an inappropriate degree of authority in people's personal lives."
Bloomer also notes that accountability in Geneva produced "a rigidity in applying scriptural principles, which led to legalism on external issues like dress or leisure time activities..."
The motivation of Calvin and the Reformers in designing means of accountability, I believe, was right and good. As Bloomer points out, "they knew that any leader or structure that cannot be held accountable will slide inevitably into sin..."
The events of the past decade in the USA that produced the Enron and WorldCom scandals, along with the unregulated derivatives market and the selling of toxic assets leading to the Great Recession we're now in, all illustrate the need for personal and corporate accountability.
But how can safeguards be built into accountability that will keep it from becoming a means of control and manipulation, leading to weird behavior on the part of all concerned?
What are your thoughts on this?
I'll share some of mine next week.