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

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The disability corrective

As I commented on my last entry, I was visiting a church in Seattle. As I was waiting for the gals in our group to use the ladies room I approached the information desk of the church. "Do you have any programs or make any efforts to include people with disabilities here?" I asked the man behind the counter. "Not really" he replied. "If you call us a week ahead of time, we will have an interpreter for you." That seemed reasonable to me, at least the interpreter part although I was once again struck by the ignorance about disability in such a growing church, that that could even be the case in such a church.

I then went into the actual service, which was great. It struck me though that as the pastor was parsing out the 14 different kinds of grace, that there was a disconnect between what he was saying and what the church was practicing. We can talk about God's grace all day long, and the multitudinous ways in which we are shown grace by God, but at some point wouldn't you think that we should show grace to other people? It struck me that if you don't do what you say you should be doing, or imply you are doing,
from your pulpit,
in your church's documents, and
in the scriptures you claim are the guiding principle of your very life,
then why should I trust you? You have indicated to me that you are two faced at worst and blind to the ramifications of what you are saying at best. You are saying one thing and doing another.

I recognize that I as an individual am a sinner so you can count on me to be a liar, inconsistent in doing what I believe and so forth. When people notice those things in my they will comment to me as a way of helping me. You know, I do the things I don't want to do... (see Romans 7). I suppose the church is the same way because it is made up of a bunch of sinners. But it just strikes me that we have not gotten fed up with our own (as the church) duplicity in saying one thing and doing another. Where are the exhorters?

It occurs to me that the presence of persons with disabilities (once again my experience is with persons with intellectual disabilities) would be a corrective to a whole variety of inconsistencies and double speak that goes on in the church. The pastor could say "God loves us all the same," and then we could see our neighbor with severe mental retardation, or mental illness sitting next to us at church and conclude "I guess He does and this church does too." We don't see them because these people are nowhere in our lives. Even as Christians they tend to be nowhere in our lives unless they are members of our families. People become advocates when someone wiht a disability is born to them. Where was their advocacy prior to that person entering their family? We tolerate the pablum that comes from the pulpit about love thinking it is enlightened. However, we learn love when our actions as individuals and as church are consistent with the words that come from the pulpit.

How exactly would that look? I'm not sure. I know the principles I would like to see inform what that would look like. I do have ideas of how that would look, and have attempted to facilitate how that would look in settings in which I am in charge. It is my hope, however, that those trained in pastoral ministry would grapple with this and develop programs and structures for the church that could be employed. I am happy to be a part of that discussion, and I will offer my ideas to any church leader who wants to grapple with me on those issues. I have received a few calls over the years. The bottom line, however, is that it demands programmatic change. It will take courage on the part of leadership to do things that are truly different. But then, our rhetoric, our claims about God and grace, our speech about love and acceptance will not be in disagreement with our actions as it currently is in our churches.

May God lead us to a place where our words and actions are consistent.

McNair (fcbu)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a Christian, I believe that what you have said in this blog rings very true in my mind. Growing up in a Christian family and attending 4 different churches, I truly wonder why the body of Christ and the pastor(s) that I trust do not accept those with disabilities into the congregation.
Christian or not, right and wrong is clear when it comes to how to treat the disabled. You should not shun them, mock or make fun of them, refer to them as "retards" or "stupid". I would like to hope that even those that do this KNOW that it is wrong. So obviously this is not a morale issue, it is a SIN problem. We know that we have a long way to go when our own churches are struggling with this sin problem and not actively doing anything about it.
I understand that we are sinners with a sin nature but since we are created in the image of Christ, why would we not strive to be like him? He created a perfect example while he was on earth of how we should include and love our brothers and sisters with disabilities. We must trust in the Lord that he is going to use his believers as tools to create this awareness in the churches. I pray that change comes. Keep up your hard work and know that you have made such a difference in so many lives!