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

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Community Integration

This week I am headed up to Montreal for a conference on social inclusion of persons with disabilities, particularly those experiencing mental retardation. As I plan to attend the conference I am increasingly more confident about the role the Church has to play in the community integration of persons with disabilities and their families. It is pretty easy to make the case for Christian churches (and most other religious groups for that matter) as the place where disenfranchised, devalued individuals can find integration into the community.

If you think about the Church, it exists to worship and serve God, to do what is right as well as it can understand it, and to support its membership. We have also received a call to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations, so there is an outward focus as well. In each of these areas, the inclusion of persons with disabilties makes perfect sense. They worship God, they try to do what is right, and are quick to help others if given the opportunity. I have found that they also do what they can to speak to others about God, or at least have a positive witness. Through simple efforts on the part of the Church, community integration might also be facilitated.

The secular human service world is pretty much desperate to find ways in which persons with mental retardation can be integrated into the community. All the while, there is the ubiquitous presence of churches. Those in human services, particularly those in academia who prepare human service workers are often unchurched or have a negative perspective towards all things religious. On the other side, the Church is blind to persons with disabilities, quite often, and is blind toward things related to disability. Over the years, I have been trying to help the secular see the potential of things religious and the church to see the potential in things "disabled." God willing, one day, the two will come together and the outcome will be beneficial for all three. The secular will see the benefit of integration through the church, the church will see the benefit of being obedient to God in including persons with disability in the church and the persons experiencing disability will have the benefit of knowing what it is to be integrated into the community rather than being ignored or discriminated against. As I have said elsewhere, one day the involvement of persons with mental retardation in churches, their referral to a church by a secular agent of the state may become as obvious as taking an aspirin for a headache.



Impossibleape said...

It certainly seems like a great opportunity. I hope churches take it up and run with it.

It may take a reorienting of perspectives for many pastors to see serving and integrating people with disabilities as a net positive to the church. That's why insights like you are providing should be on the agenda of every church looking to grow in numbers, in influence, in spiritual graces and in authentic ministry.

Anonymous said...

I was really impressed with the story about the man by the trash can swearing at people. it is so sad in our society how people are so quick to judge others and how unwilling people are to help. I personally am not afraid of approaching a person with a disablity or a homeless person to help them out with money or food. A lot of my friends think i am crazy because they assume the person will use the money for drug or that the person will try to hurt me. i however feel that if someone needs my help it is my job as a Christian to help them in any way i can.