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

Monday, January 21, 2019

Dr. Martin Luther King and "changing the edifice"

I have been thinking and writing a lot lately about the ways in which the Christian community's culture needs to change in order to better love our neighbors, in particular those with disabilities. In that process, I ran across this amazing quote from Dr. Martin Luther King. He said,

"On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring." (“A time to break the silence,” 1967)

I think this is particularly relevant in the context of developing an inclusive church culture. People can be fooled into thinking that the answer to ministry to persons with disabilities is some form of segregated ministry whether it is at the church or in a different place. This is the "haphazard and superficial" approach to disability ministry. We have meetings on days when few people are at church. We have segregated programs for every age group. These make us feel like we are doing something but in reality we are not doing what is needed.

As Dr. King instructed us, we need to change the edifice that causes us to settle for flinging a coin to a beggar. But changing environments, such that the changes that are required are implemented, is exceedingly difficult. This is the hard work of disability ministry. We reflect on how we do things, our traditions, etc. and then seek to change any edifices that cause us to be straight jacketed into "solutions" which may actually exacerbate difficulties for those we are claiming to assist.

Flinging the coin to the beggar won't keep him from living in poverty. Segregated ministries will not cause the church to become what it needs to be if it wants to truly love its neighbor.



Unknown said...

In reading your blog today, I found it to be so enlightening as most churches guarantee or aspire to be all inclusive and welcoming to people of all ethnicities, disabilities, and belief systems. Several years ago, I used to assist my mom with the Special Friends Ministry at Grove Community Church. While the students with disabilities loved their "special classroom," they were not included in the Christmas Eve or Easter Services. They had to seek God and relate to Jesus in a small classroom taught by adult volunteers that believed they were serving the Lord faithfully.

Recently, at the Christmas Eve Service at my church in Yorba Linda, the worship team invited all the children and teenagers including those with disabilities to lead the congregation in the Christmas Eve singing of hymns. What a beautiful and transforming moment as the Jumbo Tron showed all the children with disabilities interacting with their typical peers who were singing, dancing, and shaking instruments. It was a sight that filled the house of the Lord with an all encompassing joy as everyone joined in to praise Jesus. During that worship service, no one was singled out and everyone participated in the celebration of Jesus' birth. It was so empowering and drew me closer to my savior as I scanned the room and saw everyone with hands raised and smiles on their faces in praise of Jesus!

Anonymous said...

I strongly agree with this post because I believe as Christians we need to be accepting to everybody and we are not doing this by taking the "easy way out". Having separate groups for the disabled just does not seem fair. Including special needs individuals will ultimately make people living with disabilities feel included. Having separate classes at church can make people feel like they are going to day care because they are not able to participate in the service that their family and friends are in. Church is supposed to be a welcoming place of worship for everyone and I believe that everyone should come together during this time. People have a lot to learn from people with disabilities and including everyone can create a lot of beautiful friendships. "So, God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them"(Genesis1:27). This verse really resonates with me because God created everyone in his perfect image. Knowing this as Christians, I believe it is our job to welcome those who may not feel loved, included, or someone who wants to find the love of Jesus Christ. God wants all his children to praise and worship him and I believe we should help those who are not included in society. If everyone was to gather together on Sundays, I believe it would be very empowering for everybody involved.

Anonymous said...

Recently, it has come to my attention the neglect that people with disabilities often face at churches. Creating a separate ministry for people with disabilities reminds me of the way that children with disabilities are often segregated in schools, at the back corner of the campus, away from their peers. It seems as if people feel that the solution is to provide services for people with disabilities, but to keep them at an arm’s length or to include people with disabilities in mainstream classes or services without any accommodations or support.
I think that having separate ministries for individuals with disabilities is a starting point for including people with disabilities in church; doing so acknowledges that people with disabilities have needs that differ from their non-disabled peers and services should be available. However, churches should not consider segregated ministries as the end goal. I do not believe that truly including people with disabilities into our churches will happen overnight; as referenced in your post, it is not the type of thing that can be solved haphazardly. However, in being compassionate and loving our neighbors, we should work together to develop an inclusive church culture, not one that neglects or separates our fellow people.