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

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Ideals for church ministry

I sometimes wonder whether I really know what specifically I am after when I think of the ideal for involvement of persons with cognitive disabilities in the church.

I know I want the church to be accepting. I think there is an institution wide problem of perception. A misunderstanding about who people with disabilities are. In its best form it is simply paternalistic and condescending. People with cognitive disabilities are treated as if they are children. In its worst form, it is theologically incorrect and even evil. People with disability are seen as the result of evil, or lacking faith. The response might even be, "But they are the result of evil. Disability is the result of the Fall" which illustrates the point. As true as that statement might be, I have compassion on the child of the alcoholic, I don't blame the child for the sins of the parent. If disability is indeed the result of sin (from the Fall or parents) the victim should not be the one blamed. The sin should have little or no impact on interactions (other than perhaps increasing compassion), as those interacting with the person with cognitive disability carry the same burden of inherited sin.

I want people, Christians overall to be more patient and more accepting. I know of a situation where a woman with moderate disability was excluded from a Bible study. As it turned out, the people in the Bible study basically just didn't want her there. There wasn't anything in particular that she was doing "wrong." How can this happen in a Christian church? If the reason I go to church is for me, then it can easily happen. I want comfort, sameness, no confrontation, music I like, and my donut to be fresh. If I go to church to meet with God, I want accessibilty and acceptance for those around me so that they can have a positive worship experience. I want to be in a place where people are serious about taking the Gospel to the world, to all people and welcoming those people when they come to the church.

I want the church to be willing to adapt what it does in order to include persons with disability. Rather than saying "we have no place for you" the church should be saying, "we will change so there is a place for you." We shouldn't say things like, "that is not a priority for ministry" or "we haven't the funds to start that" or "we haven't the training to do that" all of which are just excuses for a lack of interest. We should be saying, "We don't have anything today for your child with autism, but can you give us 2 weeks and we will be ready. Please give us 2 weeks so we can have the opportunity to serve you, your child and your family."

I want people to see their responsibility toward others in the church as a 24/7 kind of thing. I am speaking to myself when I say that we need to care more about all the people in the church. In regards to persons with disability, phone calls, an occasional lunch out would be great, and so appreciated. Many persons with cognitive disability, particularly in the town where I live, consider a lunch at a burger place a big deal as such extravagances are often not within their budgets.

I want families to teach their children about persons with disabilties. I want children to have experiences with persons with disabilities. To know people with cognitive disabilities by name so they can understand who they are and develop relationships with them. It is through this kind of understanding that fear and discomfort goes away.

I want people in the church to be prepared to live in the world. Obviously instruction in the Bible is critical. Instruction in other areas of life is also important. Using our subject, instruction might be provided in interacting with persons with disability; how does one interact, what would you say, what might you do. This instruction is perhaps necessary not because there is some secret about it, or some special knowledge that is needed, but just to break down the intellectual walls which cause people to believe that there are special secrets or special knowledge that is needed.

I will never forget the first time I was given instruction in what to do if someone has a seizure. I expected complicated instructions about, well I don't know what, but I expected complicated instructions. When a person has a seizure, the best thing you can do is to help them to the ground, if they haven't already fallen down, and just allow them to go through the seizure. You might keep track of how long the seizure lasts or keep their head from banging against something hard and you want to help the person once they come out of the seizure, be sure they are ok, don't need anything, etc. but otherwise you basically do nothing.

I want people within the church to understand that the way you interact with persons with cognitive disability is no different than those without cognitive disability.


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