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

Thursday, March 12, 2020

DIsability and belonging

The church offers great potential for participation in ongoing relationships and prevention of abandonment. At times, those of us who are not intellectually disabled, can emphasize the importance of relationships with peers who are not disabled while those with disabilities may not recognize this difference. We are motivated to seek to integrate people for the benefit of those without disabilities (individually and as the Body of Christ) as well as for the benefit of those with disabilities. We do this out of obedience to our understanding of what the Bible teaches about people. This is true even though those with intellectual disabilities themselves might not understand these motivations and even though the larger Christian church might not understand these motivations.

To truly embrace belonging, we cannot say to someone, “You belong over there.” That is not belonging, that is segregation. In spite of the care of those in the group to which someone is assigned, to be assigned is to not fully belong. We also see a difference between those doing the assigning and those being assigned. Howard Thurman in part encapsulated this.

Segregation can apply only to a relationship involving the weak and the strong. For it means that limitations are arbitrarily set up, which, in the course of time, tend to become fixed and seem normal in governing the etiquette between the two groups.  A peculiar characteristic of segregation is the ability of the stronger to shuttle back and forth between the prescribed areas with complete immunity and a kind of mutually tacit sanction; while the position of the weaker, on the other hand, is quite definitely fixed and frozen. (Thurman 1976, p. 42, as cited in McNair & McKinney, 2015)

Belonging to the Body of Christ versus to a subgroup of the body changes things. If I belong to the whole body, I have expectations for the whole body. If I belong to a subgroup of the body, there may be different expectations, but they may or may not be antithetical to the goals for the entire body. So,

A. Subgroups should reflect the mission of the whole (assuming the mission of the whole is a true reflection of the Bible).

B. If the result of the work of the subgroup facilitates the mission (or what should be the mission), then that is desirable.

C. If the mission of the whole is wrong and the subgroup facilitates that mission, that is wrong.

D. But if the mission of the whole is wrong but the subgroup facilitates an alternative mission that is in line with the teaching of the Bible, then that subgroup is attempting to facilitate cultural changes within the larger group.

Belonging is basic to that mission. It is also basic to the vision of what the church should be.  Many churches are not embracing belonging, and many ministries are not embracing belonging. They may think they are, but if they are segregated there is an aspect of that mission that they are not getting entirely right. Leaders who do not embrace people fully belonging are teaching their congregations about who they believe those people to be. That is the lesson that has been taught for decades which has led us to the situation we find ourselves trying to dig out of.

This important conversation is about how to understand and facilitate belonging, is evidence of the degree to which we have misunderstood, as the Christian church in the world, our responsibility towards people who have been devalued because of disabilities they experience. But are we willing to do what belonging would require?



Anonymous said...

Disability refers to a person's inability to perform or participate in everyday activities. Belonging refers to the sense of inclusion in every phase or every section of the society or community which includes families, schools and churches. The reason we use these terms is that we think and see that society is divided. Is society really divided only between disabled and non- disabled people? No, the fact is that the society or community is divided into numerous pieces where discrimination exists everywhere whether it is between disabled and non- disabled people or between one non-disabled and another non-disabled person. it became evident recently when the world we live in was seen struggling with the virus, people especially so called normal people were seen stocking up toilet papers and sanitizers like crazy. Shelves in the stores were empty because some people stocked up whole bunch of sanitizers and other stuff whereas some people struggled to even get one. Amidst this chaos did anyone even think about disabled people. the answer is NO. People have become so selfish and so materialistic that they only think about themselves and to the most about their families. One incident that broke my heart was how a mother/wife was struggling to get one gallon of milk because she was busy working and looking after her sick husband and two kids. This is the reality of today's world. We do not think about others but ourselves. I cannot even imagine what others(people with disability) have to go through during these type of crisis. May God give us the ability to stop and think about others I think only then we can think about disability and belonging.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree that belonging remains as a concept and needs to be applied in our churches. My home church is still in the process of accepting disability. In mass sermons, they state that everyone is welcome to join them, but disability is nowhere to be seen.

Every day is a chance for us to show how we love our own neighbor. This time is a chance for us to show how can we help people with disabilities, in times of help. Maybe they need someone to shop groceries for them, be their companion, or help them with their laundry or trash. It may be small, but it sends the message that we belong together, and they are a part of us.

Disability is part of our community. Belonging in the same community means being their friend. It means accepting them for who they are. It means checking on them, asking them if they are okay or if they need help, and coming over if they need a companion. It means expecting nothing in return while helping them. It also means helping them do their best to get employment.

Instead of churches explaining the message of accepting everyone, they should show it in their actions. They can hold events where everyone is welcome to get supplies or to meet new people. They can hold dinners or meals for disability, welcoming everyone into their home. I subscribe to the idea that churches are great places for relationships. They provide networks that are not expected to be paid. They should be havens of people of all abilities, and welcome everyone as their brother. However, change also starts within the individual. Looking at ourselves and the way we view disability is also integral. Do I welcome people with disabilities in my church? How do I show them that I love them? How do I facilitate friendship with them? Being honest with ourselves, showing it in our actions, and being there for them is a start to facilitate a community of belonging.

J. Patalano said...

Belonging is such an important part of ministry. This post raised an interesting question of whether people with disabilities of any sort are included as part of the Body of Christ or as a subgroup. It may seem like having a specialized ministry within the church would be beneficial, if it takes away from time with the rest of the Body then it is really segregating those people. It raised questions about my own church ministry and whether we include or exclude those with disabilities, whether intentionally or not. Members with disabilities are included in the main service and most people interact the same with those whose disabilities are more "obvious." I would like to see those with mental and intellectual disabilities to be included more so that they can also feel like they belong.

Hayden Brown said...

I agree that there is a lot of opportunity within churches to close the gap between disabled people and the general population. There is more than enough space that everyone can be long and be involved with the community and other community members. But if how we treat people is learned at church and through the bible, we have an obligation to take a step back and look at the big picture. We need to look at both sides and see what it is like to be left out and what we can change to make sure everyone has a place. How can we help people see the bible for what it truly is and create space for those who aren’t included. I think we should first incorporate everyone and welcome everyone's ideas and teach our current congregation to be supportive of new ideas. From those ideas we will figure out what the next best step is because will see what is going to make everyone comfortable. We also need to understand that with people being segregated, the people who were previously in the position of power will most likely feel like they will be losing something and we just need to do everything in our power to keep them from feeling like that because they may lash out at the newly involved group.

Kirsten Redden said...

What a powerful post, you are so right! Belonging to the mission is way different than what the church is doing with the disabled community. It is really sad to see, especially after working on my Church and Disability assignments, that the church is more than comfortable with segregating their disabled community to a subgroup. They are purposefully (and proudly) limiting this community to only belong to a subgroup of the body of Christ and even more so, they are limiting the expectations of this subgroup. The disabled community is being cheated out of belonging to the body of Christ as a whole. The quote that you used in the beginning of your post was eyeopening, segregation is only done by labeling the strong and the weak, giving the power to the strong and limiting the weak. Being able to say that the church is doing this to the disabled community is the opposite of what the Christian faith tells the church to do, funny though that even with it being quite obvious, they continue to do this because it is the easy way out. They continue creating these subgroups (ministries) for them to take limited participation in. It should not be that hard asking Christians to love their neighbor and provide support for those who need it; to treat the Church and its congregation as the body of Christ. If we (the non-disabled) really think that we are the powerful ones who hold all of the power, (which I don't agree with) we should be facilitating the solution to this! You have implanted a strong opinion in me concerning this topic through your posts and class discussions!

Ilyanna Capacete said...

This post was a real eye opener for me. It helped put into perspective how a church and as a society we believe that we are helping those that are disabled feel like they are included by putting them into a subgroup but in reality, we are segregating them from the rest of us. In a way we can all see that in public schools. I remember in high school always seeing that those students that were in special education classes never being around the rest of us and when we did see them it was when they were either walking back to their class or when they were going around to the classrooms to pick up the recycling. This post made me think of that because in a way those students were being segregated from the rest of us instead of making them feel included. You never saw any of them in any of the sports teams and that honestly feels like in a way was a disservice for to feel like they belonged to the school. The only group that truly made them feel like they belonged and did not subgroup them was one of our old choir teachers that would bring in any student that wanted to be a part of the choir group. He would have them audition just like everyone else and if they couldn’t read something or had a sever disability, he would help them out with whatever they needed. I fully agree that churches do feel like they are doing what they should to make them feel included but in reality, they are just segregating them. At my home church they have one side designated to those that are deaf and yes it is great that they have someone there to help interpret but it would be nice if instead of them being placed to one side that they be able to sit where they please and have maybe two interpreters, one on each side of the church. All in all, this post really helped open my eyes to realize that sure we may believe that we are making those that are disabled feel included but in reality, we are subgrouping them and that right there needs to change. I believe that we do not speak about this a lot in our society and this needs to advocate for a lot more.

Anonymous said...

I found this post to be really interesting. It really points to the idea that we can, as believers, be blinded to our inability to include people with disabilities. It can be easy to think that if we have a specific ministry directed towards people with disabilities then we have checked them off of the list. However, not including individuals with disabilities into the main service and fellowship with other believers who are not disabled is not correcting the issue we are seeing. It creates division and segregation in the church. The church or the body of Christ, is intended to be unified, not separated by skin color, intelligence, culture, race, physical attributes or lack thereof, or disabilities of any kind. In order for the body to work as it is intended it must work together and establish cohesive harmony for it to work at tip top shape. I mentioned earlier, how some churches just want to check off a box when it comes to serving and incorporating those with disabilities and special needs, however that is not at all the heart we should have when thinking about those with disabilities. We should have the same heart as Jesus that walked up to leopards who were considered to be unclean and were pushed to the edge of the city. Jesus purposefully and intentionally touched them (when no one else would) and brought healing, comfort, and more importantly love to them. In the same way let us go out of our way to demonstrate the love to those(the disabled) who society likes to push to the outskirts of the city so to speak

Anonymous said...

I agree with this post and point that we need to truly embrace belonging. We see it in churches now where they shove people to the side giving them a different night of the week to meet on. I think to Truly start embracing belonging is by bringing everyone together. Next we need to put people with disabilities in places where they can be seen and heard. Giving them a platform to spread positivity and Gods love from their own mouth so that others see their good works through him. Because others will see their joy for life and it will show that God is doing something special In their life. In turn having the body of Christ together as one united front will bring that embracement that we need.