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

Friday, May 23, 2008

The 99 and the 1

I now have posted two blog entries where a person with disability and his/her parent were asked to leave a church service (and in the one case be arrested if they came back).
See June 21, 2007 and May 19, 2008.

I was sharing the story of the young man with autism and the restraining order with a colleague and friend, Dr. Danny Blair, and he responded that it is the 99 and 1 story. You remember it, from Matthew 18:12-14. In case you don't it says...

10"See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.

12"What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders
away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one
that wandered off? 13And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier
about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14In
the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones
should be lost.

So the example is to leave the "ninety and nine" to go after the one. Well what if the lost one, is really lost, like lost in autism, a disability that largely is a language disability (have you ever been in a setting where you can't speak a language that everyone else is speaking and even have difficulty communicating because you don't understand even the gestures people are using around you...if you have, you will know what it is to feel lost), lost in exclusion and lost in social isolation and perhaps lost spiritually as well. So you come to a church whose God has given the example of leaving the 99 for the lost one, and if you are able to understand the meaning of Matthew 18, you might expect that you would be welcomed.

But instead, perhaps you are asked to leave, or even arrested "for God's sake" (I choose my words carefully) if you attempt to not be lost. You have to wonder if that group has ever read the Bible they claim to represent.

As I have said elsewhere in this blog, I would love to have a person with disabilities evidencing some form of inappropriate social skill, like talking out, or standing up and sitting down, or making a noise, and hearing the pastor to say, "In the spirit of Matthew 18, lets see if we can tolerate, can live with this distraction and in a spirit of love continue on with our service."

As a person who played a lot of basketball, I have always been surprised at people who golf. When I was at the free throw line, I heard every comment possible screamed at me and people deliberately trying to distract me so I would make a mistake and miss the shot. But then there is golf where if you make a sound, even the people around you will shush you. Imagine people deliberately trying to distract a golfer? Both athletes are doing something that requires concentration, however, one has to do it with the roar of a hostile crowd. My point is not that we should heckle our pastor or any other teacher as she/he teaches. My point is that we have the ability to perform under a variety of conditions, and absolute silence is simply a preference it is not a necessity as a condition. I mean for goodness sake, visit an African-American church. We once had a black pastor speak at our church, and he made the comment something to the effect, "Speak up every so often so I know that you are listening" because everyone sat in silence like you are supposed to in most predominantly white churches. Great comment!

The presence of noise at a church service is a cultural thing, and cultural things can be changed, and at times should be changed in particular if they result in people being excluded. I can change the culture of my church, it is not a God ordained program for people to sit in silence, largely motionless for 40 minutes. We can change if we want to. So if people with autism or any other disability cannot fit our structures, our structures can change. And in a Matthew 18 kind of way, we can leave the ninety and nine behind and go for the one who is "lost," however he may be lost, be it socially, communicatively or spiritually.

What could possibly have been the point of Jesus telling the story of the ninety and nine and the one, if not to impress upon us the importance of the lost one? "...your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost."

Are you? And if you are, what are you willing to do to see they, and their families will not be lost?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the example of the 99 and 1. Our pastor modeled something to the congregation last year that I will never forget. In the middle of his sermon a young woman had a very loud and distracting seizure (accompanied by moaning and screams). Everyone was caught off guard for a few seconds but as soon as he knew that friends and professionals were coming to her aide, the pastor began to pray for "our sister in Christ" outloud and then lead the congregation in a hymn as care was being given to this young woman. That took fear away from those in the congration and helped
us all to focus on the One that made and loves each of us. That is caring for the "one!"

Anonymous said...

Maybe if people started being good because they genuinely wanted good for other people, rather than because God told them to, they'd care enough to treat disabled people well. You want to know why so many churchs treat people this way? Because they have no other incentive to treat others well except fear.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff, There is an autism support group in Claremont for friends and family led by Arman Khodiaei, a 22 year old hig-functioning autistic.
He will be speaking June 11 (see below), I believe at the Claremont Center for Spiritual Living but check out the site to find out info on his cutting edge support group!

Autism Interpreter & Freelance Writer
Arman Khodaei is a twenty-year old autistic adult who has nearly diminished all of his autistic traits and tendencies. Arman offers tutoring services for autistics and chairs a free Autism Support Group that meets on Monday evenings in Claremont. In addition, He has also completed his memoir titled A Boy in Wonderland: An Inspirational Autobiography of an Autistic. Currently, he is compiling an anthology on autism titled Mommy, Why Can't You Hear Me?: Unlocking the Hidden Door of Autism Also, Arman gives speeches on autism. His next talk is scheduled for Wednesday June 11th in Claremont. His weekly online YouTube series Insights from an Autistic helps shed additional light into the autistic world.

For inquiries pertaining to Autism tutoring services, joining the free Southern Californian Autism support group, or for consideration in the anthology go to

Crystal said...

The 99 and the 1 was a great analogy for the blog entry where a person with a disability and his/her parents were asked to leave a church service or be arrested. I am completely amazed that this is going on in the world and in our country, but especially in the church. How can we claim to love Jesus who we have not seen and not love someone who we can see, even if they do have a disability. Do we not all have a "disability" of our own. None of us are perfect and we certainly do not measure up to Jesus Christ, but He loves every part of us. He forgives us when we sin and pleads to the Father on our behalf. So why can't we realize that we are all different and we must love one another with the love of the Lord. That's why I am glad that God is the judge of me and not people like those who have banned this child with a disability. I am really disappointed that these type of things happen in the church. If you cannot go to church with your family just because your precious child has a disability, where can you go? It's supposed to be a safe haven, a place of refuge. This saddens me tremendously.

Anonymous said...

Wow! One person is all it takes to make a difference in this world and I believe God sent that "one" person to his home so that he could make a difference in the ninty nine others. We can all learn many things from the disablied like how to be humble, how to love, or how to appricate things we take for granted in life. I believe we can change to included all one hundred sheep in Gods home.

Anonymous said...

I was born into this world with a disability. Over my life I have learned that those who see my situation as an inconvenience or a disruption are not safe people to be around.
The congregation who filed the arrest order on this young man are not worthy of his presence. I might also add, they are not worthy of the Spirit's presence either, so they have essentially turned their church from a sacred place of worship and learning into nothing more than a trivial social club.
Our community could use about 500 Jeffs and lots of others to speak out when they see this going on. Stop watching and start asking why folks. I know there's good people seeing all this but staying quiet.

Anonymous said...

Yes some with disabilities can have behaviours that are deamed to be disruptive and inappropriate, frustrating to those who have little experience in this field. There lies the issue 'little experience'- as you realise that we all have some kind of imperfection and those that have greater need simply require greater assistance you will not exclude but look for ways to include. Not knowing the details I will give the church the benifit of doubt, but a restraining order seems a little over the top. Why not talk to the persons involved and try and develope a situation that works.Hey a little noise never hurt anyone!( I hope those involved spend all there money before they die because they will have little in the way of richers in heaven)

There needs to be colaboration - churches need to get involved - not just accepting but pro-active participation in the care of those with disabilities.

I am based in Brisbane - Australia, and I am trying to include a few special needs people in a christian school holiday program for for school children. And yes there are a million reasons why this is not a good idea ( I am told) but we will battle on!!!.

Jeff McNair said...

God Bless you Daff in your work with Christian schools. Things aren't any better in the US as far as I can tell.
If you go to the NACSPED (National Association of Christians in Special Education) website here http://nacsped.com/members.htm and click on NACSPED News issue #2, you will find a brief article I wrote about California based upon some religious school data collected by the State.
Christian schools need changing, need to be opened up to people with disabilities.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I have always though of that analogy as the one sheep being lost in his sin. What if he is lost in confusion having never been given the opportunity because he doesn't fit in our mold? It's time we throw away our mold and surrender at the feet of the cross knowing the Lord will guide our (church) services... "Those that you have done unto the least of them you have done unto me" Honestly, it's almost embarrassing to call ourselves a Christian in America and not because we are ashamed of Christ... but because of the misrepresentation of Christ

Anonymous said...

I have to say that the 99 and one is one of the greatest examples of how God treats everyone the same way regardless of their disabilities and who He worries for every single one. I strongly believe that as good Christians, we must treat disabled people with a lot of respect because we all are the children of God. Furthermore; If a disabled person is lost in the in the secular world, it is our obligation to bring her/him into God’s world. I truly believe that there is no better place for disabled people than church because they are in direct contact with God’s word.

Anonymous said...

The denial to worship at any church because of a disability was quite shocking to hear! Any church who claims to follow Christ and his teachings should understand that ALL should be able to come and worship. Look at the Savior’s example to us all. He spent time with the poor, the beggars, the lepers, the blind, people from all walks of life. He did not only associate with the rich or the quiet churchgoers as happened in this instance. For some people it is easy to believe and easy to worship Christ on a weekly basis; for others it is hard to get to church every Sunday and to truly change their life. Do we turn away those people who have to be sought out and invited to church? I hope not. This would include, just as you said, the person lost in a physical or mental disability as well. I was appalled that the church would even threaten to arrest someone with a disability; that doesn’t sound at all Christ-like to me.
You also mentioned that teacher’s should be expected to teach under a number of circumstances and conditions. I think this is a good point. My profession is teaching and in the public schools we as educators are being expected to integrate more technology and do more hands on activities because studies have proven that children learn better when they can actually experience things. Those teaching in church should have their attendees actively involved and participating and they should not be alarmed because someone is there who makes noise; they need to learn to deal with it.
I completely agree with your analogy to go and find the “lost” ones and bring them in. It is not enough to merely be kind to them when they come; but we should be taking an active part in getting them there. All I can say is that I am sure glad I am not that pastor who turned one of the Lord’s “sheep” away. We will all be judged for our actions; good or bad.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the story. This just breaks my heart when I hear a story like this. How can a church, who is teaching us: forgiveness, understanding, patience, compassion, and most importantly to love everyone, be doing the opposite by having this family leave church? Jesus Christ loves us all no matter our gender, race, color, occupation, and disabily, which we all have. Be it visable or not, we all have a disabily yet, Jesus loves us. We as humans and an active member of a church need to speak up for those who can not do it for themselves. Remember to have compassion for all people and to love life and all things in it because one day we will be judged for our actions.