People with intellectual disabilities are a prophetic presence to the Christian church in that they cause the church to become what it has the potential to be merely by their presence. By this I mean, when a person with an intellectual disability is present, their presence changes me in terms of what I am able to do, and what I might now be required to do. If I don't reject them, they will cause me to be a servant, they will cause me to look outside of myself and not be as preoccupied with myself. They will cause me to step back and consider what is really important in life and in human interactions. They will grow my faith in what is sometimes the messiness of their lives that needs help through no fault of their own. They will teach me to love them when they stretch me with atypcial social skills. They need not do anything but be, and they speak through their presence, they challenge through their presence.
I can also exclude their prophetic voice in a variety of ways. I can simply not allow them to be present. I can make deliberate efforts to exclude them. I can claim I didn't know they were out there in the community. I can say they are not a priority.
I can also remove them from the church and create disabled churches. Those who create these settings are very well intentioned.
I do not question their motives.
However, they have an absolutely WRONG notion of the Body of Christ and what it should be. They take what are perhaps the most weak, the most challenging members, and take them away from the larger body. By doing that, they allow the church to continue on on its self absorbed way, not having to change in response to the prophetic presence of people with disabilities. Using 1 Corinthians 12:22 once again, they take the indispensable parts away from the Body, thinking they are doing something helpful. Yes the intellectually disabled adults are happy in their segregation as are the nondisabled adults happy in their lack of integration. But both are WRONG. I cannot take a group of people and decide I don't need them to be with me (check 1 Corinthians again) and those who do these segregated churches are actually doing harm to the larger Body of Christ because they are removing the prophetic presence from the larger church that would cause it to change.
But people celebrate these types of programs because they are uninformed or have never critically thought through the issues involved. Once again, I don't question their motives. However, there are many people who do things that are not good things to do for the best of motives. I will not generate a list here, but segregated churches for people with disabilities is definitely on that bad idea/good motivation list. No doubt.
Who am I talking about? Here is an example. There is a Christian magazine called World. In the recent issue, they list one of these segregated churches as among those being considered for a special award. I don't mean to be unkind but I honestly pray that group will not receive the award, because it sends the exact wrong message about what the church should be doing relative to persons with disabilities. The answer is not to separate them from those without disabilities but to fully integrate them so that their prophetic presence will change us to be what God intends us to be. Both World magazine and this group are actually impeding the prophetic presence, and by impeding their presence, they impede the prophetic will of God.