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


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Culture by exclusion

When experts in disability studies discuss disability as a concept, they will at times discuss various models.  Minimally there will be three; the medical model, the moral model and the social model.  In both the medical and moral models, disability is totally focussed on the individual.  The medical model largely sees someone with an impairment as someone to be healed or corrected.  You own your impairment and my interactions with you are geared toward addressing your problem.  The moral model says that your impairment is due to something that you or your family or parents did.  You are to blame for this thing called impairment that has happened in your life.

If we believe either of these models are the reality, it will cause us to do things in relation to people with impairments in particular ways.  Chances are, one aspect of treatment will  be segregation.  As a student of mine, Sarah Slayman, once wrote in a paper, "Segregation centers disability within the individual."  If I follow one of these two models (medical, moral) I feel limited responsibility toward the person with the impairment, other than perhaps, some sort of therapeutic or rehabilitation based interactions.  Your life experience with an impairment has nothing to do with me.  So I even perceive my segregation of you, on the basis of your impairment, is based on something about you not something about me.

The model that emerged in reaction to the medical and moral models was the social model which takes the perspective that disability is not due to impairment but is entirely based in society.  Disability is actually the result of societal response to impairment.  It is not difficult to make the connection between how those with some form of impairment might feel in reaction to the medical or moral models and the treatment that followed and the reaction of saying that the entire experience of disability is caused by the environment. 

The connection between these ideas and the church is that if I segregate persons with disabilities, I am once again, centering disability within the individual.  I create a somewhat new class of people called people with an impairment, who are a culture to themselves.  If they are a culture to themselves, it is because the larger culture(s) have isolated them to the point that they find themselves together in an isolated group.  I may find myself as a member of a culture of excluded people, my characteristic being society's reaction to my impairment."  This experience, particularly from a Christian perspective, should not be sufficient to isolate me. Culture by exclusion is not something to be celebrated.  I make you become your own culture by distancing you from myself.   The excluded culture's characteristic being something imposed upon them by the dominant culture in more of a  moral model kind of way in response to a personal characteristic.  If we then celebrate the excluded group by providing ministry to them on the basis of their "culture" we support the devaluation and segregation by society.  In order to fight culture by exclusion, we must instead refuse to recognize the culture by exclusion and instead insist that we are one in Christ.

We therefore need to be exceedingly careful if we are involved in any activity that segregates people on the basis of any characteristic.  When we do so, we are saying that a person's characteristic and their life experience as a result of that characteristic totally resides within them and that we agree with society's way of interacting with them and isolation of them.

McNair

13 comments:

SNAPPIN' MINISTRIES said...

Jeff, I would include the families of those with a diagnosis in this segregation as well. THANK YOU for this timely post!

Mike M said...

That's not fair to categorize like this. In fact, it smacks of the same thing we are trying to discourage at our own clinic.
To us, any patient has certain needs that need to be addressed at that visit and afterwards. Whether it's a medical or health concer, we take that patient where he or she is at and plan from there. Unlike you, we avoid categorizing anyone. Diagnosing is one ting; categorizing with the intent to persuade others that your category is superior is another.

Jordan said...

This is a topic that I am really interested in. I have recently completed a Bible study with some friends on the book of Galatians and one of Paul's central themes in that book is the breakdown of the divide between Jews and gentiles.

I have been wondering how this call to open table fellowship (a theme throughout the NT) should affect our thoughts on enclaved ministries. It seems to be a common evangelical practice to break its membership down into specific groups based on age, gender, ability etc. I wonder if we lose some of the richness of the Gospel message by doing this.

It seems to me that one of the amazing things about the Christian life is that we are all called to sit and eat at one table. There is something intimate and mysterious about what happens when a group of people from different classes, groups, genders etc. all unite around a meal (both physical and metaphorical). This is one of the things that is surprising about Jesus's ragamuffin group of twelve, is it not?

Perhaps instead of creating enclaves specifically designed for every imaginable subgroup the Church would better represent the Gospel message by opening its doors wide for all people to share a common space of love and acceptance?

If what I am thinking is true than it is a much more radical call than "disability ministry". It is not that we would create a special club for people we see as different from us, effectively holding them close enough to call them "included" but far enough that we can stay comfortable, safe, unaffected etc. Instead we will make space within the common group for everyone. Practically this means accommodating slower speech, different ideas, seizures, "inappropriate behaviors", cultural difference, and the presence of social deviance and so on and so forth.

Richard Stimson said...

Well here is the issue. Are the mentally challenged a sub-culture? I for one would say yes. Even if I am correct that does not mean it is a good thing. As you suggest it may be because they have been segregated and isolated. But neither does it mean it is a bad thing. We have all kinds of sub-cultures. We talk about the youth culture. We have Spanish speaking churches and the list can go on and on. In fact we have all types of ministries that target a "group" of people. Not only do we have youth groups but senior citizens groups, men's groups, women circles and this list goes on and on. Some of these have developed into national organizations like Young Life, Promise Keepers and Women of Faith. Are these bad?
With all due respect I felt that you made some connection that may not be correct. The medical model in service delivery does not mean I feel a "limited responsibility toward the person" or better said a more limited responsibility toward a person because of their impairment. I feel a greater responsibility toward my son than most people because he is my son, so even in a social model we would feel more responsibility for some people. Please do not misunderstand me. I am no fan of the medical model. I just think you made some logical leaps that are questionable.
I also am not sure we can take a classification structure of the experts in disability studies and just superimpose it on top of the church. The mission of the church is to bring people into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and then to help them grow in their faith. The church has done this by developing groups that have many things in common. Single groups, youth groups, Sunday School classes.
I would even say there is an empowerment that comes from a group with similar interest. My denomination has just added requirements that different groups (youth, women, etc) be represented in governmental bodies so those groups have voice. I would never advocate segregation but that does not mean people do not have the right to associate. The women in my family will often go on a shopping trip that none of the men go to. Is that wrong?

Little Tony said...

I enjoyed your post and also your views. I applaud your willingness to make a statement that causes the better part of those involved in "disability ministry" to recoil in defense of what we do. While I may not agree in its entirety with your post, I love the discussion it creates. I have long felt that those of us doing " disability ministry" in whatever form we do it, in so many ways have supported the "devaluation and segregation by society of people with disabilities" The discussion is hard to have, especially alongside the good things we do.
I believe that the discussion of what we do, that does devalue and segregate, needs to be at the forefront of discussion of every gathering of those who are involved in "ministry with people with disabilities"
Generally, disability ministry is lead by the generation that broke new ground by even doing such ministry, not to many decades ago. Most, have trained others in this vacuum, and there is a prevailing myopic way of ministering and thinking which often serves to protect certain ministries and their territories. Disability ministry has evolved, and discussions need to be had, that force us to open our eyes to a bigger picture and take hold of what God has given. The discussion, or argument, that says disability is a sub culture or not ,is not new but continues to be worth having. But we need now, more than ever in our history, to step back to see a bigger picture, and find ways o come together to pursue it, as this blog entry has done. What we do as ministers to individuals with disabilities, that keeps a group of people connected by their inabilities, segregated, devalued, enslaved and in danger of extinction, would seem worthy of evaluating within our own hearts, work, and plans. The next step is to keep it in discussion with each other, and find ways to minister with out this fallout.
I personally am dissatisfied by the crumbs that fall from the table of those who have named themselves the "Church" but have not heeded Gods call to a full body. I do not want to further a system set up to keep out the very gifts that are needed for the church to prevail as God says.
Thank you Dr. McNair for your courage.
Tony Piantine
www.campdaniel.org

Jordan said...

I think Richard has hit on an important point ion his comment.

Richard says: "I would never advocate segregation but that does not mean people do not have the right to associate"

I think there is a clear difference between "association" and "segregation". So, if we welcome all people as participating members into the Church and those members CHOOSE to take part in sub-ministries of likeminded people (youth, women, disabilities, board games, horse enthusiasts, etc.), that is freedom of association.

If we invite people into our Church with the ASSUMPTION that they will participate in a subset of the larger group based on a particular trait (i.e. Yes you are welcome to attend our Church... on Wednesdays the horse enthusiasts meet and on Sunday Mornings we have a special horse centred service. Also at special functions we have a particular section for you and all the other horse enthusiasts to sit in.), then we have moved into segregation and a sort of "kind-discrimination".

I think this issue goes beyond the specific issue of "disability" into the broader issue of humanity. Do Churches segregate groups? Is this always by the choice of the group? (Freedom of association) Is this sometimes so we can maintain a safe and comfortable distance from difference?

Are we called to more? Are there any hints in the Bible concerning how we should interact with others who are "different" than us? (The Good Samaritan, the make-up of the Disciples, widows and orphans, Paul’s words about slavery and gender roles, the sheep and the goats etc.).

The door of Bible narrative swings both ways. Often we picture ourselves as gentle Jesus, Paul, or other privileged characters ministering to the lowly. It is impossible for us to understand the calling of Christians, to love and inclusion, if we do not recognize that we are at times both characters in the Bible narratives. I am sometimes the Good Samaritan and I am sometimes the man humiliated and beaten in need of help. Both roles are significant in Christian formation. If we do not understand that we HAVE received much than we cannot understand why we should so freely give (giving is risky, it costs something, and it often goes against our natural inclinations). If we do not understand that we ARE the different one (the grafted in portion) than we will not understand that the people we see as “different” are indeed as entitled as we are, as much a part of the family as we are, as much loved as we are.

Richard Stimson said...

All extremes are dysfunctional.  I do not think it would function well to just have one Sunday School class that had from newborns to retires.  I also think most would think a grief group for persons who had a love one die would be a good thing.  That being said, the church needs the gifts of all of its members including persons with a disability.  I just do not understand why doing both is not the goal.  Why having groups that target mentally challenged persons to become Jesus Followers is not a good thing.

I am an evangelical and put a high value on understanding the word of God.  Any approach that does not have understanding the Bible a priority is problematic for me.  I think Promise Keepers helped make the Bible better understood by many men.  I do not think I know anyone who teaches a special needs Sunday school class or runs a Friendship Club or operates a Special needs chapel is doing anything more than embracing the centrality of scripture.  They take very seriously the spiritual needs of persons with a disability.  

Sarah Anne said...

Hi Richard.

I don't think we are disagreeing here. I think it is okay to have sub-groups within a larger group. I think voluntary clubs and such can really enrich any experience of community.

I am however saying that if we make those sub-groups the majority content of the Church experience than we lose the richness of Christian community. This richness comes out of bearing with one another in faith hope and love and cannot fully be realized in an entirely segregated community (which I think many Churches are fast becoming). The difference between a Church and a social club is that a Church is made up of a myriad of different people all focussed on Jesus. This group does not need to totally agree or even share similar hobbies, cultural traditions etc. We gather because we are all called into the Kingdom of God. A social club gathers around a particular interest, demographical commonality, goal, hobby etc. Social clubs are generally similar in terms of class, ability, interest etc. A Church is not. This distinction is not as pronounced as it has been historically for a variety of reasons including loss of “denominational fidelity” amongst the younger generation, a move away from a parish model (i.e. going to the Church closest to you), and the co-opting of a consumer mindset in the Christian community (A Church is a product, I buy into the one that suits me, if I disagree I just move down the block to the next Church, I am the consumer and the Church has a responsibility to offer a product I am willing to buy).

Here is a link to an article and a documentary about the state of Youth Ministry. Because Youth Ministry is similar to disability ministry (a group of people treated differently, often in a separate context based on a particular attribute [i.e. age/ability])I think we can glean something from the longer and more developed history of youth ministry as we explore disability ministry and how it should be carried out.

http://sbcvoices.com/modern-youth-ministry-is-a-50-year-failed-experiment/

Jordan said...

Richard said: "I do not think it would function well to just have one Sunday School class that had from newborns to retires."

I totally agree here. Even based simply on practical concerns (space, time, etc.).

As a possible alternative I would like to share my experience with some really interesting Churches that have gotten away from traditional "Sunday school" ministry in favour of house Churches. House churches are an attractive model for disability ministry as well because you provide for practical needs (help eating, peri-care, accessibility etc.) easier and cheaper in homes than in a Church building.

What this looks like is a 1 hr. Sunday gathering with singing, a brief message and communion.

Then the Church meets in houses around the community in groups between about 15-20 people.

The groups are composed of the entire age, gender, culture, ability range. This is facilitated by random placement through an administrator (house Church head pastor). By doing it this way you avoid cliques or social clubs. People are placed so they do not choose their group.

The groups eat a meal together (break bread). Read scripture and/or discuss the sermon as a group (sharing the apostles teaching). They also pray for one another and arrange practical supports (i.e. lawn care for people in need, lending of tools, ladders etc. (Prayer).

I found this model to be really wonderful. I participated for several years before moving to another community. It was wonderful to have the Children take part and for them to be able to witness their parents active faith in practical ways. It was also great to share an intimate setting with older Christians, teenagers, baby's etc. It felt like community. It was difficult at times but that was a part of the richness.

Jordan said...

Sorry I was using my wifes account on accident. All the Varey posts are Jordan Varey :)

Norita Joy Erickson said...

I was directed to your blog today via Facebook. Having worked with children and young adults who were abandoned to live in hellish institutions because they were affected in one way by disability (physical, intellectual, both)due to the over-arching worldview that they were cursed, I can testify to the creative, redemptive power of the Holy Spirit to bring light, laughter, and salvation in the darkest of places. www.friendsofkardelen.com is the website we just established to tell the world what has been happening in this middle eastern country for the past 15 years.
www.thesnowdrop.wordpress.com is my blog where I'm posting chapters to the book which should come out before the end of the year.

What I have just read here and the responding comments are heartening and challenging--every one--but I would want you to consider the millions and millions of people with disabilities who have NO IDEA who Jesus is and that He became Cursed on the Cross for us all so that we might all have the opportunity to dance and sing in His presence and eat together at His table as His Bride. Some day very soon:)

Rachael said...

I agree with the philosophy that we should not automatically segregate people with a learning disability into an 'appropriate' club. All church programs and services ought to aim to be accessible, interesting and understandable for all people no matter what their impairment or different background.

It is worth pointing out that some people with a learning disability may attend their 'special club' at a church because for practical or institutional reasons they cannot attend the main congregational service. As a carer in a supported living home for a group of people with learning disabilities and complex needs, it impossible with our rota and staff quota to get those that want to, to an 11am Sunday morning service. If the special group was not available for them, they would not attend anything at the Church. People with disabilities can be segregated and excluded by practical and logistical factors, as much as philosophical reasons.

Whilst 'special' ministry groups are ministering to those with disabilities they can also be reaching out to the sub-culture of carers of people with disabilities. Take the hard-working, non-churched support worker who is often on shift on a Sunday and has nobody else reaching out to them. They accompany those that they care for to the special midweek club. For that carer, the club is their 'Church' The Kingdom can break through in surprising places, even if our philosophy and practice of church segregation is flawed.

Whether or not a sub-culture of people a learning disability is wrong or right it does to a certain extent exist. To what extent do disability ministry and 'special' clubs effectively contextualise the Gospel into the real lives, situations and cultures of people who have a learning disability? Do we just teach them the Bible stories in a fun and interactive way and hope they can apply it themselves in their homes and day centres and friendship circles without individualised support? What does it mean to 'love your neighbour' (Matthew 22:37-40) when your neighbours have petitioned the council to prevent you moving into the neighbourhood? What does it mean to 'turn the other cheek' (Matthew 5:39) when you have been rejected, discriminated against and abused throughout your life? How can a person with a severe learning disability who has behavioural 'outbursts' or 'meltdowns' nurture the fruit of 'self control' in their life? (Galatians 5:22-23)

Rachael said...

I agree with the philosophy that we should not automatically segregate people with a learning disability into an 'appropriate' club. All church programs and services ought to aim to be accessible, interesting and understandable for all people no matter what their impairment or different background.

It is worth pointing out that some people with a learning disability may attend their 'special club' at a church because for practical or institutional reasons they cannot attend the main congregational service. As a carer in a supported living home for a group of people with learning disabilities and complex needs, it impossible with our rota and staff quota to get those that want to, to an 11am Sunday morning service. If the special group was not available for them, they would not attend anything at the Church. People with disabilities can be segregated and excluded by practical and logistical factors, as much as philosophical reasons.

Whilst 'special' ministry groups are ministering to those with disabilities they can also be reaching out to the sub-culture of carers of people with disabilities. Take the hard-working, non-churched support worker who is often on shift on a Sunday and has nobody else reaching out to them. They accompany those that they care for to the special midweek club. For that carer, the club is their 'Church' The Kingdom can break through in surprising places, even if our philosophy and practice of church segregation is flawed.

Whether or not a sub-culture of people a learning disability is wrong or right it does to a certain extent exist. To what extent do disability ministry and 'special' clubs effectively contextualise the Gospel into the real lives, situations and cultures of people who have a learning disability? Do we just teach them the Bible stories in a fun and interactive way and hope they can apply it themselves in their homes and day centres and friendship circles without individualised support? What does it mean to 'love your neighbour' (Matthew 22:37-40) when your neighbours have petitioned the council to prevent you moving into the neighbourhood? What does it mean to 'turn the other cheek' (Matthew 5:39) when you have been rejected, discriminated against and abused throughout your life? How can a person with a severe learning disability who has behavioural 'outbursts' or 'meltdowns' nurture the fruit of 'self control' in their life? (Galatians 5:22-23)