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


Friday, August 10, 2012

The centrality of disability exclusion

Imagine I was the pastor or leader of a church.  One of the members of my church comes to me and says, "We need to reach out to white (or black, or brown or yellow or whatever, for the sake of this example, lets just say white) people.  There are white people who would be a part of us if we would welcome them and include them."  Imagine if I responded, "We don't serve white people.  White people are not a priority for ministry."  That statement would on some level now be the central issue in my church.  I would now be the leader of a racist church because I would not serve people of a particular skin color.  I might have a wonderful homeless ministry, or support poor people.  But because of that stand, I am now the leader of a racist church.  There is no logical reason for me to not serve people on the basis of that personal characteristic.

Well, there are churches who will say, "We do not serve people with disabilities."  Or they may say, "People with disabilities are not a priority for ministry."  This now becomes a defining characteristic of this church.  They are known by the fact that they will not serve people with impairments.  However, this has not become a characteristic that separates one church from another because too many of them take this position.  If every church is racist, then a racist church would not be called out about their racism.  If every church is excluding people with disabilities, then an exclusive church will not be called out on their exclusion.

But in the same manner that the civil rights movement (a movement that changed society in a morally positive direction in contrast to many movements today which are taking society in a morally negative direction) called attention to racism, movements today need to call attention to exclusion of persons with disabilities such that that form of exclusion gets called out and confronted.  It should be that the exclusion of people with disabilities in a local church is something that people should see as central to who a particular church is.

"How can that church claim to love Christ and not include disabled people?" should be the kind of question that people should be asking.  "They may have a good homeless outreach, but don't try to be a disabled guy there.  They want nothing to do with those people." should be a condemnation that hits hard.  "They sure talk a lot about being prolife, but if you have a kid with autism and want to go there, well they get quiet then."

Can you see how this type of exclusion is not a choice, at least should not be a question of choice.  If I get this wrong, if I exclude people because of their impairments, it indicates I get the most basic of all Christian foundations wrong...I get love wrong.  That, therefore, makes the exclusion of people with impairments a central issue in evaluating churches.

McNair

9 comments:

dino_sorr said...

Dr. McNair,

I think what you are saying is true about churches excluding people with disabilities to be comparable to racism. In my experience with the pastor that I interviewed for the second assignment, I found that some churches make excuses as well saying, "Well someone else is probably called to that, not our church. We just take them as they come." I have never at any of the churches I've been to seen the church actively seek out persons with disabilities to attend but also to serve in ministries to help reach out to other people. We can all agree that this is a place where most churches are found wanting.

dino_sorr said...

Dr. McNair,

I think what you are saying is true about churches excluding people with disabilities to be comparable to racism. In my experience with the pastor that I interviewed for the second assignment, I found that some churches make excuses as well saying, "Well someone else is probably called to that, not our church. We just take them as they come." I have never at any of the churches I've been to seen the church actively seek out persons with disabilities to attend but also to serve in ministries to help reach out to other people. We can all agree that this is a place where most churches are found wanting.

River said...

Just found your blog and it's almost midnight. I'm a seminary student with a genetic disorder. I look forward to reading what you have to say

Richard Moore said...

Wow great way to think about it in reference to the Civil Rights movement. I have never been around a Church that said this publicly but they say it more with their actions. We have to be the ones that stand up and call it what it is Exclusivism just like Racism. Great post

Chris Johnson said...

Dr. McNair,

As Christians our role as parts of the the body of Christ is to embrace, love, accept, befriend and serve one another regardless of race or diability. You're right. The one place that should have this down is the Church. However, just like you've stated, the Church is more guilty of not reaching out to people with disabilities than any other organization is. I feel one reason why the Church and members of congregations throughout the United States don't reach out to people with disabilities is that they don't fully understand the scope of disabilities and the people that have them. It's unfortunate to say, but I feel that some churches see ministering to people with disabilities as a futile act. However, that type of rational is completely false. A few years ago I had the opportunity to attend your church and be a part of your Light & Power service. The interactions I had at the service were amazing and I left in a state of awe. However, even though I felt very touched, I failed by never making any attempt to reach out to a person with a disability and befriending them. Sadly, I've failed just as The Church has. After attending your class the other night I was thorougly convicted by the challenge you presented to us: to make friends with a person that has a disability. In conclusion, for The Church to change, we as members of its body need to change the way we see people with disabilities.

Anonymous said...

Dr. McNair,

After reading your blogs my eyes are being opened more and more to people who have disabilities. Last, week in class you made a comment about Christians who have a saying for people with disabilities
"There, but for the grace of God go I" I regret to tell you, but I fell into that category. I never meant it negatively, but now see how that very statement is degrading. I am saddened that I could ever say such a thing, and hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. It's a wonder that I could say something degrading as "There but for the grace of God go I" because I have a heart for people with disabilities. It seems to me, I have a lot to learn when it comes to people with disabilities. Hopefully, in taking your class and I can grow and see people with disabilities in the same light as you. That being "people" Gods creation.

Anonymous said...

People with disabilities want to be seen & treated like anyone else. We are all human & everyone wants to be treated as equals & normal

Crystal said...

Thank you. I have an 8 year old with severe classic autism, a 5 year old, and a three year old. I've experienced having my oldest marginalized while my other two children were loved to the point where it was impossible... and for the first time I thought it may be pointless... to try to make it to church. It's such a struggle, after all. Since then we've found someplace where our children are all loved and welcome, no matter how hard they have to work or uncomfortable they have to be. Sadly, this is not the majority of churches. Again, thank you.

Anonymous said...

If someone visited a church who had a disability and was also a millionaire the leadership would likely take notice :)