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

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The segregated church for people with disabilities

I have often referenced the 1 Corinthians 12 metaphor of the Body of Christ in this blog. It helps me to understand my relation to my brothers and sisters in Christ. We altogether comprise that body. Whether I understand it or not, I need you and you need me. For some reason, the parts of the body which I would consider not as important I am told are indispensable. They are indispensable to me and they are indispensable to the body itself.

Now when I consider my real body, I notice that the parts are connected. If I could in some way take my nose, cut it off and put it in a jar in a manner that I have devised to keep it alive, it would technically be a part of my body, but in reality it is not connected. I have a nose, it is in a jar over there. It is alive but it is in a jar over there. Now because I have separated it from myself, I no longer have the benefit of being a body with a nose. If I have separated it a long time ago, I may not even remember what my body was like when it was still attached so that I do not even notice it's absence. At the same time, my nose doesn't know what it is missing by not being a part of me. It is sitting in its jar, alive, thinking it has a pretty good life as a nose. I may even visit it on occasion,
"Hello my nose. You are a part of me but I keep you in this jar apart from me because I detect something about you, a characteristic that you have that makes me separate you. You bring odors into my awareness that I do not like to perceive so I have removed you. You are still a part of my body, but I keep you in a jar over here because the best thing for a nose is to be by itself."

In reality, my nose has no idea what it is like to be a part of the body and I have no idea what it is like to have a nose. The nose brings something to the body that no other part brings. How would I ever know that there is such a thing as a sense of smell, that there are aromas that are floating around out there in the air, if I didn't have a nose. So my nose never finds out what its purpose is because it is separated from me and I never learn about the sense of smell because I have cut off my nose and put it over there. To push this analogy a bit further, the presence of the nose allows me to appreciate beauty that I would never know if it were not there. I would never know the fragrance of a rose, or fresh bread baking or orange blossoms in the spring. Living in SoCal, I would also not be able to detect danger like the smell of a brush fire or a gas leak in my home. I would also not know that I need a shower because I have body odor, or smell of urine. I need my nose attached to myself to be a whole body.

All this to say that I cannot take persons with intellectual disabilities (in particular) and separate them into a separate church just for them. It is flat our wrong from an integration perspective, it is not scriptural using the metaphor shared by Paul above, and it is disables the church as a whole. I need all my body parts present for me to be an entire body. I cannot take some parts and pull them away from the body and think I am doing anything other than stigmatizing those whom I have separated. I have communicated to the larger church body that they cannot be a part of the body at the local church where those who do not have their characteristics attend. They need to be separated, for their own good and for ours as well, I suspect. We are doing them a favor those who have such programs would say.

But I am reminded of Leviticus 19:14.
Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD.
Because of their intellectual disabilities, they do not recognize what is being done to them. They do not understand the harm that is done to them by being separated from all of the rest of us. This separation is part of the social consequences of disabilities which at times can be worse than the disabilities themselves that people face. Separation adds to the wounding of people with disabilities although they themselves may not understand it.

At the same time, the church does not understand the harm that is being done to it by separating people. We corrupt the understanding of people with disabilities for average church members by separating them. We support the ignorance of leadership when we separate people. Part of loving others who may be difficult to love because of social skill deficits and other reasons, is that I need to learn to love those people. I need to gain from the uniquenesses that they bring to the entire body.

But those who segregate, cut off our nose and put it in a jar. We think we can get along fine because we have no understanding of what smell is because it was taken away from us. We cannot even imagine a sense of smell as a body. What is it that the church is not experiencing, perhaps as beautiful and critical as a sense of smell because we exclude those with disabilities at worst and segregate them at best? There are those who remove this critical aspect of who we are from us and we actually thank them for it because sometimes we smell bad odors, and we would rather not have to address the warnings that such odors bring and change. So much better to remove those who make us uncomfortable under the banner of loving and serving them. I honestly doubt whether we do either when we separate, segregate and exclude.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What is the church missing out on when we don’t include all members of the body of Christ? I love this question; yet it is very saddening to hear that the church doesn’t have all the right answers. The intent of the church was to go, share the love of Christ with all, even the Gentiles. Look at the martyrs for Christ or the men who started the church did they have the same attitude about others like we do? No, these men went where God sent them, without questions and died for the church. Yet we cannot even accept others let alone die for the church? Something has gone terribly wrong with our perceptions within the church. I don’t exclude myself from this category; I too am a member of the church that excluded. The church itself cannot be fruitful if one part of the body suffers, we all suffer. The church is not fruitful if we deny those who have disabilities. Even though by outward appearances a church might appear to be growing, but God says that without all parts of the body the church doesn’t function. Now we must learn from our mistakes and take up our role as the church. You are so right in saying that we don’t even know what the sense of smell is. God did not create us to love partially or to love without the whole body. If we do not accept those that are indispensable in Gods eyes we suffer. Imagine what the church would be like if we followed this passage from 1 Corinthians 12? If we were to follow this example of the body I think the church would look like as if it is in heaven. No one would notice an inability, everyone would be viewed as indispensable, of the utmost value, and no one would be viewed differently; instead created in God’s likeness perfect according to His will.