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

Friday, March 07, 2008

Evaluation of "Local church support to individuals with developmental disabilities"

The following is an essay that my daughter developed for work in one of her pre-law classes at Seattle Pacific University. She does a great job identifying some of the most relevant issues from an article I wrote several years back. She also chides me for not going far enough with the article and its recommendations. I provide it here as a good synopsis, and a logical presentation of the issues.

Essay evaluating “Local Church Support to Individuals with Developmental Disabilities”
By: Jeff McNair, Ph. D (Published in: Education and Training in Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, 32(4), 304-312)

By Amy McNair

In his article, Dr. McNair argues that the church is an untapped resource as a network for services and support to people living with disabilities. He describes what qualifies someone as an adult (employment, independent living, etc) and how individuals receive dignity through that position, then goes on to explain the difference between state and natural support for people. After describing the role the local church can potentially play in peoples lives, he argues that church support is the only logical choice that is able to provide all the services people with disabilities need; and it is currently not living up to its potential. The church has a responsibility to people in the community, and through fostering this kind of relationship; the church itself will change for the better. Instead of using state-funded programs that foster dependence, the church can empower people with disabilities to live more independent lives.

The most logical and sound argument Dr. McNair uses in his article follows the modus tollens format as follows:
1. If the church wants to obey its’ calling and offer services to everyone in the community, then it can include people with disabilities.
2. The church does not include people with disabilities.
3. Therefore, the church is not obeying its calling to include and offer services to everyone in the community.

This is a strong argument, particularly since the words church and not obeying should probably not be in the same sentence; except not all churches want to offer services to everyone. They often pick and choose the groups they would like to serve. Dr. McNair’s point is that there is a learned helplessness that develops when it is the State that a person must rely upon. He uses the example of Scrooge and how he just gave his money away to the State, or just assumed the services they offered were working, without actually having to do anything and without really helping anyone. The people receiving services depend upon them too much, and others able to help sit back scratching their heads, unable to figure out how they can help and if it would even make a difference. So the argument made in this article is that people, specifically within a church setting and faith community, can do something to help simply by offering services that are already offered to other members of the community through the church.

A frequent argument against this idea of inclusion of people with disabilities is the cost of such inclusion in a church. The answer Dr. McNair gives is that a church is free to spend its resources however it pleases and on whomever it wants. The only requirement would be meeting the standards the local church would impose. Other people groups (high schoolers, elderly people, singles) can pick from varying ministries at different churches within a single community, so why is it that in most places there is not that same variety of choice for people with disabilities?

The article logically continues into what areas that the Church could provide assistance. Things like helping to find employment, offering medical services, transportation, financial support, social support, and education all are potential ways the Church could express their faith and support to people with disabilities through service. By using the gifts church members already have, there is untapped potential for hair stylists, physicians, mechanics, cooks and all other sorts of people to help contribute in place of a state program in the lives of adults with disabilities. As Dr. McNair argues, “when an individual becomes a member of a church, they immediately inherit an extensive network.” Only the local church has the ability to combine all the networks and help people. He continues on and explains that “via church membership, people truly become potentially connected with extensive networks which once again are trying to serve God, an integral part of which is serving their fellow man.”

This article has sound arguments and reaches logical conclusions. The main alternate view is exclusion of people with disabilities because it is too difficult or just not something churches want to do at this time. People also argue that it is too expensive for the church to become a network for certain groups and that it will be more of a trial then it is worth. The question is: when will it be the right time? When can the church understand that there is an entire group of people (20% of the population has some sort of disability with 9% having severe disabilities) of whom 90% is unchurched? If this was a minority group, there would be an international uproar within many faith communities, but on the issues surrounding disability, the church as a whole is largely silent.

The main argument then becomes whether or not this article goes far enough. It seems it could be argued that the churches entire perspective on ministry up to this point has been wrong if it has not included people with disabilities to this level. There should never be a question of whether a child with severe disabilities is welcome in a Sunday School class, whether a woman in a wheelchair will have an accessible way to enter a church, or whether a man with severe mental retardation will be welcomed as a valued member of a congregation on any given Sunday. The church of any faith is being disobedient, deliberate or not, by both not reaching out to these community members and inviting them to services in the first place, and not including them when they arrive on their doorsteps. There will eventually be consequences. It has been said that the opposite of love is not hate, but apathy. The church has been apathetic towards people with disabilities, and that needs to change. This is what needs to be argued. We cannot expect the church to be an agent facilitating a support network if they do not support people with disabilities to begin with.


Jeff McNair said...

We have a wonderful house guest, Mary Jane Ponten, this weekend who will be speaking at the NACSPED (National Association of Christians in Special Education) conference this weekend. Mary Jane is a wonderful, very witty, 77 year old woman with cerebral palsy who has been involved in disability ministry since 1992. She has been a pioneer in international disability ministry, having made 30 trips to Ghana alone. Upon hearing Amy's comments above, she said that churches and pastors who are not reaching out to persons with disabilities are basically saying, "Go to hell." Very powerful and a lot of truth.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree to what is being said about disabilities in church. I feel that so many churches today talk about how open they are but when anyone with a disability comes around they close their eyes and hide. Everyone is made in the eyes of God, as a church people need to stop being so superficial and looking at the person on the outside it’s the inside that matters. So what if a severe mental handicap person comes in and screams when he is excited he is praising our Lord just like we are. I truly believe we should feel blessed by these people in our congregation. The church also talks about going out and meeting people for Christ and people with disabilities are left out; they to like anyone else need Jesus. I think churches today need to step it up and show that they are willing to open their doors to everyone. We need to be finished with this hiding behind the doors and pretending that we can not see, we can see people with disabilities and now we need to do something about it. Stand up and make a stand, everyone needs to be welcomed into Church, so we may have to move things around so be it, Start Moving.
I do have to say however that there are some churches out there that are making the stance for people with disabilities and it is wonderful to see. Now if only we can get all churches to do the same, then Gods word is being done.
-Nicole Shipman

Anonymous said...

I agree with this article because it really puts into perspective how the church acts towards people with disabilities. I believe that everyone has the right to be able to go to church and worship our Lord. They are people just like us and deserve to be treated as equals. Churches have so many outreaches that go to other parts of the world to minister to people that are poor or have diseases, and I believe this is a great outreach and it is what God has called us to, but why do we not have local outreaches to people with disabilities. The church does not see that disabled people need Jesus just as much as any of us do. They might show their love for God in a different way then us but who is to say that God does not love the way they worship. He created them in His image and so they should be treated like our brother or sister in Christ. Churches can do so much to help disabled people feel welcomed in the church by providing different groups geared towards them and different ways to help their situations in their own lives. I would really like to see the church change so that we are meeting the needs of all people no matter their color, sex, disabilities or their financial situation. We should be showing them the love of Christ through our actions, words, and deeds. This can be displayed by support groups and other ways of welcoming and encouraging them to come to church.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree. What a great essay, comprehensive and complete. The lack of initiative of the church to include and reach out to people with disabilities is shocking. Even when I attend some churches, I feel as if it is some sort of "club" and everyone puts on their nicest clothes and best smile and goes and then leaves. Is this what a church is? Is that how we are called to be? Are we called to look good and where a smile that says, "everything is okay," even if it isn't? I do not believe that is what a church's purpose is. I believe that because the church has an attiitude like this, they do not reach out to people with disabilities, and therefore, according to the essay, reject God's calling. God has created each and everyone of us and He has placed in us a purpose. The church needs to support and encourage God's people to live their calling.