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

Monday, September 29, 2014

Two steps forward, one step back...

Well I heard it again today, hadn't heard it for a while.  Had a conversation with a gal living in Mississippi who told me of her experience with her child.

"Why don't you discipline that kid!" some church leaders and members said about her autistic child.
"We will have a ministry if you start it and stay with your child!" so why come to church?
"Your child is not a priority of ministry!" a church PASTOR told her.
"We are not interested in serving the people at the ARC group home that is across the street!" another church leader told her.

You know, just when you feel like we are finally making a bit of progress, you hear the same stories people have been hearing from US, the CHRISTIAN CHURCH for who knows how long.  It is disgraceful what our leadership will say and do. God forgive them and us.

Recently I have been thinking a lot about how the exclusion of persons with disabilities is a church wide problem. It is SO foundationally wrong. It illustrates an attitude that is SO far away from what we are called to be. But the thing that I have been thinking about is that if this is a church wide problem, then there is a church wide problem in the way we are being taught. There may even be a church wide problem with our theology. How could we choose to NOT love devalued people if our theology was correct? How could seminaries train leaders who would freely exclude people if they had not been taught incorrectly?

I have come to the conclusion that there is a system wide problem with our leaders, our understanding of spiritual truth and our theology. People will ask me when I say that, "What is the problem?" I don't know. I am working on trying to understand what it might be. I just know it is pervasive. Pastors will chide me saying there is nothing wrong with our theology and I respond, "Then why don't we care about people who are largely suffering because of the way we treat them? They have been devalued by our society, inside and outside of the church?" I wish they would get angry at me and defend something, but they just kinda shrug and say, "Well we will never get everything right because of our sinful condition."

I think I am going to try that explanation out on my wife.
"Well honey, I haven't done the dishes in 35 years, cause, you know I will never get it right because of my sinful condition."
"Yeah, I punched my boss and lost my job, but you know, I will never get it right because of my sinful condition.'

Of course we are sinful and of course we will never get it right.  But wash the dishes every so often and learn to control your anger.  Add to the list, MAYBE WORK ON TRYING TO LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR!  Yeah loving my neighbor is hard but that is I what I am called to do. That is also what my leaders should be relentlessly focussing on me doing. Leading by example, providing opportunities, and making me feel a bit of guilt if I am not loving my neighbor. But I guess they don't want to love their neighbors either because it is hard for them as well.

I have related this before, but I once met a famous theologian (can't remember his name it was in 1988). He spoke on disability related issues. Afterwards, I asked him how the church has missed this? His response was,
The church is disobedient.
That statement forever impacted me. It isn't just that I just screwed up, it is that I don't want to be obedient. Friends, we need to call our churches to obedience in this area and remember we are talking to people who too often do not want to be obedient in this area. Why would our leaders not want to be obedient? I go back to what I said above about wrong traditions and theology. For a theologically trained leader (like the lady I spoke to today described) to say the types of things he said implies that either they have an obviously wrong theology or they don't believe the theology they claim to be teaching me.

Sorry for the rant.


Kevin Lawson, Talbot School of Theology said...


No need to apologize. The sooner we acknowledge our sin and lack of love, the sooner we can find grace to be forgiven, and to change. We all need a good rant at times, as it can wake us up. Your ministry needs to be prophetic at times.

Kevin Lawson
(On a side note: I serve as the editor for the Christian Education Journal, an academic journal geared for those who train educational ministry leaders for the church - like those who need to do a better job in including special needs children, youth, and adults. We want to publish a special focus issue on ministry with special needs people. I could use your help in getting this put together. Might you consider talking with me about this? If so, please e-mail me: kevin.lawson@biola.edu. Thanks.)

Dan Vander Plaats said...


We are disobedient. But you are also right to point out that our theology is poor, and when that's true, it is no wonder that we are disobedient.

I cannot sufficiently explain the problems with our theology, but I can point out some problems I have with it:
- We too often think that a life of following Christ is about doing certain things and being a certain way, and people with disabilities can't be those things. Until we realize that this is not about what we do or what we are, but about who God is and what He has done, we will place too much emphasis on the outside of the person (and thereby reject people with disabilities as irrelevant).
- We have allowed the thinking of this world to infest our theology. Especially in Western Christianity, we love a can-do attitude, efficient workers, a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality. These all subconsciously reinforce an idea that you can be worthwhile if you display some kind of external quality that is valuable to others. This is a straight-up denial of the reality that our value comes only from God, and not one iota of our value as people comes from what we accomplish, or how rich we are, or how good we are, or how much we do for the Kingdom.
- We see other people as problems to be fixed, and people with disabilities cannot be "fixed." Our charity work is filled with efforts to fix the ills of other people-groups, in order to make them more like us. Yet that will not happen with people who live with disabilities, and our perverted minds cannot accept it.
- We subconsciously place an asterisk next to verses that talk about our mission here on earth, as children of God. That asterisk absolves people with disabilities from fully participating in the Kingdom work of God. They have a job to do in His kingdom and we are denying them the call that God has placed on their lives.

Just a few problems I see with our thinking about God and His Kingdom. Thanks for the post and the blog, Jeff. Keep posting!

Denise briley said...

Rant appreciated and heard with my listening ears. I am grateful to say " my church is obedient"."

Now to continue on modeling positive ways to influence others around us to do the same. I remember Joni writing years ago about having "A Long Obedience."

Our churches are called out to welcome the least of these, the suffering...I think they are skipping over my four favorite men on their walk into Acts...Matthew, Mark, Luke & John tell us exactly what to do ...

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the rant, because I recognize it to be righteous anger.

In my church, two weeks ago the space that I have used consistently for a disabilities ministry was given away to a girl boutique to sell clothes to our congregants for a week on the promise that they would donate to the preschool. I have no explanation as to why this was ever an appropriate use of church space, nor were we informed of it beforehand. Simply put, the church allowed moneychangers to take over the only space for religious expression most of our participants had. Disobedient? Try outright disdain.

We look to the Levitic laws of presuming priests must be pure and without defect, but ignore other laws commanding us to not curse the deaf, and to not force the priests to walk up steps to the altar. When is the last time you saw an intentionally accessible preaching space? My church has certainly never had one.

Anonymous said...

Since I do not attend church on a regular basis, I am not sure about church and those with disabilities. However, recently, I had a very positive experience regarding disabilities ministry at Crossroads Christian Church in Corona, CA.

My husband and I do not go to church because our experience with organized religion has been very negative. He was beat by nuns repeatedly during his childhood and one time forgotten in a school closet. I, on the other hand, lived next door to a pastor. I went to our local church and experienced verbal abuse by other kids that went to church.

In adulthood, I went to a "find a church " phase where I visited many different churches only to find that the people there were prejudice in so many ways. Also, they would do things that weren't considered Christian like because they would "ask for forgiveness" at church. I decided then to continue my relationship with God on my own. I asked my mom once, whose brother is a pastor, and whom I love dearly "why do so many hypocrites go to church?" My mom said to me something that helped me dearly "perhaps because they need it most."

I am not saying that all people who are church members are hypocrites or that all churches are negative, I am just stating my experiences. I simply wish to live my life by "walking the walk" as opposed to "talking the talk" as I have experience so many doing so.

Therefore, do I believe that the church is involved as it should be in regards to those with disabilities? Even in the last couple of years where I attended churches on an irregular basis, I can't say I noticed one way or another. However, my son attended Crossroads Christian Church for preschool in Corona, CA and we really loved it. Again, we went to church there and again we found issues. Recently, though, I visited Crossroads to find out about how they did or did not reach out to those with disabilities. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they had a Pastor of Disabilities Ministry. She was very enthusiastic and told me that Crossroads has had disabilities ministry for the past 32 years. She told me of their various programs for those with disabilities. I received their brohcure which outlined their extensive programs and I was impressed!

One thing that bothered me though was when I asked if disabled persons can attend regular service. The pastor told me that as long as they were quiet during the quiet time of service, it was fine. If you are familiar with anyone of disabilities, that can be extremely difficult. However, I was so impressed with the pastor's enthusiasm and their programs that I am considering attending church services there. Also, I asked a friend of mine who has been a church member at Crossroads for several years if she had seen disabled persons at the regular service and she said "yes, all the time." She even knew the Pastor of Disabilities by name. In fact, she studied under Jeff McNair.

Chelsea Reynolds said...

After reading through a decent amount of your blog entries, this one resonated with me causing me to get upset with the church system. The ultimate purpose as a Christian is to love as God loves us. If this is true, then we must not think that God loves us much, because we are not showing the same love to those around us whether disabled or not in God's eyes they are beautiful and created in his own image. We should not think of ourselves as better than them, but unfortunately society has embedded that in our brains. We discussed in class about how we are all parts of the body of Christ. Key word here being "ALL" as a church we should want to invite and include everyone in our congregation because each and every one of us is a part of the body of Christ. One thing we discussed that stood out to me was that the parts of the body that we may see as weaker are indispensable, we cannot live without them. These indispensable parts are the disabled. We NEED them in the same way we NEED those who are perfectly healthy and fine.
You mentioned that a pastor said that ""Well we will never get everything right because of our sinful condition." although yes we do a lot because of our sinful nature, this cannot just be a cope out for not doing our part as the church. It saddens me that we think this is an okay way of running a church. We need more leaders out there that have as much of a passion for this as you do to make a difference in the churches.

Anonymous said...

I was shocked at the story you shared at the beginning of this post. It does not make any sense to me at all that a Christian, let alone a Christian leader, would blatantly say that they will not serve people with disabilities.
I have also been struggling with understanding why church leaders are acting in this way. I agree that somewhere they must have learned this. It is hard for me to imagine that they learn in seminary to completely exclude people with disabilities. I think that it just may be a topic that is not discussed. If our leaders are not taught how important people with disabilities and are not taught how to involve them in their churches, they may just be completely uncomfortable; and if they are uncomfortable, chances are that they will avoid it all together. Also, if they have never seen how people with disabilities affect the church in a positive way, I suppose they just simply do not understand. Yet, this is no excuse for excluding them.
If they have read the Bible, they would know that Jesus associated mostly with the poor, the hurting, and the disadvantaged. If the church is called to reflect Christ, should we not be doing this same thing? Shouldn’t we be spending the majority of our time with the disadvantaged? Church is a hospital for the broken and the hurting, not for “perfect” people.
Also, Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all you heart, mind, and soul; and the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors. If these are the two MOST important tasks we have in life, how could we so explicitly exclude and distance people with disabilities? I just do not understand. People are blatantly disobeying God.
It makes me so upset to hear stories like these, especially coming from Christians. We are not reflecting Christ at all when we do this. We are disobeying him and misrepresenting Him which is the worst thing we could possibly due, since our sole purpose on this earth is to bring Him glory.
I guess all we can do is pray for people’s eyes to be opened and decide to be the examples in our churches and in this world.