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

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Inclusion vs. nonexclusion

I had the pleasure of having lunch with a friend of mine, Arthur Seale. In the midst of our discussion, Arthur made the comment something to the effect that rather than working on inclusion, we should be working on preventing exclusion. He and I then went off on a variety of ideas about how in a variety of places (the church in particular in our discussion) develops places of inclusion instead of preventing exclusion. So for example, we say, "Disabled person, you can be participate by being involved in this program created for you, or you can participate in this program where the people will not exclude you." Such statements are a far cry from inviting someone to full participation in the church. Imagine if you were joining a church and the places in which you might participate were described in such a circumscribed manner.

"You can be a member of this group because it was designed for people with your personal characteristics. This is the place for disabled people. However, you cannot be involved in this other group because the people either
1) will not accept you because of their prejudiced notion of who you are,
2) are not willing to alter the way they do things, their structures, in order to accept you,
3) are not willing to do anything extra to facilitate your participation,
4) are uncomfortable with your personal hygiene, your appearance, your manner of dress, etc."

Now obviously we wouldn't expect men to be members of the women's group or vice versa. Nor would we expect children to attend the high school group.

Our efforts should be at carefully looking at the structures of our church and remove those things which would exclude people who should be a part of whatever group they would typically be a part of. So I would expect all of the men with cognitive disabilities to be a part of the church's men's group. There is no reason for them not to be involved. And if we truly do believe that we are all equal in God's sight, we should be making the same efforts to involve them that we would for men who are not experiencing disability. It is not like they are damaged goods or something, so we should not treat them as if they are...and we do treat them like they are.

I was reading the John account of the last supper. In the midst of arguing over who was the greatest (something that I have never heard adults with cognitive disabilities do, but have heard from state university professors) Jesus strips to his underwear and washes his disciples feet. Upon finishing, he says that if your Master would do that for you, what should you do for each other? That is the interesting thing about true service, it is fully inclusive and not at all exclusive. I don't need to set up a separate room for washing the feet of the disabled people because their presence bothers those currently not experiencing disability. If we are all trying to be modeling the behavior of our master, we would be vigilant to look for ways in which those who might be served are getting access to being served, and/or serving them ourselves. The last thing we would do would be to construct obstacles to people finding their way to the Lord, and our having the opportunity to serve. I think we have gotten to the point that we think service is about being served, not about serving. If the capital C church truly believed in service, there would be more people needing service there. The presence of persons with disabilities would be one great evidence that that particular church was one that fought exclusion and worked at serving.



impossibleape said...

Your unpacking of the true meaning of ministries for and with the disabled is fascinating.

A Friendship club operating on a slow evening at the church under the auspices of children's minsitries (that is the best that is offered in my city of 330,000 and hundreds of churches)doesn't cut it when you see it from the perspective you've laid out so well in this piece.

Anonymous said...

I don’t understand why the church doesn’t try to bring everyone together. What I’m trying to say is that everyone should be included in the service as well as groups put together by the church. People with disabilities are people 2 and they should be treated just like that, like people.

Anonymous said...

In the the article of, Inclusion vs Nonexclusion, I do agree that we should prevent exclusion for people with disabiliries. If we all have the mind set that all people are created equall, then people should be able to attend or do the same activities as those with no disability. If those with the disability aren't able to do the task, others still must be patient and help and encourage to help them succeed. If the person with the disability is unable to complete or at least improve in their task, then it would be safe to say that they should be given another duty. A grood example would be a mentally retarded person helping in a church. Even though most believe that a mentally retarded person wouldn't be able to help much in a church, that still must be given a chance. If all else faills, give them something that would be easy for them, and possibly work their way up if they want. But again people with disabilities must be given a chance, as well as patience and assistance.