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

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

U.S. Catholic Bishops part 10

The following is from the "Doctrine and Pastoral Practices" website sponsored by the United States Conference on Catholic Bishops. http://www.nccbuscc.org/doctrine/disabilities.htm

"10. Evangelization efforts are most effective when promoted by diocesan staff and parish committees which include persons with disabilities. Where no such evangelization efforts exist, we urge that they be developed."

It is true that for many forms of disability (blindness, hearing impairment particularly deafness, and physical disability) the inclusion of persons with disability on "diocesan staff" would be helpful. These folks might be perceived as more accessible to others having similar disability.

But it might also be felt that the role of the disabled staff member is to work with the congregational members that were disabled. Using that rationale, we need a white guy for the white people, a black gal for the black people, a bald guy for the bald people and so on. I wonder at the phrase that "evangelization efforts are most effective . . . committees which includes persons with disabilities." Please don't get me wrong, I am in favor of inclusive practices. I understand the need to relate to the community, to identify with the community, to have the community identify with those in any form of leadership. But we must not fall into the trap of patronizing people or seeing them as a Hispanic person or a tall person or a disabled person. We first see them as people. Should there be an evangelist amongst them who wants to serve on the committee, great. But, the person in the chair is on the committee because she is the best person for the committee. She is an evangelist (in this case) who moves about in a wheelchair.

Persons with various disabilities should feel that they have access to the same whatever, the same everything that those without disability have access to. But being in a wheelchair doesn't make a person an evangelist to others in wheelchairs. Placing a person with blindness doesn't not mean we now have a blind ministry. It does mean, however, that we see people for the gifts they bring to the table, and blindness is not a disqualifying factor.

Are there some disabilities which would disqualify a person with that disability from some aspects of Christian service? Absolutely. A person with mental retardation should probably not be the leader of the Bible study. Particularly if he can't read the Bible, or understand the subtleties of the scripture his cognitive impairment makes difficult for him. Should such a person serve on the evangelization committee? Maybe. Is he an evangelist?

Can you imagine if someone asked you to serve on a committee because they didn't have anyone who looked like you on the committee. Say it was a committee discussing particle physics, or some other obscure matter that you would have little knowledge of, and probably little to contribute. I for one would last about 10 minutes before I would say,
"You know, I'm sorry, but I really don't have a lot to contribute
here. I mean science is great and particles, sure, I'm in favor of
particles, but you are not taking advantage of my gifts, and frankly, I just
don't understand what you are talking about."
"But we want someone who looks like you on our committee so we can be
"You know, that's great. I am all in favor of diversity. But I
would rather have the best people possible, whatever they look like. It
sure is nice to know that people who look like me are welcome on your committee,
but there must be someone else who looks like me who could participate. If
not, then I am happy to support your work, because the main thing is that you
have people who can do the work, not people who look like me."

Now the flip side, however, is that if I am a great candidate for the committee and you don't choose me because of what I look like, well, thats another issue. Thats called discrimination. But like section 504 of the Rehabilitation act of 1973 says, "No otherwise qualified handicapped person should be denied access. . . " The key is the otherwise qualified qualifier in the statement.

I must admit, however, that the notion of having persons with various disabilities on the evangelization committee could have its upside. Perhaps this is an effort on the part of the church to begin ministry to persons who they have ignored in the past. Perhaps this is an effort on the part of the church to say,
"Hey, we have gotten our act together and are doing better on this issue.
We will prove it to you by placing a person with disability in a position of
leadership. Look, there she is on the evangelization committee. In
the past we would discriminate against persons such as her, but look at us
now! We are doing much better than we did in the past!"
Now that I like. Its like allowing the cognitively disabled man to be an usher, or to serve communion. Its like hiring a staff member who is being PAID to develop ministries to persons with disability (whether or not the person is disabled herself). Its like having support staff available to support a child with autism who happens to show up some Sunday morning. From this perspective, it represents a change on the part of the church, an effort to reach out by correcting past wrongs.


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