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

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

"Why should ministry to people with disabilities be a priority?"

I was very discouraged this past week. I had to opportunity to meet with a leader in the church about issues related to the church and disability. By the church, I mean the church on a global scale, or the church in the United States. I wasn't talking about just one local church, we were talking larger. The leader made the comment in all seriousness, "Why should ministry to people with disabilities be a priority?" It wasn't a question asking for an answer, it was more a statement of this church leader's position on disability itself. People with disability were not a priority to this person, and her/his question basically was why should it be a priority for anybody? I would have answered, but the situation was such that any response I might have made would only have caused a digging in of the heals. Maybe that is partly why I felt depressed. The unrepresentativeness of my Lord and her/his Lord, Jesus Christ, and my remaining silent in the face of the comment.

I can tell you, that for me to remain silent in such situations is very unlike me, but for some reason I felt I should. I will probably have the opportunity to meet with this leader in the future, and perhaps I will have the opportunity to "bring her/him around" but it was almost breathtaking the ability of this person to simply dismiss people with just a statement. I could have countered by talking about the millions of people just in the United States, let alone the perhaps hundreds of millions in the world.

But that is where we are in the church right now. On a positive note, I think we are on the crest of a wave that is about to break over the church, and Lord willing through the Church, over the world as well.
But when people who are Christians make statements such as that,
I wonder about their faith,
I wonder about their compassion,
I wonder about their love,
I wonder about their trustworthiness,
I wonder about their knowledge of their Lord.
I am tempted to condemn them, but I just wonder. Its like they have given me a glimpse into their sin life, like I was a priest receiving confession, only they don't see their confession as sin. They see their statement like that of a racist sharing a racist joke with another racist. But there is such an assumption that I would obviously agree with their statement. "Of course, all Christians don't see people with disabilities as a priority for ministry." Its like that statement is irrefutable.

Well although I couldn't speak up in that situation (trust me it was very complicated), I will try to do better in the future. I am on a personal mission to refute the statements which have been used in the past, and apparently continue to be used to excuse church leaders from having a heart for people with disabilities.
So if someone says,
"Ministry to people with disabilities costs too much" I respond boldly, "How much does it cost? Do you even know or are you just making excuses?"
"Ministry to people requires a lot of training" I respond boldly, "What training is required to take a person with a disability out for coffee? Do you know anyone with a disability?"
"Ministry to people with disabilities is not a priority?" I respond (or will do better in responding in the future) "Maybe its not to you, but it is to the person you call your Lord...Perhaps you should get to know your Lord a bit better before you make statements that reflect on how he prioritizes people."

Making priorities on some level shows weakness, as I cannot do all things at once. If God does prioritize people, He is a weak God who cannot do for us all, love us all, minister to us all all at once. We need to wait our turn. The God I serve is not a God of priorities. He is all powerful, all knowing all everything. I don't need to wait in line for him to discover me and then make me a priority. He created me the way I am. I wish those in leadership of Chrisian churches would get a better handle on that. Get a better handle on who the God they claim to serve is.



Anonymous said...

I love your last statements, especially,"If God does prioritize people, He is a weak God who cannot do for us all, love us all, minister to us all all at once."

As usual, I enjoyed your post. You encourage me, as I have a similar heart. You, however, have more experience than I do, so I learn from you, as well.

Julie R., Oklahoma City

Anonymous said...

It is difficult to absorb that a leader of the church could be so oblivious to the fact that each person that Jesus has placed on this earth has just as much significance as the next. This is a person that is looked up to by many in the community, they are a role model and major influence to many people whose path they will cross.It would be a shame for any person not to see the value that people with disabilities would have in our lives if we just took the time to just sit with and get to know a little better. If this leader could only open their eyes and see how much of a difference they could make in peoples lives if they just opened their hearts and their minds towards people who could bring more joy and laughter then they could have imagined. I have personally only had a handfull of friends with disabilities, but each of them taught me something about both them and myself. We all just need to take a risk and step out of our own little worlds and talk to that person who works at McDonalds or the Mall who we've never quite had the courage to start a conversation with, and just ask them how their day is going. Why are we so afraid to do something as simple as this? It seems as though we've just been sheltered as a society from people with disabilities. Its just time for us to move on from the ways of the past and show one another that there is nothing to be afraid of and that what we will find, will be a pleasant surprise.

Anonymous said...

Dr. McNair, I am glad you bit your tongue. I know you are kind of beating yourself up over not speaking up at the time. I take it that this man is a leader of the church. My guess is that calling him on his actions in front of everyone would have embarassed him, rightly so. I am sure he is used to being questioned about the things he says, especially by a fellow Christian. I also think you were in shock about what he said, so not knowing what to say immediately may have been the reason for your sudden silence on the matter. But since you are going to see him again maybe you can get him one on one to make him realize the ridiculous statement he made. I know when you ask our class retorical questions we only have one answer to give usually. You were just being professional. I am not sure if he is a priest or minister. I will be curious to read your blog after your next encounter with the clergy member.

Anonymous said...

I understand your frustration and, I expect rage. I suspect this is a part of the frustration you express in your 02/01 posting.

I also appreciate and admire your candor in not naming the church "leader" suffering in such ignorance, "lest you cause a brother to stumble," I imagine, is a part of your thinking. I note also that you say the situation is complex.

I have recently gone through a similar situation in the church where I have served SN children for several years. It is painful to discover that respected leadership can be so fundamentaly wrong in their approach to such an important mission as welcoming all persons just as they have been created.

It seems some church leaders perceive that some persons are less "fearfully and wonderfully" made than they are, or that the effort and cost requried to serve some is not justifiable in view of current priorities.

Like you, I wish I felt able to speak more boldly at the time these issues were confronted in my church. I pray I will be able to do so in the future.

Anonymous said...

I hate the "agenda" of churches. So often, churches have a "goal" or a "plan", and unfortunately the goal or plan is geared towards numbers, towards being "seeker friendly," towards utilizing their resources for something attractive. Your blog is a perfect example of this. Though I cannot say whether this man/woman is God-fearing, for the sake of their position, I assume and hope they are. So, by no means would I want to demean his/her character, but you are so right in saying this person must get to know his/her Lord’s character before making bold statements that prioritize His creation. If we are following Jesus’ example, we would be out mingling, socializing, and even ministering to those with disabilities. I pray that more pastors will realize the desperate need in the church family for those with disabilities, and that they will not only make steps to make it possible, but will earnestly seek to make it happen. As for this person with which you spoke, hopefully one day that person will see the Gospels from a different perspective. One that does not tell the church to look beautiful or accept the healthy and strong, but one which invites the sinners, the destitute, the sick to dine with Him in His glory.