Ascending Liability

Speaker: John McLarty

Audio Recording:

If a child is abused by a church school teacher, the abuse is discovered, and there is a lawsuit, the teacher is never the only defendant. The lawsuit will also name the school and the conference because, the lawsuit will allege, the school/church should have, could have, known the perpetrator posed a risk. If a patient is harmed by a nurse, the ensuing lawsuit will target the nurse, the doctor, and the hospital. The concept of ascending liability does not deny the immediate actor’s responsibility, but holds that individual actors are part of systems that may share partial blame. This contemporary American notion of ascending liability is a mirror image of the ancient notion of descending responsibility. In the Bible, God takes credit for creating the cosmos and nations and people. When these people do wrong, God takes responsibility. Such a vision of God gives us courage since in our failures, we are not left on our own. This vision also gives us wisdom; all humans, even the most broken and problematic, are part of the same family and system that nourish us. We share with God in being responsible for more than ourselves.