“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Saturday, July 31, 2004

How would things be different? People with disability

For the next few blogs, I want to look at how things might be different if the church around the world were more responsive to persons with disability, particularly cognitive disability. Lets next look at how things might be different for persons with disability.

These differences can be considered according to several general headings.
1-how persons with disability would perceive the church
2-how persons with disability would perceive God
3-how persons with disability would perceive themselves
4-what persons with disability would do

Lets look at each of these areas briefly.

An interesting study would be to determine how persons with disability currently perceive the church. It is always tricky asking persons with mental retardation what they think about anything as they will try to tell you what they think you want to hear, not necessarily what they think. But I do wonder what they say to each other about the church. I suspect it is mostly related to the people they know at the church and less related to "the church" per se.

But wouldn't it be incredible if the community of persons with disability (persons with disabilities and their families) thought of the church as their "go to guy" in virtually any situation. That the words which would come out the mouth of any person either directly or indirectly interacting with a person with disability would be, "Where do you go to church?" Or even "You should go to a church because they will definitely take care of you there." Or "If you want to meet some really friendly, helpful people, you ought to go to the church." I can almost imagine a world where the church would be the best, first place for a family or a person with a disability to get connected. If the church was being obedient, it would quickly gain that reputation. The connection between the church and persons with disability would be as natural as bringing a new baby home to a family, or going to the hospital if you are sick. It would be the obvious thing to do because of the results others who did the same thing experienced. Word of mouth would quickly spread and even state agencies would be caught up in the natural supports being provided by churches.

Persons with disability and their families would then perceive God as someone who cares. Someone who reaches out to those in need. Someone who sees value in all people. Someone who is willing to be inconvenienced in order to include everyone. Isn't that who God is? Christians are quick to speak of how God in the form of Jesus was willing to die for them so He could have fellowship with them and they could be a part of His kingdom. Are Christians willing to take people with disabilities out to lunch, or call them on the phone so they can be a part of the church? Are they willing to be "inconvenienced" in any way so that people with disability can feel the value they have in God's eyes? Interestingly there is research which indicates that parents of children with disabilities feel supported personally by their religious faith, but do not feel supported corporately by the church. Sad.

That the church does not do what it should, impacts how persons with disability perceive themselves. We have outreach programs for a variety of groups, but not necessarily for persons with disability. One might counter, "But we don't exclude them from our outreach?" Perhaps true, however, you won't recruit poor people if you exclusively go to Starbucks. You won't recruit older people if you go exclusively to the YMCA. Unfortunately due to a variety of factors which influence the life experience of persons with cognitive disability, they are often do not have access to the same avenues for recruitment that typically might bring in other groups. They often can't read, they have limited transportation abilities because they typically can't drive, they often have financial problems. No, in order to recruit members of that group, you must specifically go after them, find and reach out to them. The fact that specific efforts are not being made to bring these individuals in says to them that they are not of particular interest to the church. The fact that there aren't more persons with mental retardation attending the church is particularly damning, because if invited, probably the majority would come. That they are not there indicates that no one is inviting them. It is not difficult to make the jump between the fact that because the church doesn't want me that probably is because God doesn't want me.

What persons with disability would do is come to church to access the friendship and supports they would receive (their motivation then, would be no different from persons without disability who attend church).


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