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

Monday, January 15, 2007

Come as you are... if you are the way I want you to be

It is sometimes hard to believe what people will do within the Christian church regarding people with disabilities. If you follow what I write here, you might think that I overstate the changes that need to occur within the church. Just by way of example, here is an email I received this morning, and my response. I suspect it relates to a student who has some form of learning disability...a mild disability. It is sad but it continues to be the reality.

First the email...
Can someone please provide feedback on the following issue:
Student attends a private religious high school. Even though she has a documented disability, the school will not provide her accommodations in theology classes based on the fact that "Jesus said "come as you are" .
Question is asked Are theology classes exempt from ADA? And what other Bible references may be used as counter point.

My response...
Hello all-
No accomodations for the theology class because Jesus said, "come as you are." I think my first question would be is this person actually serious. Is this some example of a bad joke. Unfortunately I have had sufficient experience with people with disabilities and the Church to know this probably is real. It is particularly troubling that the person teaching this class is teaching theology, not mathematics or reading or something.

Obvious responses come to mind. What if the door was not disabled accessible, or there were steps up to the classroom because the school did not comply with ADA. Would there be a requirement to make the door larger or build a ramp, or is that another example of "come as you are." What if the lights need to be brighter because of a visual impairment, or some sort of audio was needed for the class. Is the answer "come as you are?" Other types of disabilities, such as learning disabilities are not different. But I suppose, the Bible is clear that those with disabilities in the scriptures all always brought themselves to Jesus. No one lowered them through the roof, assisted them to come as they are, or Jesus never went to places where people with disability (like a disgusting, bubling pool) were to help them. Does Jesus ever come as he is to them? Might that example of Jesus be employed as well.

What is so sad about the "come as you are" comment is that it is meant to include every one. Everyone as they are is to be accepted. It is clearly NOT meant to be a command for exclusion.

I have come to the point that I am intolerant (yes, I am admitting I am intolerant) of responses such as the one given. Lets just be honest and say that the teacher doesn't want to be bothered with people with disabilities, doesn't want to do the work (much or little) to accomodate a person who wants to study theology, and that all this other excuse is just a smokescreen for discrimination.

The sad part of this story, however, is that 1) the teacher of Christian theology thinks she/he can make the statement she/he does, 2) such people are teaching our children Christian theology, and 3) this is not totally uncommon within the Church. I hear of such stories and recognize how far we still have to go.

I would refer the teacher to the John 9 passage where Jesus heals the blind man, which states that we must work the works of God, so that God's glory might be seen. What about 1 Corinthians 12? Apparently this teacher doesn't think all members of the body are important, even though Paul says they could be absolutely essential. I am also reminded of Ezekiel 34 where the teacher is like a sheep who bumps out the other sheep. I could go on and on.

Perhaps the best solution would be to introduce that Christian theology teacher to her/his Bible.

Just some quick responses.

This is a perfect example of how we as Christians separate the teaching of theology from theology, or the teaching about love from love, or the teaching about the example of Christ from living the example of Christ. I mean this student is probably a person with a learning disability. That is, she/he had the potential to understand the content of the class, but just needs some accommodations (things like assistance in taking notes, or alternative assignments, or the like). I also think this is a perfect example of why we desperately need people with disabilities within the church (see January 7, and January 3, 2007 entries). They make us live what we say. I remember talking about poverty when I had a homeless man in the group. It challenged me to really examine what poverty is and who poor people are.

I am only pretending to teach about who God is (theology) when my starting point is diametrically opposed to one of the most basic characteristics of who God is (love and acceptance of people)? It is a malaise of the Church.



Impossibleape said...

Dear Dr. mcNair:
You have been mining the Mother lode lately.

Another excellent post that lays bare an ugly tumour in the body of Christ.

This needs to be brought forcefully to the attention of the self satisfied and complacent in positions of responsibility in our church community.

I think God is prompting us to follow in the footsteps of people like, Wilberforce, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Martin Luther King.

There is a class of people that has been treated as less than human for millennia. We need to demand that things change and come into conformity with the model of life taught by Jesus.

Penny L. Richards said...

Huh. I was lead to believe that hospitality was a Christian value--generous, embracing hospitality, that means everyone is welcome. Faulty doors and stairs can be remade, but each person is already a beautiful creation, full of unique gifts and experiences. Who would turn away the chance to stretch and learn and grow in the act of welcoming?

Impossibleape said...

Hello Ms. Richards

Christians haven't been the worst offenders when it comes to discrimination against people with disabilities. They ususally have tender thoughts and feelings towards them (from a safe distance) but they seldom translate the calling to love others as themselves to mean actually giving people with disabilities a place within our faith communities.

this isn't a crime but it shows how far short we fall of matching our words with our actions.

What is needed is a clear challenge to churches to live out the implications of the gospel by acting as if the disabled are made in the image of God and that their worth as human beings is validated (just as everone's is) by Jesus in the mystery of the Incarnation.

The opposite of love is not hate...it is indifference and neglect.

Many Christians have been guilty of practicing the opposite of love.

That is the point of contention that I feel needs to be addressed by our community leaders.