I had an interesting conversation with a church leader recently. In that conversation it became clear that aspects of disability ministry aimed at changing the culture of the church in terms of its acceptance of persons with disabilities down to simple things like trying to facilitate their being chosen as friends was not something that she had thought about. She was about sharing the Gospel, and helping those with disabilities to come to faith in Jesus; both really good things. However, the response of the congregation to those with disabilities in terms of loving and accepting them wasn't something she had really thought about. When I shared about the social isolation often experienced because people are not chosen as friends, it caused her to pause as if this was a revelation. Almost as if this was not something that should or could be expected of people. Do you get that? The expectation from the leader was that there would not be social interaction between those with and without impairments. Perhaps we in ministry have taught congregations and leaders that fact by the way we have designed ministries, or perhaps our ministries reflect the fact that we have bought that lie. Either way, we cannot continue to do ministry in that way. We need to choose a different path that will no doubt lead to confrontation if only in a confrontation of perspectives.
We might hear things like, "I thought you wanted it this way!" reflecting the way in which we have segregated those we claim to serve.
We might hear things like, "We can't do that because that is not the way things are done!" reflecting our discriminatory traditions which we have chosen not to confront and are therefore complicit in.
We might also hear something like, "You are absolutely right. I feel like I need to come to repentance (see previous post). Can you help us to move in that direction.
Our leaders, I believe, really don't know what they should be doing in large part because we have not had the confrontive, in a positive way, conversation about the cultural change that needs to happen. Our being complicit in segregation does not facilitate the change in church culture that is desperately needed.