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

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Inclusion offers people dignity while exclusion removes their dignity

"Fear is the root of all forms of exclusion just as trust is at the root of all forms of inclusion"
At least that is what Jean Vanier says in Becoming Human (p. 71).  It is an amazing book that I would recommend.

If fear is the root of all forms of exclusion, when people exclude people with disabilities from church, either through rejection or exclusionary programs, what do they fear? 

Might they fear people with disabilities themselves because they have no one with an impairment in their lives? I know many people who had never had a conversation with a persons with intellectual disabilities prior to my arranging a meeting between them. They are my students at Cal Baptist university.  They will often relate in reflection papers after the evening that they were afraid entering the evening.  They were afraid because they didn't know what to expect because they had never met anyone with that characteristic before.

Are they afraid they will have to change? One of my students once wrote, "How can we help others without changing our lives?  People don't like change, so they fear interaction with people who might be needy in a variety of ways.  Their fear of being encumbered causes them to exclude others.

Are they afraid of what they may loose if they include persons with societally determined less desirable characteristics? Churches may have separate programs because they are afraid of losing congregational members if they were inclusive. The change that would be brought over them causes them to fear.

Are they afraid they won't be able to do things in exactly the same manner as they have in the past?  I heard a great quote the other day, I am not sure of who to attribute to.  It was a comment from a pastor who was responding the presence of someone with tourettes syndrome in his congregation.  The person would periodically make noise during the sermon.  His response to those who felt uncomfortable about that person and the sounds they made, was to say, "That person didn't interrupt the sermon, they were the sermon." The implication being how we treat people is most important.

Maybe they are afraid that if they include people, people with be unkind.  That is always a possibility, but persons with impairments are not children and the vast majority are able to speak up for themselves.

Whatever the fear, exclusion is not the answer.

Could it also be that we exclude because we don't trust people? Don't trust their social skills, don't trust other behaviors, don't trust...who knows? Trusting involves risk, and there is dignity in risk. Maybe we could push this a bit further and say inclusion offers people dignity while exclusion removes their dignity. Wow that is a powerful idea. Are you a part of dispensing or removing dignity from others?

I used to coach basketball. In teaching about offense, I would say, "If you are standing still for 5 seconds, you are probably doing something wrong!"  When it comes to the church and individuals with whatever characteristic, if you are excluding them, if you are segregating them, you are probably doing something wrong. I get it...there are children's ministries and women's ministries, etc.  But I would echo Vanier's statement with a question. If we are excluding people what are we afraid of?



Shelly said...

Very well said, and very much needed! God Bless you in your work....

Unknown said...

I believe that fear is ultimately what separates the disabled and the church as well, because like you said, people are afraid of change. I, myself, am not too experienced with disabled people but when I have had the chance to talk to someone who is disabled I come to find that they are bright and caring. It is discouraging to see churches down play the abilities of a disabled person and I did not realize how big of an issue that has become lately. We need to be advocates for those being left out and we need to be more including of others. When I came across this, “"Inclusion offers people dignity while exclusion removes their dignity", I had to stop and reflect. The quote is so true and I had never pictured it in this way before. When we learn to include people we show them that they are valued. And being valued is an essential part of humans that allows us to know we are important. I admit that I am fearful of change but change is healthy especially when its towards a greater purpose. I like the way you give us questions, it helps me really evaluate myself and my surroundings. This article really showed me a different perspective on fear and I know now that churches are where the work needs to begin.

Katie said...

There are some powerful statements in this post - thank you for your boldness! I would also add that at the heart of including others is a willingness to see the image of God in them. True inclusion isn't welcoming someone because you feel sorry for them - it's welcoming them because they also reflect the Creator and are a necessary piece of the Kingdom.

Arthur Seale said...

Intellectually disabled individuals, just as any other group of people, have a right to be a part of the whole body of Christ without being denied the blessings of a community of their own. In the neuro-typical world, even in churches, there are many special interest, gender, age similar, married/single or other specifically defined groupings.

The key word in the post is exclusion. Saying that individuals with disabilities should not be segregated, but "included" in the whole church. This is in effect "excluding" them from having their own community.

Every effort should be made to make all people: intellectually disabled, street people, homeless, and any other person made in the image of God; feel totally welcome at any activity at or sponsored by a church. At the same, the same level of support and resource available to any other group that meets under the auspices of the church should be made available to a gathering of disabled and friends.

I have heard said that a women’s, men’s, or a youth group is not the same as a separate meeting for disabled individuals. Maybe its not, but if you regard individuals with disability as members of a social /multicultural group, you will.

Garrett Maxwell said...

Well said Dr. McNair. I believe that people in general are afraid of what they do not know. I know that when we met with your friends one evening this semester, I can honestly say I was fearful walking into class. Fear of what to expect, fear of alienating them, fear of offending them, and the list goes on and on. This fear, I believe grew out of my ignorance of the disabled community. However, as I began speaking with each and everyone of them, that fear quickly began to dissipate. I learned that they are just people, created in God's image, and just as worthy of love and acceptance as anyone else. I believe that there is an abundance of truth in the phrase "inclusion offers people dignity while exclusion removes their dignity". And to take it a step further, I believe exclusion causes them to lose a sense of feeling human. I can't even imagine, and Lord willing I never have to, living day to day with such societal scrutiny and distrust, that I lose my ability to feel human. Historically, the Christian church has been guilty of ostracizing those with disabilities, out of what I would imagine is fear from ignorance, or even worse, fear that these individuals were created from sin. Each and every one of us was created in God's image. And if that is true, which I wholeheartedly believe it is, then is God disabled. No He is not, He is divine and perfect, thus each and every one of His children was created with a perfect purpose, that is to be fulfilled on Earth. Both your class and this posting have shown me that what is unknown is not a reason for fear. And that we have a duty to love and accept everyone as one of God's children.

Longer-Letter-Later :] said...

Bravo, very well said Dr. McNair. I think as a society a whole allows fear to run their lives. In fact, I would say that most people simply fear what they do not know or what they do not understand. I know that for me personally, on the night we were meeting with your friends, I walked into class fearful. Fearful because I was afraid of what I didn’t know. Before taking this class, I had never really had any interaction with someone who had a disability, I was just like everyone else, I avoided him or her because they weren’t like me, and they weren’t “normal.” Yet, who am I that I get to define what “normal” is. I walked into class fearful that day because I was afraid I was going to have nothing to say to them, I felt as though nothing in my life was anything they were going to be able to relate to. I also didn’t want to offend them by asking the wrong questions. However, after a few minutes I began to relax and get to know them for who they really are, which is people. Just like you and I. They are created in God’s image just as much as you and I are, and are worthy of love and affection, and attention, and regular life experiences, just as you and I are. When I stumbled upon the line “Trusting involves risk, and there is dignity in risk. Maybe we could push this a bit further and say inclusion offers people dignity while exclusion removes their dignity.” I thought to myself, does that mean then that we don’t trust them and so we remove their dignity so we somehow feel superior? That is a terrible thought. While yes, we are afraid of what we don’t know, people with disabilities were created in the image of God just like I was. God calls us to love one another as our neighbor, friend, etc. If this is the case, then we should love all people equally instead of excluding them and taking their dignity. I think that also relates back to the 18 wounds we talked about in class and the fact that many times people with disabilities feel so alienated they no longer feel human. I can’t imagine how I would feel if I knew that I took someone’s ability to feel human away from him or her, or even vice versa if someone took my ability to feel human away. Yet, we do on a daily basis simply because we are afraid of what we do not know and are not willing to learn. If this class has taught me nothing else, it is that those with disabilities were created in God’s perfect image, they are people just as I am, they deserve to be treated with love and respect, and should get to experience the normal parts of life to the best of their ability. I plan on continuing to pursue the relationship that I made with the autistic child I was working with this semester, simply because I have learned to love him and his family, and appreciate him for who he is. I loved this blog, and I hope others can take away from it as much as I have. We are children of God and are all to be included, not excluded from the life He has created for all of us.

Unknown said...

I believe that fear is a dominate emotion when dealing with disabled individuals. There is a fear of not knowing what to do, or how to act. Many feel that becuase they do not have proper training or are not educated in disabilities that they cannot properly interact with such individuals. This a popular misconception. We do not need to use kid gloves when dealing with disabled individuals. Just trat them like anyone else, love them, be sensative to their needs, accept them, and welcome them.