In a 2011 article, Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger laid out a series of interactions between two events. The article citation is provided below. In part it tries to propose connections between two "events". If we do something (if this) we might expect something to occur as a result (then that). We might also think in reverse in that if we see something occurring (then that) we might expect that something happened leading to the outcome we see (if this).
Clearly things are improving in the world of inclusion of persons with impairments within the local church. There are pockets of brilliance and still pockets of complete failure. Even where there are things happening, there is significant room for improvement or what might be called "maturity in ministry" (see this link for a good article that helps to explain maturity and provide a bit of a roadmap towards attaining maturity What Would Be Better?). What is it that has to God's glory been changing in recent times? It is not coming from the seminaries, at least not overtly. Disability is still not generally a topic for training there. Seminary training is not leading the way in teaching us to change in our love for our neighbors with impairments. They, as the "if this" are more likely to perpetuate the currently experienced "then that." Arguably it is not coming from our leadership. Yes there are organizations like Joni and Friends among others who areproviding leadership and working to facilitate the change. There is leadership in that way, from the few Christian disability organizations out there. There are some denomintions providing leadership as well. But it is almost as if it is a grass roots movement that is causing the leadership, the basic practices and traditions to change. The change, should it come as I pray it will, will change the church in very dramatic ways. But as I have often said it will be a corrective.
As I have often thought about the universal misunderstanding and lack of desire for change across all permutations of the Christian world (Baptist, Catholics, Penecostals, etc.) it has struck me how universal the misunderstanding of persons with disabilities and the response of the church has been. How could it be that ALL permutations of the Christian church have gotten this wrong for so long? That is, there is or at least has been, something universally wrong with Christian theology, or traditions, or teachings (the "if this") that have led to the experience of persons with disabilities that we see or have seen (the "then that").
I have a long way to go on understanding this, but would be interested in any ideas people may have about why this is so. Ideas I have thought about thus far relate to the training of our leaders and the lack of understanding of those who train them. Training of whomever at almost every level evidences this problem. Once again this "poor training" of whomever is universal within the Christian church which is breathtaking. I wouldn't expect that there would be that much unanimity in this area across all the denominations. The outcomes of this training have at times caused people to desire to start new disability friendly churches from scratch in order to address what they see as the fundamental problems of the churches they have experienced. It is the old joke "How do I get to Chicago?" Response, "You can't get there from here!" This response indicates that the "if this" is so strong and pervasive, we need an entirely new starting point in order to get where we want to go because we cannot get where we want to go from our starting point; the existing way of doing things. I don't necessarily agree with that, but I understand the position nonetheless. I have related in this blog a conversation I once had with Jean Vanier where he said we have been focused on the rectitude of doctrine rather than the rectitude of love. I resonate with this, but as Bishop Nazir Ali of the Anglican Church also once shared with me, if we had the right doctrine we would have the right love. So perhaps this fundamental "if this" problem is in part our doctrine. Yet, once again because of the universality of the problem within the Christian church, I wonder. Could past or present exclusion of persons with impairments be the one thing that we agree upon across doctrines and denominations? Our experience might tell us that.
There is much more of my thinking that I could share here, but I won't at this point. Once again I would welcome any input from anyone who happens to read this. I think it is something important to understand as we move forward.
Wolfensberger, W. (2011) An “If This, Then That” Formulation of Decisions Related to Social Role Valorization As a Better Way of Interpreting It to People. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: December 2011, Vol. 49, No. 6, pp. 456-462.