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

Thursday, March 09, 2006

"They'll know we are Christians by our lack of experience"

It struck me this week how inexperienced the average person who attends a church is about persons with disabilities. I know a wide variety of Christians at various stages in their spiritual development who attend various denominations within the larger Christian church, but I always am somewhat surprised about how little they have been around persons with disabilities of various types. Now I wouldn't necessarily have the same expectation of those outside of church, however, it occurs to me that the lack of experience, knowledge, interactions of Christians with persons with disabilities, rank and file Christians, is further evidence of the Church's lack of inclusion of persons with disabilities in local churches. Can you imagine having a church in the Greater Los Angeles Basin, where I live, and having no experience with people of Hispanic descent, or people who are primarily Spanish language speakers? Wouldn't you think it strange for people to recoil at people with that background when the region enjoys such a significant Hispanic population?

Yet the US census tells us that 20 percent of the population experiences a disability, but I can introduce a Christian person to someone with mental retardation and it is an entirely new experience.

As I have said elsewhere, we should be leading the way in reaching out to devalued people with love, and inclusion and respect, and service, but we have missed it somehow, and do not even think it strange that our experience in this area is so limited. It is an indictment on us as a Christian church that we lack experience with such individuals who should be in our midst on a regular basis, at least once a week you would think.



Christopher Thompson said...

Perception is the key to this entire discussion and people with developmental disabilities are perceived as being "in need of" and from this perception comes wildly incorrect assumptions as to just how much "we" will need to do to take care of these folks when they arrive. Thoughts of baby sitting and the unmentionable possibility of having to assist them in the bathroom. We imagine the worst and thusly a negative perception emerges. My views about people with disabilities has completely changed because of the facts I have discovered. Amazing discovery number one... Not everyone who has a disability are helpless! The people I have met this semester have held down jobs at the same company longer than myself and most of my friends have. This is my 3rd year at RCC yet the so called "Needy people" have lapped me two times over when it comes to longevity on the job. I have also discovered an attitude that matches that of Jesus closer than any other group of people I have ever encountered. I am not saying that persons with disabilities are not human and can't have bad days or get into bad moods but the overall attitude I found was one of love and a positive outlook on life. I would think that with this healthy outlook and viewing life on the basis of what we can do in a day as opposed to what cannot be accomplished; my disabled brothers and sisters are ahead of the game! When it comes time to take the Lords supper that very few of these folks would have to leave their gift at the altar and go make ammends before receiving the body and blood of Christ. Another factor that cannot be ignored is how useful people with disabilities would be to the congregation. There are very few areas in which they could not contribute. The attitude would not be "well if I have time I will try to help" rather they would want to know "when and where". I am not trying to put anyone on a pedestal here but like I said earlier, its all about perception and if you think that people with developmental disabilities are less than ...I challenge you to reexamine yours.

Anonymous said...

I think it is sad, but true. I will be the first person to say that I was guilty of that before I began taking The Exceptional Child with Professor McNair. It really saddens me that I had to be awakened of problems such as this by a required class for my major. I say problems because this is just one of the many problems I have realized we as Christians are having in this area. After speaking with my pastor about a possible Disabled Ministry and then speaking with another pastor and his possible Disabled Ministry needless to say I am really ashamed at how some Christians see this whole issue. We are by no means perfect, but what are we doing? What should we be doing? I thought at first that maybe if Christians who are acting on the behalf of those with disabilities could just show other Christians how important it is then it would somehow close the gap, but then all our time would be spent educating those already in the church instead of those who truly need and desire to be in church. I believe all these things lead to the lack of experience. If we don't see a need, we won't act on it. Then again, someone looking to buy a textbook is not going to go to the local Foot Locker to purchase it because they will know that they don't sell anything to fulfill their need. There are so many more disabled people out there then we probably care to realize because maybe if we did conviction might set in. A shepherd smells of it's sheep. If we get out there and interact more with those with disabilities and become more involved then we will learn and gain experience. The question remains...how do we get from here to there? Where is our time best spent? Trying to educate other Christians or just doing what we know we should be doing and hope that God uses us to speak to them?

Anonymous said...

Well I totally agree with you. People in the church should be more aware about persons with disabilities but they are not!! Can we really blame the people of the church for not knowing about disabled people? I know I was never taught about anyone with a disability and I never knew anyone or really seen anyone with a disability, I say this because there are probably more people in the church than you think who have never even come across a person with a disability. I blame not the people of the church for being ignorant buy society its self. Then where do we go from there is the real question.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said...

yes, but March is Mental Retardation Awareness month and churches should be using this month to provide support, services, and acceptance of people with disabilities.

Although the ARC of the United States has not updated their site lately, they provide information on helping churches and people recoginize the importance of this month.

Anonymous said...

I think that there are a lot of good points that have been brought up about "Christians" and there lack of involvement in the Disabled world. I think that we can talk about it until we are blue in the face. The only way for Christians to come into contact with disabled persons is for them to step out of the bubble we all are so fond of. If a person is not willing to find out what other people are like, then nothing is ever going to change. I dont think its fair to be upset at all Christians for not stretching a hand out to disabled people all the time. I think that people are led to work in different ministries. Personally i love kids. I have been involoved with several different youth groups throughout my church searchig days. I feel as if i am a part of the church when i am invovlved with the children. I am not saying that i would not help out with a disabled persons ministry, but i would be more inclined to do what i am most comfortable with.
Since many of us have not grown up with a good friend who has a disability, we are not comfortable when we are finally faced with a person who has a severe disablility. I know that i love people, but it would take me a long time to feel comfortable with someone that had a major disability. If there were more groups in the church these days were we could become comfortable slowly people would be more likely to jump on board.
I have thought about it like this. . . recently i was pulling out a shirt from my closet and a spider started to move and it startled me so i screamed like a little girl and threw my shirt to the ground. I am not afraid of spiders, but the shock factor of not knowing it was there really threw me for a loop. I personally think its the same way with extreme cases of disability. (let me explain) I am not afraid of that genre of people at all, but in any situation i am not ready to handle i would freak myself out and probably stop being involved. that may be sad to say, but i am can say that i am just not comfortable enough with background information on how to interact with certain cases of disability i might keep myself away from that ministry all together.

Anonymous said...

I have been feeling guilty the past several weeks for this reason. This class scared me because I’ve never worked with the disabled. I guess the fear of the unknown kept me from reaching out. The only interaction I’ve had is with my uncle who is severely mentally retarded. But I only see him about every 5 years. I believe God has been working on my heart to reach out to these people. My prayer now is that he will show me where the gifts he has blessed me with can be used to reach out to those with disabilities.