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

Friday, August 10, 2012

The centrality of disability exclusion

Imagine I was the pastor or leader of a church.  One of the members of my church comes to me and says, "We need to reach out to white (or black, or brown or yellow or whatever, for the sake of this example, lets just say white) people.  There are white people who would be a part of us if we would welcome them and include them."  Imagine if I responded, "We don't serve white people.  White people are not a priority for ministry."  That statement would on some level now be the central issue in my church.  I would now be the leader of a racist church because I would not serve people of a particular skin color.  I might have a wonderful homeless ministry, or support poor people.  But because of that stand, I am now the leader of a racist church.  There is no logical reason for me to not serve people on the basis of that personal characteristic.

Well, there are churches who will say, "We do not serve people with disabilities."  Or they may say, "People with disabilities are not a priority for ministry."  This now becomes a defining characteristic of this church.  They are known by the fact that they will not serve people with impairments.  However, this has not become a characteristic that separates one church from another because too many of them take this position.  If every church is racist, then a racist church would not be called out about their racism.  If every church is excluding people with disabilities, then an exclusive church will not be called out on their exclusion.

But in the same manner that the civil rights movement (a movement that changed society in a morally positive direction in contrast to many movements today which are taking society in a morally negative direction) called attention to racism, movements today need to call attention to exclusion of persons with disabilities such that that form of exclusion gets called out and confronted.  It should be that the exclusion of people with disabilities in a local church is something that people should see as central to who a particular church is.

"How can that church claim to love Christ and not include disabled people?" should be the kind of question that people should be asking.  "They may have a good homeless outreach, but don't try to be a disabled guy there.  They want nothing to do with those people." should be a condemnation that hits hard.  "They sure talk a lot about being prolife, but if you have a kid with autism and want to go there, well they get quiet then."

Can you see how this type of exclusion is not a choice, at least should not be a question of choice.  If I get this wrong, if I exclude people because of their impairments, it indicates I get the most basic of all Christian foundations wrong...I get love wrong.  That, therefore, makes the exclusion of people with impairments a central issue in evaluating churches.