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


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Bible and people with severe intellectual impairments

"Should we teach the Bible to those with severe cognitive disabilities?" is a question that was asked in a weblog entitled "The Works of God." I really appreciate this blog raising this question not because it necessarily is a question in my mind, but because it is the question in too many pastor's minds (assuming the question is even considerd).


I remember a pastor once saying to me,
"No one stays awake at night thinking of how to teach the Bible to people with intellectual disabilities."
I responded, "I do!"

The larger question is how we facilitate faith development in individuals with severe intellectual disabilities and are the current content based strategies for faith development of those with and without disabilities actually doing what we think they are doing. The integration of people with and without disabilities is an important step in the faith development to all.
Anyway, I was invited to provide a response to this posting for the Christian Post, and they did a good job editing my response. You can see it here Christian Post link .
The critical question in faith development, Bible "learning" is not whether, but how. Additionally as I have stated elsewhere, the changes that need to come to the church that would facilitate faith development for all, will largely result from a change in the entire church environment, not just in figuring out some way to teach the Bible to people with intellectual disabilities. The discussion begins with the statement, "Yes, we want people with severe intellectual disabilities integrated into the church in as many ways as possible."

Once we make that statement our real goal, we will find that we will change our structures such that Bible instruction of persons with disabilities is no longer something else we do, it becomes a significant aspect of who we are. We, the church body have changed from being a church to the Body of Christ with all that that entails.

At the moment, I am not sure we really want to become the Body of Christ because we will have to change the way we do things such that we respect people we have devalued.

This morning, I was part of a meeting that began with a devotion from James 2 about favoritism largely on the basis of wealth/poverty issues. The same applies with impairment/disability issues. For me to ask the question, "Should we teach the Bible to those with severe cognitive disabilities?" on some level implies that I am justifying what I am not doing. On some level it is a way of saying "I don't want to change." It is a way of saying, "I don't want to be inconvenienced." However, if it is an honest question that I want an answer to, then perhaps I should be asking, "How can I teach the Bible with those with severe cognitive disabilities?" It is easier to try every instructional approach and even perhaps fail then it is to prove that people cannot be taught the Bible. We are way too early in this awakening of the church to the presence of persons with disabilities in the community for us to excuse ourselves from facilitating faith development in those who we have ignored.

McNair

8 comments:

Alice Kramer said...

My experience has been with my developmentally challenged son is that spirituality, or spiritual understanding, is not a function of intellectual ability.

I also think that it is possible to understand ones spiritual understanding as a component of personality, but that is probably another topic altogether.

Mark said...

Hey Jeff,
Really, just Amen! When as a Church we say we do want to include ALL people, however they come to us, it provokes the questions "What do we mean by that? What will it look like?" Hopefully, it doesn't simply mean ministiring to disabled persons is one of the things we do (although that is probably where we begin), it simply becomes part of what and who we are. When everyone in the the Church is everywhere in the church we begin to see the full body of the Church.

Karen Jackson said...

In my experience as both a parent of a child with autism and severe communication difficulties and the director of Faith Inclusion Network, I have spent much time with both the question "should we" and "how do we" teach our faith to people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. What I have found shocking is that, the question of "should we" is not just one asked by clergy or religious education educators, but of parents of children with disabilities themselves. In fact, I have spoken to more than one parent of a child with special needs that insist their child is fine either at home while the rest of the family attends church or sitting quietly with the family during the service while other children in the family are participating in religious education or faith based social activities.
I believe that these situations illustrate some disappointing commentary on both our churches and how they influence the typical person, parent of a child with a disability or not. First, and most obvious, many of our faith communities have not yet recognized the need to fully include those with disabilities. But what do we first say to the churches and parents who are not even sure that a child, (young or adult) has the capacity to understand issues of faith?
The answer, for me at least, has come from my own faith and experiences as a parent. As Alice K. just commented on this blog, "spiritual understanding is not a function of intellectual ability". I would add a simple argument: If our faith includes the belief that God can do anything, then certainly He can reach my non-verbal daughter and anyone else who does not speak, learn or communicate in the "typical" way. Simply put, "do we believe that God can do anything or don't we?"
I realize that this may be oversimplifying the issue, but we have to start somewhere. The church can start by fully including those with severe intellectual disabilities which in turn encourages the message; all are valued and needed in the church and all people with disabilities or not are spiritual people who can not only learn but (and I know I am getting ahead of the issue here) teach profound spiritual issues.
I hope that with continued advocacy we can change the status quo and take the question of "should we" off the table for good.
Blessings,
Karen Jackson
Faith Inclusion Network www.faithinclusionnetwork.org

Karen Jackson said...

In my experience as both a parent of a child with autism and severe communication difficulties and the director of Faith Inclusion Network, I have spent much time with both the question "should we" and "how do we" teach our faith to people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. What I have found shocking is that, the question of "should we" is not just one asked by clergy or religious education educators, but of parents of children with disabilities themselves. In fact, I have spoken to more than one parent of a child with special needs that insist their child is fine either at home while the rest of the family attends church or sitting quietly with the family during the service while other children in the family are participating in religious education or faith based social activities.
I believe that these situations illustrate some disappointing commentary on both our churches and how they influence the typical person, parent of a child with a disability or not. First, and most obvious, many of our faith communities have not yet recognized the need to fully include those with disabilities. But what do we first say to the churches and parents who are not even sure that a child, (young or adult) has the capacity to understand issues of faith?
The answer, for me at least, has come from my own faith and experiences as a parent. As Alice K. just commented on this blog, "spiritual understanding is not a function of intellectual ability". I would add a simple argument: If our faith includes the belief that God can do anything, then certainly He can reach my non-verbal daughter and anyone else who does not speak, learn or communicate in the "typical" way. Simply put, "do we believe that God can do anything or don't we?"
I realize that this may be oversimplifying the issue, but we have to start somewhere. The church can start by fully including those with severe intellectual disabilities which in turn encourages the message; all are valued and needed in the church and all people with disabilities or not are spiritual people who can not only learn but (and I know I am getting ahead of the issue here) teach profound spiritual issues.
I hope that with continued advocacy we can change the status quo and take the question of "should we" off the table for good.
Blessings,
Karen Jackson
Faith Inclusion Network www.faithinclusionnetwork.org

Michael De Rosa said...

Absolutely. Just think of Jesus reaching out to that man in chains (Mark 5:1-20).

If we are followers of Christ, we need to get involved!

Bret said...

This is an interesting question and got me thinking a lot about the issue. What I gathered from this is that we are asking the wrong questions. Definitely, I agree with the how questions as well as asking ourselves the why questions. I also see that there is a lack of exposure to those with learning impairments by most of the church, let alone society.
We definitely answer the why question by blatantly seeing that we have followed the world’s ideology of those with disabilities. Yet when we look at it differently, we can ask why we think this way. We can conclude that we are being selfish. If people aren’t up to our speed, we are quick to carry on our business. We grow up seeing and expecting progress as we go along. It is from there that we keep going and don’t slow down for others. I would say that the main reason why we don’t look to help these people is we are plagued by what we see.
Jesus said that we should walk by faith and not by sight. Sadly we are walking by sight especially in America as we can take care of ourselves. In the same way that we go about our lives with doubt, I think this the main reason why we fail to lend a hand to those who have a disability. We see that it is a hindrance to our time and we can’t see tangible results. As we have gotten so used to expecting to see results, we lose track of the idea of things being done even though we don’t see everything.
Especially in America we have a fear of rejection. It is the reason why so many don’t speak up about their faith. In the same way, we tend to get discouraged even if we do try to reach out to teach others about the faith that are challenged to understand. It is coming into the situation defeated to begin with that kills any chance of anything happening.
As we look at the how question, there is no denying that we have that engrained in us to solve problems whether small or big. We can just look at the rate at which technology advances. Then we can look to the church and see that people are driven to figure out the how question of how to reach those who have never heard the gospel in remote areas of the world. People will drop into nowhere and go into great lengths to learn a language and understand them. They will make translations in to unknown languages to most and dream up many ways to communicate.
So if we can go out in to all nations and find ways to preach the gospel, we can throw out the questions of how and why we are going to do it. While we are not all going to have a calling or gift to reach these people, we don’t have to worry about what to do or say. It is not a matter of using our gifts, but an answer to the call of the Lord to love others as ourselves. It is an answer to the call that God will use us as we are with whatever we have to offer. He will use us in our weakness to be made strong to meet the need at that appointed time.
While there are questions of how we go about this, I think that educating people more in regards to those with disabilities will cause more people to ask these questions of what to do and how to. There is definitely a lot of attention that is brought to the churches eyes and ears in regards to missions. However, if there was more of this exposure diverted to those with special needs, I think that we would see more fruit from this. God has given us the power and wisdom to approach this issue.
I see myself being guilty in this area of not being more proactive in meeting the needs and desires of those with disabilities. However, like in the short time being exposed to the lack of attention I give those with disabilities, I realize that I see a need to ask these questions to find answers. With more people exposed, I see that is will help bring light and place a burden on people’s hearts to find ways to teach them the Bible. God created us all to worship and He has a way that can help them do so more effectively. It reminds me of the great opportunity that the Lord reminds us of. The harvest is plenty, but the labors are few.

Anonymous said...

Just as the young are innocent... so are those with intellectual disabilities. The are already saved and are here as God's teachers. They give us a practical way for us to develop our love, grace, etc., and to ACTIVELY live as Christians by providing practical support to them and their families and ensuring the church and state allow for and encourage inclusion in all areas of ministry and daily life. For those whose hearts have not been opened by the beauty and challenges of these people who are automatically accepted by God, may I suggest seeking out ways to serve God through

Anonymous said...

Love, love, agape love is the answer. :)