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

Monday, March 16, 2009

Friendship and change

More from Dr. Hans Reinder's book, Receiving the gift of friendship: Profound disability, theological anthropology and ethics.
I wish to confront longstanding convictions in the Christian tradition with the implications of exclusion that have never been properly addressed. To avoid these implications, the church needs to find ways of thinking about being human that do not support the distinction between people with and without disabilities. I believe that friendship is the key to this attempt. Every human being is worthy of being chosen as a friend simply because that is what God does - choose us to be friends (p 162).

Later on the same page and on to page 163,
The struggle for equality and justice begin by the disability-rights movement is important; but in order for it to be truly inclusive, that struggle must be nourished by moral resources beyond the realm of politics...To substantiate these claims I must explain one further aspect of why I consider the disability-rights approach insufficient: "insufficient" here does not mean that beyond "access" there is a further goal, "friendship", that we need to reach for, as if it were the icing on a cake. The point is not that we should move beyond equality and justice, because that would presuppose that we already have realized these goals which is at best only partially true. The goals of equality and justice are not realized within our churches, not even at the minimal level of physical accessibility. Therefore, it is not that we add "friendship" to the list of goods people with disabilities need to have. Friendship is not merely complementary to the goals of equality and justice. Especially regarding intellectually disabled persons, the point is much more critical than that: it is that the disability-rights approach leaves unquestioned what causes the exclusion of these humans in the first place, which is that most people in our moral culture do not want them to be part of their lives...I want Christians to consider friendship with a disabled person as a vocation that, once they have entered into it, will change not only their own lives, but also the life of the church. This goal is clearly different from theologies that argue for equal access. My primary aim - rather than opening up buildings, jobs, or positions - is to change people's mind.

But you see, people don't get this. Last week, for example, I gave an inservice to professionals working in the area of transition from school to adult life. My entire premise was the need for them to develop friendships with adults with disabilities. In human services we focus on jobs and independent living, which are important things to work on. However, as I indicated to the audience, if you asked me what was the most important thing in my life and I said my job or my house, your response would probably be, "How sad." It is relationships which are typically the most important thing in people's lives. Yet as professionals, our efforts relate to other people developing relationships with persons with disabilities (through school inclusion programs, etc.) when our efforts should begin with we ourselves developing relationships once again as both a benefit to ourselves and to those we befriend, and also and example to the community. As Reinders states, it is true Christian or otherwise "that most people in our moral culture do not want them to be part of their lives". People with severe or profound disabilities are not wanted in families, in churches, in the community which may be why many of the programs for them have developed in the manner in which they have

I have complained in this blog about the problems with fingerprinting. But fingerprinting is both a way to protect people with disabilities from being victimized and to protect society from people with disabilities. That may not have been the intention, you might say, and hopefully you are right. However, that has been the effect. There is a societal construction against having persons with disabilies in our lives, and our practices, supposedly designed in support of people with disabilities actually support noninvolvement in their lives. Should I be able to overcome the societal common sense of not getting involved, I then run up against the professional practices which frustrate my desires to befriend.

But as Reinders indicates, friendship is not just the icing on the cake of access. Friendship is the cake. Clearly there will be difficulty in developing friendships without some level of reciprocal access so that access is a starting point. But the promised land is social integration which implies a choice on the part of those we would like to be integrated with each other. Typically because of the isolation of persons with disabilities, the choice therefore, is in the hands of those without disabilities. Perhaps a move in the right direction would be a certain level of the removal of choice.

That has been one of my major desires for the church. The church needs to be confronted by people with disabilities which begins with their presence at church. Let's see what our faith is made of, how we love others by our "works" (See James 2:20). As I have stated elsewhere, the presence of persons with disabilities in the church, including people with severe and profound disabilities, would be a corrective for the church taking us to a place we were meant to be but to date have never been.



Gary Sweeten said...

Right on. The major issue is not that people don't socialize or become friends with disabilities but that we have become isolated from almost anyone that is different so the opportunities for friendship are limited with everyone. I am in Denmark speaking about the importance of developing friendships and for churches to reach out beyond themselves. I am well received but the habits of sticking with old friends and ignoring others is deeply ingrained.

Anonymous said...

"Friendship is the cake" and "removing choice" is a good place to start. You have given me an idea to explore with my very small group. It involves making ourselves more visible, as a group, to the entire body of our home church, on aregular basis. Someting like "Here we are," your turn.

Anonymous said...

When I was doing my assignment about the activities and programs that the church offer to people with disabilities, I got answers such as "we do not have many programs focused to people with disabilities because we work with the necessities of the community". I got disappointed because that means that if the community do not require those services, then, the church won't come out with new programs that will invite and add new people to our congregation. That is why; I agree with you and believe that the church needs to be confronted by people with disabilities, which begins with their presence at church and the pressure towards the church to open new programs for people with disabilities.
Maria Loredo

Anonymous said...

I completely agree.. Friendship is the most important issue that is lacking when it comes to interacting with people with disabilities. From class last night, I truly got a glimpse of how greatly the church has lacked in opening up and being supportive of people with disabilities. As a Christian, my entire life I have been taught how to befriend and how to stay loyal to my friends, never once was I told how important it is to include people with disabilities. The bottom line is, they are people too. No matter if someone has a physical disability or an intellectual disability, we all feel the same emotions, and more importantly, we all value relationships.