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

Monday, June 16, 2014

People with their backs against the wall

I recently came across a wonderful book called Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman. Rev. Thurman wrote the book in the 1940s out of his experience as a black man growing up in the 1920s and 1930s and his conversations with his grandmother who had been a slave. His writing was no doubt influential to leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King. Although he largely discusses the experience of racial discrimination in America, his ideas about what "the readings of Jesus have to say to those who stand at a moment in history with their backs against the wall...the poor, the disinherited, the dispossessed" has broader applicability. His grace in describing his experience at that time and his strong desire to live the religion of Jesus is in contrast to the discrimination he experienced in his life. But I think he is writing about discrimination in a much larger sense.  Some of the most memorable passages, to me, related to issues of integration and segregation.
Here are a few.
''Segregation can apply only to a relationship involving  the weak and the strong. For it means that limitations are arbitrarily set up, which. in the course of time, tend to become fixed and seem normal in governing the etiquette between the two groups. A peculiar characteristic of segregation is the ability of the stronger to shuttle back and forth between the prescribed areas with complete immunity and a kind of mutually tacit sanction; while the position of the weaker, on the other hand, is quite definitely fixed and frozen." (p. 42)
"It is necessary, therefore, for the privileged and the underprivileged to work on the common environment for the purpose of providing normal experiences of fellowship. This is one very important reason for the insistence that segregation is a complete ethical and moral evil. Whether it may do for those who dwell on either side of the wall, one thing is certain: it poisons all normal contacts of those persons involved...The result is that in the one place in which normal free contacts might be most naturally established-in which the relations of the individual to his God should take priority over conditions of class, race, power, status, wealth, or the like- this place is one of the chief instruments for guaranteeing barriers." (p. 98)
When people can "shuttle back and forth between the prescribed areas with complete immunity" when others cannot, there is something implied in the relationship between the two.

He boldly states that"segregation is a complete ethical and moral evil." Relationships are indeed poisoned by segregation.

But the part that really condemns is his comment on the church when he says that the church is one of the chief instruments for guaranteeing barriers. In the 1940s and today, there continue to be issues of racial segregation in the manner that Thurman describes. But for our purposes, here in this weblog, his sentiments highlight the kinds of changes that continue to need to occur in the church.

Early on in the  book he states, "It has long been a matter of serious moment that for decades we have studied the various peoples of the world and those who live as our neighbors as objects of missionary endeavor and enterprise without being at all willing to treat them either as brothers or as human beings" (p. 13). He goes on to say, "But it is one of the subtle points of a religion which calls attention to the point of overemphasis..." In this case in a negative manner. Any differences are overly elevated and then unfortunately naively applied resulting in segregation.

Ministry with personswith disabilities suffers from this malaise. Seeing people as the object of ministry rather than the subject of relationship is arguably the greatest problem of disability ministry at this current time.



Anonymous said...

In my opinion, there always be people with their back on the wall. Even Jesus recognized it when he said, "there will always be poor people among you." He did not leave it there, he asked all his followers to love one another just as he has loved us, we must love one another. This part of the gospel was basically stamped upon the longest part of history; and that happened because of human greed. Selfish governments chose to use religion as a political tool to subdue other people. Religion was used to empower slavery rather than suppress it. In Africa, a different gospel was taught to alienate the people so that they can surrender their riches to the church. The church used the scripture in Matthew 5:3" Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; “living out the word 'spirit. ‘This teaching encouraged people to give up their riches, surrendering them to the church. Thus, a powerful church gently subdued the poor people for the benefit of supporting governments. From there, generated slavery, discrimination, segregation, and many other human degrading. The scheme certainly was well planned by some bible scholars who understood Luke’s teaching calling all Christians to be of noble character like the Bereans (Acts 17:11), who always searched the scriptures to verify what they were taught. To be safe on this end, the deceiving church kept people from reading the bible.

Alison said...

Jeff, you have nailed the heart of the issue: "Seeing people as the object of ministry rather than the subject of relationship is arguably the greatest problem of disability ministry at this current time".
My daughter is the subject of programs, but there are no relationships. Programs may go some way to overcome some practical difficulties but the relationships, genuine, are what is really needed and yearned for, and honestly would be the most "helpful" thing of all.

Anonymous said...

I have sat in on programs and i agree with what is being said here they exist solely to exist without getting people up and moving

Anonymous said...

I think that your argument of segregation as a church body is totally valid. As we have stated in class not once have I notice a special needs individual in the church. I have not experience the out burst of an autistic person who cannot control their voice. In general we segregate everyone normal from autistic and one of my peeves male and female. while the insight from man to man is great or woman to woman it nice to have that mix of male to female and vice versa especially when understanding the lord who resides in us all not just one group