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.
Today I completed an observation within a disabled classroom and your blog post deeply resonated with me as I think about what I saw there. The instruction, or lack there of, seemed to be understandable due to the severity of some of the student's disabilities. However, I did not even see the paraprofessionals or teacher try to initiate a new idea or form of instruction for the students who were able. "If this" way of teaching the disabled has been the same for some time, without the teachers even taking some chances for change "then this" way of instruction will just float the disabled students through the necessary grade levels. As a future teacher, I hope that I would not lose the vigor and passion for trying new things in order to be effective within the classroom. I fear that this idea also resonates within the Christian Church. If we do not change, or repent, and recognize that a change is even needed then no benefits will come for the disabled in the Christian platform. I'm not sure where this idea started, since this attitude is not present in the Bible but I can only think of this scripture: For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:25) It is clear that man has much to learn from the Bible and God still, and I can only hope the small improvements in a wide variety of issues will lean more towards God's wisdom than man's.
Jeff, I still can't help but wonder if the problem your picking up on is more foundational than the level of church. I venture to suggest, on the basis of Genesis 4, that at the spiritual level, there is a universal failure to comprehend and respond to God's grace. Such that, even those parts of the church that proclaim God's grace, are still suffering from a Platonic hangover, such that the message of God's grace remains disconnected from the practicalities of everyday life.
That's a very condensed statement I could spend allot of time unpacking.
Nonetheless, I do take your point that part of the problem is flat out disobedience.
I understand the frustration of feeling like "you can't get there from here" but as I speak to church members and leaders, I find many who want to make changes. Sometimes money is the barrier. Sometimes it is lack of creativity. Many times it is simply a lack of awareness! People want to do the right thing, they just don't see the problems/barriers/need. The answer is not starting over, which spends time, energy, money none of us have. The answer is, first of all, prayer, and by that I mean not only the petition but even more the listening! God can and does open hearts and minds, allowing the barriers to be removed so that we can find a way to make the rough places smooth and level the mountains and valleys. There is a lot that needs to be done. I am grateful that there are so many people willing to do it.
I have another thought as to why there is progress being made now, even if it is only here and there. The generation that came of age post-ADA is now in young adulthood, reaching an age where their leadership is taking hold. People who grew up with people with disabilities in the same classes---at least some of them got the message that everyone belongs. And so everyone belongs in church!
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