“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.

C.H. said...

A sense of community is a strong impetus for people to gather with one another at church. I know that being quiet and reserved has left me feeling alone or isolated from others. When I am at church, I seek encouraging and lasting friendships with fellow volunteers serving in children's ministry. Not having that support but seeing other members develop close bonds has sometimes left me feeling abandoned. This was particularly poignant when my family stopped attending, and I alone came to church. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to look out for each other and people in need. Never is that more true, but for people with disabilities. I can at least acknowledge my need to feel more involved and accepted by those around me. People with disabilities may not have the ability to formulate or express that desire. That makes me want to go out of my way to support those with disabilities both within the church and outside the church. 

I understand that--to be a sister in Christ for people with disabilities truly--it is not enough to say, "You belong." Belonging cannot be achieved while segregation is pursued. Belonging cannot happen when power and social structures separate those without disabilities from those with disabilities. This is especially true when those structures are designed to separate people with disabilities from involvement or purpose in the body of Christ. To every member of the Body, a role is assigned, to every role a function. I believe that highlighting what people with disabilities can do and praising them for it is certainly one step toward fomenting the belonging these neglected individuals need, just as I or anyone does. This can include passing pamphlets before service, allowing them equal access on stage for praise and worship, or participation in the video recorded church announcements. However, whatever each pastor, church volunteer, or church member does, belonging for all should be an imperative objective.

Jeff McNair said...

I so agree, CH. You cannot say to someone "You belong" while at the same time segregating them. Great point.

Tyler Hughes said...

I absolutely agree with every point that was stated. I believe that when we make an effort to ensure that we make each individual feel as they belonged, we fulfill what Jesus says in the book of Matthew 4:19, "And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." (ESV) As was iterated in the blog, we may find ourselves being obedient to the scripture and God's word as a whole, without the sense of empathy that is necessary to put ourselves in the shoes of those who struggle with intellectual disabilities.

When we take on the challenge of incorporating the full meaning of "belonging" to all the people we have the blessing to interact with, we then live to the true importance of being a fisher of men. In my opinion, one method in which this can be done or improved upon, is the full integration and inclusion of individuals who struggle with intellectual disabilities in each of the various aspects that church consists of. Due to the various ministries and components that make a church powerful and impactful that it is, are the people that choose to serve in those various ministries. When we include all people, and ensure each develops a sense of belonging, we as the church can reach all people.

Anonymous said...

This post reminds me of what many outsiders, and more and more believers, see wrong with the Christian church. Many Christians look down their noses or judge others even though this is the opposite of what Jesus taught us to do. We see this with any marginalized group - different races, economic statuses, sexual orientations, and disabilities. These marginalized groups are often the subjects of abandonment in other areas of their life. The church is the last place where they should face ridicule and isolation. When people are hypocritical like that, it turns many people who are questioning faith away from Christianity. We should be doing the opposite – loving and including everyone. Only then will we be able to guide people in the right direction and towards salvation, which is what Christ has compelled us to do. We must live our lives intentionally to share the table with everyone no matter if we personally understand their circumstance or not. This is how Jesus led his life and as his disciples we are to do the same.

Anonymous said...

This post reminds me of what many outsiders, and more and more believers, see wrong with the Christian church. Many Christians look down their noses or judge others even though this is the opposite of what Jesus taught us to do. We see this with any marginalized group - different races, economic statuses, sexual orientations, and disabilities. These marginalized groups are often the subjects of abandonment in other areas of their life. The church is the last place where they should face ridicule and isolation. When people are hypocritical like that, it turns many people who are questioning faith away from Christianity. We should be doing the opposite – loving and including everyone. Only then will we be able to guide people in the right direction and towards salvation, which is what Christ has compelled us to do. We must live our lives intentionally to share the table with everyone no matter if we personally understand their circumstance or not. This is how Jesus led his life and as his disciples we are to do the same.

Anonymous said...

This post is such an important concept not only for the church but for all aspects of society. The key aspect of not segregating individuals with disabilities is so crucial. Congregations need to make it a priority to not have segregation in the church. Belonging somewhere also makes a persona feel valued. However, belonging and value are both being lacked in the church for those with disabilities.
My own church is working on how they can do their part in making the church a belonging place for people with disabilities. The church prides themselves as a place with lack of judgement no matter what. This is such an important aspect because it helps people feel welcome. They need to expand on their open arms aspect and start making an effort to welcome and be prepared for all types of people and disabilities.
Making sure that ALL people feel comfortable and welcomes are key. I hope that it becomes a priority for all churches to make sure that people with disabilities are valued. I think it is also important as members of the church who are educated on different disabilities have a responsibility to help start a ministry.

Thank you for always sharing your knowledge with us!