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

Monday, September 24, 2007

"I don't pass to girls"

When my daughter was younger, she played basketball, and me being a father who wanted her to play and enjoyed her playing, would often coach her teams. I remember when she was maybe 9, I was coaching her team at the YMCA. It was the first game of the league. Amy was the only girl on the team. I remember that at the start of the game, she would often be open, waving her hands, but the boy playing guard on the team would not throw the ball to her. This happened several times, Amy open, but no pass. I finally called a time out, and brought the team over. I asked the little guy playing guard,

"Did you see that Amy was open under the basket?"
He said, "Yeah."
I asked, "Then why didn't you throw the ball to her?"
He replied very matter-of-factly, "I don't pass to girls."
"You don't pass to girls?"
"No, I don't pass to girls."
I responded, "Well we have a place for players who don't pass to girls.
It's called the bench."

Shortly after that interaction, probably before the end of the first half, he went back in the game and started to pass to the one girl on our team.

I believe there is a lesson here for us. In the game of YMCA basketball, you can pass to girls, or you can sit on the bench.

Fast forward 10 years. I had a conversation with a pastor who related that some of the people in leadership in the church, particularly people in leadership of small Bible study groups felt uncomfortable with people in their Bible study groups who were disabled, or didn't have perfect social skills. He wondered what he should do? I think the question was perhaps related to how he might limit the numbers of disabled people in a group, or change disabled person involvement in such a way that the leader didn't feel so uncomfortable. My response was that basically if you are a leader who can't handle disabled people, you probably shouldn't be a leader. You don't pass to girls, you get benched from the basketball game. You don't accept people with disabilities, you are disqualified from the leadership, you are benched.

Here is a further example.

OK, pick an ethnic/racial group, any ethnic/racial group. Imagine your leader coming to you and saying, "I don't like people from this particular ethnic/racial group in my Bible study." Your response would be:

a. "Yeah, I don't like those kinds of people either"
b. "You are benched"

Sure we could add another potential answer, like, we will provide you training before we put you in a position of leadership, or help you to get to know people, or whatever. That could be another option. But basically, the only responses are "a" or "b."

You might say, "But it is different if the people are disabled." I might even agree somewhat. There is no reason for people with profound mental retardation to be in the Bible study group. But anyone who has the potential to understand even minimal levels of the content should be there. Anyone who would benefit from the social aspects of the interactions could be there as well. But social skill deficits are not a reason for excluding involvement. Particularly if they are minor.

Unfortunately, the Christian church's response has too often been "a." Look at the involvement of people with disabilities in churches, look at the involvement of people with disabilities in Chrisitan schools, look at the lack of information shared about disability on Christian colleges, in departments of Christian ministry, in seminaries, look at the lack of sermons on disability that have been shared from the pulpit, look at the number of ministries to persons with disabilties at churches.

Matthew 23:23 says, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former."

"Yeah, I don't like those kinds of people either"
Apparently, that is a statement some church leaders would attribute to Jesus Christ...

I think he would tell the leaders,

"Well, we have a place for leaders like you. It's called the bench."



Anonymous said...

I think that your view makes sense. I think that the church needs to be stronger in these kinds of situations. It seems ludicrous that the church can preach that God loves everyone, and that we should all show a Christ like love, and then turn its back on those who need them.
I think it is the churches responsibility to ensure that anyone who has a desire to hear about Jesus and God's word is allowed to do so. I do not think that people with disabilities that have a heart to learn spiritual truths should be denied because it makes others uncomfortable. The Bible never says that being a Christian was going to be comfortable.
I agree completely that if people cannot lead everyone they shouldn't lead. Anyone who wants to know about God should be denied that information. I really liked the analogy used to make this point and think that it fits very well. Christians need to work together as a whole and not just work with the parts of the body that they are comfortable with. That is not what the Bible teaches and it is also a type of discrimination.

Arthur Seale said...

This reminds me of a conversation I had with a former pastor. We were talking about ministry to individuals with disabilities and how individuals with developmental disbilities are not welcome in many churches. I mentioned the case of a friend whose daugher was not welcomed in his church because she had severe autism. His response was that churches are not set up for it. My response was, "After two thousand years why aren't they."

Anonymous said...

I like the passage from Matthew you chose to bring all of this together because it describes with great accuracy the way individuals and the church make a show of doing the right thing with their material blessings. If you are blessed it is easy to comply with the Levitical Law concerning tithing Jesus cites (27:30). "I have more than enough! See how much I am willing to share! Blessed be the name of the Lord" (and by the way, blessed be me).

When it comes to interpersonal, community relationships Jesus sees and accuses the Pharasiees of rebellion and disobedience,we can extend that disobedience to the whole church.

Jesus calls "neglectful" actions that are clearly disobedient,a refusal to obey the commands of God, even in Old Testament terms. In Hosea 6:6 the Lord says "I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings."
More pointedly, Micah makes it even clearer that concern for the way we treat each other is nearer God's heart than offerings and sacrifices by reminding the people "No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (6:8).
If Church men and women truly know God they will know what is right, what it means to love mercy and what it means to walk humbly, in love, with the Lord.

When the Church and its leaders forget that interpersonal relationships between ourseleves, and between us and Him, are what He is all about, the Church has missed much.

Take a seat on the bench Church. You can go back in as soon as your head is back in the game.

Paul said...

The Christian response - and the response of society as a whole.

Anonymous said...

You are so correct in saying that the church does not care about the disabled. The church teaches us as Christians that we should heed the teachings of the Bible as true and good. These are Jesus's teachings and we should all follow them to be like him. How hypocritical is the church. We as the "followers" should practice what is being preached, but the "church" as the leaders of the Christian community doesn't have to. What is with that? What happened to "Treat others as you would want them to treat you?" This is what the church is teaching us, to be hypocritical and blind to those in need? How absurd, you wonder why more and more people are losing faith in the "church."

Anonymous said...

I work at a gym as a babysitter, and many children with disabilities come in with their parents. These children are my favorite because they are so kind and love to talk and interact with the babysitters. One particular child, Marisol, has autism and mild cerebral palsy. She is eleven years old but acts much younger; she has short hair like a boy because it is hard for her and her mother to care for long hair. Marisol is very affectionate, she loves giving hugs and talking to people. It’s hard for me to see her trying to get to know other kids in kids club and those kids being rude to her because she is different than they are. The kids will make rude remarks or ask questions about her in a demeaning way. I know that these kids are young and don’t know about people with disabilities and always ask 20 questions but I think their parents need to introduce that to them at a young age. They need to learn that not everyone is the same, and to accept it and still be friends with them. I always try my best not to get mad at questions like “is she a boy or girl?”, “why does she act like that?”, and to explain to them that she has a disability but is still just as fun and playful as they are, and they would make a great friend to play with. Marisol has a younger brother, Michael, who is rude to her, and I do not put up with his rudeness. Michael comes in with a gameboy and lets other kids use it, but when Marisol asks for it he says “My dad doesn’t want her playing with my gameboy”. I get so furious because all these other kids can play it but his sister. This always happens, almost every time they come in to kids club. My response to Michael is just like McNair’s response to the young boy who didn’t like to pass to girls, “If Marisol can’t play it than neither can these other kids”. Sometimes Michael is stubborn and I actually do take his gameboy away, and other times he is fair and lets his sister play. How can I explain to very young children that it’s okay to play with children with disabilities? How can I explain disabilities in a way that they understand and willing to look past the disabilities?