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

Friday, August 12, 2016

Favoring others over persons with disabilities

I grabbed my Bible yesterday morning just to do some reading and opened it up to James 2. It is a very powerful passage that I have blogged about in the past (see Favoritism Forbidden). I have been using the New Living Translation in my reading recently. Well the translation of verse 1 kinda slapped me in the face! It says,
"My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?"

I knew the passage addressed favoritism, in particular related to people in wealth or poverty, but the lessons are generally the same for favoring one group of people with a perceived positive characteristic over another with a characteristic thought to be less desirable. James goes on to indicate how this way of treating people is both wrong and actually somewhat foolish when it is unpacked. But I was struck by the power of the translation. You can't have faith in Jesus if you favor some people over others.

I am unsure of what this means for the faith of the Christian church generally because we do this all the time in reference to persons with disabilities. It goes back to a recent posting on this blog related to structural injustice. There is structural injustice and institutional favoritism of some people over others.

I received an email from a disability ministry leader whose name readers would know. She told me of how the criteria for being a deacon in a particular denomination basically would exclude people from that type of service because they couldn't meet the academic nature of the criteria. People who are excellent at service in myriad ways would be excluded from this leadership role because of structures established by the church. Now I can't say that the reason for these criteria was to exclude persons with intellectual disabilities, for example, however that is the result nonetheless. These structures actually teach exclusion, teach favoritism as the acceptable position of the church. Now I get it. I should not be your worship leader because I do not play the guitar very well. I get it. However, poor guitar playing should not keep me from being a deacon, a role that revolves around service. In the same way, theological expertise should also not keep me from being a leader in serving others.

I have told this story in this blog before, but I once attended a church where a man with intellectual disabilities had for many years been one of the people on the rotation to serve communion. When his week/month came up he joined the group who passed the juice cups and crackers to the congregation. However, when there was a change over in the elders of the church, one who was a psychologist said it was inappropriate for the man (who had been successfully serving communion without incident) to participate in this form of service because of what the psychologist described as his "mental age." As an aside, please don't talk about someone's mental age around me as I will confront you about what exactly that means. It is little more than an insult to speak of someone's mental age. So from that point forward that man was excluded from serving communion.

These are the types of things leaders teach congregations. If leaders don't understand they should not show favoritism then we need to teach them that they shouldn't show favoritism. You can cite the James 2:1 verse above. Also ask them about 1 Corinthians 12:21, The eye can never say to the hand, "I don't need you"  The head can't say to the feet, "I don't need you.". You can also look at verses 22-23 of that same passage. Or even 1 John 4:20 which says, for if we don't love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?

In the notes in the NLT regarding this chapter, it says the following (p 2771).
Showing favoritism. Why is it wrong to show favoritism to the wealthy?
1. It is inconsistent with Christ's teachings.
2. It results from evil thoughts.
3. It insults people made in God's image.
4. It is a by-product of selfish motives.
5. It goes against the biblical definition of love.
6. It shows a lack of mercy to those less fortunate.
7. It is hypocritical.
8. It is sin.

So be bold in pointing out favoritism when it excludes people for irrelevant characteristics. Although it won't make you popular, you will be representing the Heart of God.



Anonymous said...

Favoritism in the Church is, from my past experiences, something that I am quite aware of. Every time I step foot into any of the Churches in the town where I live in I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb. Right, wrong, or indifferent I have tattoos, colored hair, and haven’t always been an ideal Christian. If I can feel like I am a less desirable member of a church just simply due to my appearance, I can’t fathom the struggles of someone with a disability. It has always irked me when people who claim to be Christians purposefully discriminate against those who do not meet their standard of normalcy. But aren’t we all created in His image? Aren’t we all His children? This article speaks to me in the since that favoritism is a failure of the Church, it is the duty of the people, to help the Church to include all people. It is our obligation as Christians to love all people regardless or color, creed, gender, appearance, race, or mental and physical ability.

Romans 14:10
Why do you pass judgement on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God;

Anonymous said...

This is a very insightful post, as it encourages us Christians (as well as non-Christians) to consider our own motives as we live alongside of other who are possibly different than us (better or worse). As I am learning more about those who are disabled and the Word of God, I have been challenging myself to live differently. For example, I am in a class with a girl that has a disability, and I feel like there are times when she is treated differently. It breaks my heart. So, I feel like I have been called to stand up for her when I feel like it is needed, but at times (and I might be wrong) I too feel like an outsider while I am helping her. Maybe I am feeling ever so slightly what she feels all the time. I understand what you mean when you say it is wrong for a church to turn someone away due to his or her disabilities, and I totally agree. However, I feel like there are times when it is acceptable for some positions. For example, what if an individual that has sudden outbursts of anger wants to work with the infants? I personally do not feel like that is entirely the safest area for the individual to assist. Wouldn’t it be okay for the church to provide the opportunity for that individual to help elsewhere? This may be true for some, but I do not think that all churches that redirect those with disabilities to other areas of service are trying to show favoritism, they may be just doing it for the safety of the person or for those they are serving. Now, if someone turns that individual away just because they do not feel like they are fit to serve, that is obviously wrong and sinful.

Anonymous said...

This post strikes a chord with my past experiences in a church. A young woman who has down syndrome wanted to be a part of the worship team as she had an incredible voice. The church was in the process of initiating a new pastor where the previous one encouraged all church members to join something. The young woman did choir and flourished. As soon as the new pastor came in, he cut the choir. When the young woman inquired about being on the worship team, the pastor told her there were no openings and said she was more than welcome to go to the children's church to see if "anyone could make use of her there." Come to find out later, there were auditions for the worship team that were kept hush hush as the pastor did not want to deal with the young woman with special needs or have that be a reflection on what type of church he ran. It is instances like this when it is evident that man is deciding who God has called instead of accepting the fact that God has called us ALL. It so amazing to see some churches that truly care about the individual instead of their diagnosis or disabilities.