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

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Fear of Dissidents

One of my favorite books by Jean Vanier is Becoming Human. It is great book for anyone to read, not just those interested in disability or disability ministry. It is just as the title implies. It is a book about what it means to be human. When discussing the movement from exclusion to inclusion, Vanier has a section called "Fear of Dissidents." Let me provide a few quotes from this section.
There has always been a fear of the dissident, that is to say, of the one who seems to threaten the existing order. Those who fear the dissident are those who have a vested interest in the maintenance of that order; frequently, money and power, or the need to control others and to feel superior to them, are at the root of such interests (p 74).
The dissident can also challenge comfort and tradition. These are also power bases of a different sort which can be extremely difficult to change.
It is the nature of power to resist change... (p 74)
Change is clearly what we are after. Cultural change within the church. As I have mentioned in the past in this blog, Foucault, the philosopher, has stated that when you experience resistance, it implies that power is being expressed. Power can be expressed from bottom to top and from top to bottom. The resistance we sometimes feel in church leadership is clearly evidence of power attempting to be expressed from the bottom (see The Power of Those Who Seem Weaker article).
There is a deeper issue here, beyond the self-aggrandizement of the powerful. Leaders consider themselves as generally in the right. It is part of the paradigm we have  created: if you have succeeded in making your way to the top, then, by definition, by the law of natural selection, the values for which you stand have been authenticated (p 74).
The path to this leadership also did not include information that those with disabilities would desire to be present in the place the leader would be occupying, the local church. Because there was little to no training in this area, they are even more confident that they are right!
The only point to be made about all this is that it is important for leaders to listen to dissent and try to understand where it is coming from and what is true in it. If history teaches us nothing else, it is that power is borrowed...The principle at issue is the temporary nature of power, and the necessity of service and humility, the necessity of seeing what truth is being cried out in an act of protest ( p 75).
Oh that the Lord would give our leaders the wisdom to consider the dissident within their church. This is a bold statement, but I am positive that the desire we dissent from the church about, our desire to see devalued individuals included and valued is clearly the heart of God on this issue. We will not someday change from our dissenting position to a position of exclusion. But we should expect those in leadership to one day be among the dissenters.