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

Sunday, November 18, 2007

From Sunday School to Seminary

I have been doing some writing lately related to the topic of inclusive religious education. I will keep you posted as the publication I am working on with a wonderful group of experts is made available.

Anyway in working through some of the ideas, I thought about religious education "from Sunday School to seminary" in relation to people with disabilities. Rarely are children with disabilities included in Sunday school to the degree such children are present in the community. In interactions with Chrisitan kids at church, I have asked them where they have had experience with children with disabilities, and most often they will say in their class at public school. Some will relate experiences with children at church, but most experiences are not had at church. The same would be characteristic of Bible study groups of young people in Junior High School, High School or College. Few if any contacts with persons with disabilities as members of those groups, as the focus of ministry in those groups, or as a topic for discussion in those groups. They are ignored. In college, students study the Bible, or church ministry. Once again, it is as if people with disabilities have never existed. Even in Bible classes, where you would think people might be impressed by the text of the Bible (particularly the Gospels) that they are studying, little if any mention of disability or people affected by disabilities. In Christian ministry programs (I have personally spoken with directors of several) when asked if disability is mentioned in any of the classes, the response is either "No" or as a point of discussion in some ethics, or bioethics class. Finally, in seminary, perhaps the highest level of training of people preparing for leadership in the church and in ministry, once again there is little if any discussion of people with disabilities.

I have stated this elsewhere in this blog, but the US census says that nearly 20% of the population are people with disabilities. But to those in education in and around the church it is once again as if people with disabilities do not exist.

As I have thought through this, it tells me something about Christian religious education. To me at all levels, Christian education has a serious flaw. That people with disabilities would be overlooked on every level tells me that all levels of Christian education are wrong. They are wrong because they overlook some of the most needy, the poorest, the most disenfranchised people in the world. How could any group that claims to be Christian be so blind as to miss this group? To miss such a group in the light of the Gospels and the example of Christ is so wrong. Have those who do Christian education never met a person with a disability, never met the family of a person with a disability and recognized the societally imposed travails those people face? I don't know which would be more disconcerting...that churches have met such people and have ignored them, or that they don't know about such people. In either case, the response evidences a lack of caring. It causes me great concern to witness such blindness at every level. My concern is that this oversight is symptomatic of a pervasive lack of caring. This lack of caring is evidenced at every level of Christian education and that is disgraceful.

I have heard dozens of excuses from money, to training, to "I just didn't know" and all them are inexcusable. So God would tell us that those are all good reasons and would excuse us from caring? No, do something and find out what it would cost. Do something and learn in the process if you don't have training. Do something and find out how the life experience of people impacted with disability is the same or different as those not affected. Once again, if you really "just didn't know" what does that tell you about the religious education you have received at every level...I should probably include sermons in this discussion.

Additionally, every day we visit bathrooms that are handicapped accessible, or walk past handicapped parking spaces. Who are all theses handicapped parking spaces and bathrooms for? Are they for figments of our imagination? Has the government lost its mind, or is it actually true that 20% of the population is disabled? No, things have to change in the Christian church. Christian education needs to become caring and particularly aware of the needs of the devalued members of the community.

May God forgive us for our practices at every level of so called "Christian" Education, from Sunday School to Seminary. No excuses. Just start doing what is right and teach about the caring that is or at least should be a critical aspect of the Christian faith. Otherwise we perpetuate a system that reproduces numb Christians with a significant flaw.


No comments: