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

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Cultural change based on Disability Ministry

I have been having conversations recently with people about the cultural change that needs to occur within the church. There are programmatic changes that would be good, and I am hoping to increasingly understand what they might be in order to advocate for change in those areas. However, the radical, cultural change that needs to occur is more interpersonal.
When I talk to people about what the endpoint, God's vision for persons with impairments in the church, I am sometimes cautioned. Friends will say, "Don't share the vision as you will scare pastors away from wanting to be involved in disability ministry." "We need to minimize the push back by not starting too boldly!" Those are the kinds of cautions I will receive. I get their concern. But let me be completely bold in describing the endpoint.  Are you ready?
The endpoint is that we would truly love our neighbors.
Sorry pastors if I now scared you away from involvement in disability ministry. But that truly is the endpoint. But that is so unbelievably radical, it should scare people.
Imagine a situation where I would sacrifice what I want in order to bless and love others. We hear this kind of language so often that it has become trite. So let me spell out an example. This is what loving your neighbor would look like.
  • I choose a friend with severe intellectual disabilities who lives in a segregated community setting and I visit him, every week, because I want to develop a relationship with him.
  • I find a friend with a disability who needs a regular ride to church in order to attend and some assistance while there and I both pick him up and accompany him while at church.
  • I develop a relationship with a family with a child with autism and a couple of times a month I go to their house and watch their child so that they can do whatever they need to do for a couple of hours.
  • I take a friend out for lunch once per week who although living independently in an apartment in the community, is basically living in poverty such that going out to eat is a big deal.
  • I have a phone call for 40 minutes one night a week where I talk to a friend with limited speech such that the conversation is me asking questions and he responding "Yes" or "No".
  • I bring a friend with a physical disability who has difficulty with transportation to a weekly Bible study that I attend so that she can both get out of the house a bit and grow in her faith.
I could mention dozens of other options. But these are sufficient. You see for a pastor to suggest this to congregational members is considered ridiculous, unrealistic, frightening, etc. You see, programs are great, but the promised land is relationships. I know I will step on some folks toes with this, but have you ever wondered why we need respite programs at church? Probably because there are people who do not having sufficient relationships with friends. Or there are people who have friends who are unwilling to provide respite for them.
It seems that that is too often the case. Program develop, at times, because individuals are unwilling to love their neighbors and do what that kind of love demands.
If my family member has a disability, whether or not I want to, I step up to support them, most often because I love them. But we have been socialized, trained as Christians to think that your family member with a disability is not my responsibility. I will refer you to state agency programs, to church programs, once again which are fine in themselves. However, I make no demands on myself as a brother in Christ to do anything. I have been socialized to think that I have no responsibility. So if I were a pastor and I told you that you DO have such a responsibility, chances are I would get a lot of push back or you would go somewhere else where no demands are made.
You see we minimize the end point that we should be advocating for which is loving your neighbor to the point that it costs you. It SHOULD cost you money, time, emotional peace, doing only things I want to do, comfort, etc. It will cost you all of these things. But that is what happens when you love your neighbor. If you are not paying the price of these things THROUGH THE CHOICES YOU MAKE in terms of developing relationships with people, then I would say you are not loving your neighbor.
It truly is as Kierkegaard  wrote.
 "The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church's prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament."
- Soren Kierkegaard, from "Kill the Commentators" in PROVOCATIONS

Yes the demands of the Bible are easy to understand.
Yes we are scheming swindlers.
Yes pretend to be unable to understand so we don't have to act.

We need to recognize this about ourselves and not accept this about ourselves.
Our leaders also need to get a backbone and tell us the truth!



Sylvia said...

The world would be a much better place if the church really did love their disabled neighbor. This is a great post! Thanks so much for it! I've shared it, hoping to spread the great message you have here!

Unknown said...

What I really enjoyed about this article is that as I was doing my church and disabilities project I was able to look back on this article and reflect on it constantly while I asked my questions. I must completely agree to the fact that the article states “But we have been socialized, trained as Christians to think that your family member with a disability is not my responsibility. I will refer you to state agency programs, to church programs, once again which are fine in themselves. However, I make no demands on myself as a brother in Christ to do anything.” This quote was the most powerful one in the article for me because it is completely true, I could help people with disabilities and their families/caregivers by welcoming them into the church community as a Christian but instead I don’t want to bother and I begin to recommend them to different programs to put the “burden” on others. As Christians Christ calls us to love one another Matthew 25:35-40 says For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ So why is it that we don’t follow this, when we help and welcome people with disabilities to our church communities we are welcoming Jesus Christ. So this is why this specific article impacted me, I was able to see the importance of people with disabilities to build relationships with other people who are not a part of their daily caregiving group, the importance of us as Christians to integrate people with disabilities rather than throwing them off to a program as if they were a “charity case”.

Unknown said...

I really think this is a great article. I think that it's really important to include people with disabilities in church activities. These people should have the same chance to grow their faith as anyone else and we should take the steps that the article suggests to include them. Very good post!

Jason Hayes @ Decorm